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Czech filmmakers finish documentary about shooting death of Romani man

Prague, 17.1.2013 17:12, (ROMEA)
A scene from
A scene from "Life and Death in Tanvald". PHOTO: Vimeo.com

News server iDNES.cz reports that prominent documentary film directors Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda have just completed a documentary entitled "Život a smrt v Tanvaldu" ("Life and Death in Tanvald"). A trailer for the film can be seen online at http://vimeo.com/56657563. The filmmakers mapped the tense relations between Czech and Romani people in the town of Tanvald, where a Czech pensioner shot a 22-year-old Romani man to death one year ago. The case was eventually ruled one of self-defense.

The creators of the successful documentaries "Czech Dream" ("Český sen") and "Czech Peace" ("Český mír") collected material in Tanvald during the course of 2012. The documentary will premiere on Czech Television this spring as part of the "Český žurnál" ("Czech Newsreel") series.

From the film trailer, in which the producers ask Czech locals about their co-existence with Romani people, it seems Tanvald is a town full of racists. "We asked the Tanvalders about the whole case and I must say we were surprised by some of the rather widespread reactions to it. For example, people did not hesitate to say on camera that it was a shame he hadn't also shot dead the second Romani man involved as well," director Remunda said.

Representatives of the Romani minority also speak in the film. "What's interesting is that we did not encounter similarly harsh xenophobic statements from their side. Rather, we just heard concerns, fear, and incomprehension expressed, although I'm not saying that statements of that sort can't be heard from Romani people in the Czech Republic," the director said.

The filmmakers also spoke with the family of the Romani man who was shot dead. His father, Ladislav Tatár, is one of the film's main characters, as is the shooter, Jan Sieber. Paradoxically, the families are next-door neighbors who can see into each others windows.

"It's also interesting that Mr Tatár never believed the official version of the case, but spent the whole year investigating what happened on his own. The film ends with a question mark," Remunda reveals.

Convincing the shooter to speak was the hardest part

In addition to earning the locals' trust, the hardest task for the film crew was getting the shooter himself to be interviewed on camera. He refused to speak with the filmmakers all year. After promising to make a statement once the whole case was closed, he didn't want to go through with it.

"In the end we filmed the interview with him at the last moment, shortly before we finished the picture," Remunda explained. "He had a problem with speaking on camera, but ultimately the natural consideration won out that if the other side is speaking in the film and he isn't, it would be suspicious. His section comes at the end of the film."

The main protagonist of the documentary, Ladislav Tatár, had no problems being recorded. The filmmakers made contact with him at the cemetery where he was tending to his son's grave. "They didn't force me to do anything, if I wanted to say something, I just said it," he told the Czech daily Mf DNES.

Tatár did not want to reveal anything about how his own investigation into the truth about the New Year's Day tragedy turned out. "I reveal everything in that documentary, how it really was. I already know the truth. I don't believe the official version at all. We have new evidence and we will want to re-open the proceedings," Tatár said.

Klusák and Remunda did not attempt in the film to take up the role of investigative journalists and solve the whole case for the police. Through their interviews with locals at the swimming pool and at the municipal ball, they instead did their best to draw attention to some of the local people's attitudes and to view the entire matter from several different angles.

Filmmaker says it would be good to screen the film in Tanvald

"We asked both Czech and Romani people what it was like for them to live in Tanvald, why the local factories are closed, how many people are without work. Unemployment is an important part of the whole problem. Where there is unemployment, mistrust and tensions arise," Remunda pointed out.

It is not yet known whether the film will be screened in Tanvald in addition to being shown on television. Production of the screenings is fully under Czech Television's direction. Remunda believes it could be worth it.

"It would be interesting to hold some sort of public screening in the local cinema, for example, to invite local people to attend it, and to discuss the film afterward. The discussion could develop into something positive, and that's why we made this film," the director said.

There have been tensions between the majority society and Romani people in Tanvald for several years. Last year, in addition to the New Year's Day incident, emotions were stirred up by songs recorded by local Romani rappers calling for violence.

A rapper using the name Dario says the following in one song: "Tanvald is my town, everyone respects it / Don't hunt me down or you'll end up crying... / You'll end up in the morgue, I'll come for your head / Then I'll call your mama... and cut her heart out of her body." Other rappers from Tanvald using the names Seke Boss and Hajzl rhyme about the world of "blacks" and "whites" and don't mince words. "We'll rob the gadje [non-Romani people], they have enough money" one lyric says.

"Romani people have always lived here, but recently their numbers are growing rapidly. You could say there are hundreds of them here now. They move here from all over the republic and from Slovakia. Unfortunately, we can't restrict this. We sold off our entire municipal housing fund during the 1990s and private landlords own all the property today," Mayor Petr Polák said last year about the cause of the problems.

What happened in Tanvald last year?

Shorty after midnight on New Year's Day 2012, two Romani youths allegedly assaulted a pensioner, attacking him with a knife. He reportedly defended himself from a prone position using a legally licensed pistol, shooting one of his attackers to death and wounding the other one.

Tension between the Czech majority and the Romani minority then rose in the town. Romani residents said the incident was one of racist murder.

During the young man's funeral, police reinforcements had to be sent to the town, as there were concerns that right-wing extremists might attack it. The state prosecutor eventually qualified the whole case as one of necessary self-defense and did not rule out that the surviving youth might be prosecuted for assault in the future.

Martin Trdla, iDNES.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Aktuality, Film, Kriminalita, Násilí, Střelba v Tanvaldu, Romové, Czech republic, news, Roma



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