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Czech society unaware of what life is like for institutionalized Roma children

Prague, 7.4.2011 14:27, (Romano vod'i)

Czech documentary filmmaker Hana Ludvíková is interested in what Roma teenagers living in children's homes experience. She is a graduate of the department of dramaturgy and screenwriting at FAMU and is currently continuing her Master's studies at the Center for Audiovisual Studies there. In 2008-2009 she worked at a children's home as a teacher of English using the experiential / therapeutic method. The following is an interview with her.

Q: The heroes of your graduate film "Ghetto Borders" ("Hranice ghetta") are Roma teenagers living in a children's home who create hip-hop videos about their lives. How did you come to this subject matter?

A: The work being done through one of the non-profits impressed me. It was teaching English through the experiential/therapeutic method, not classic instruction, but instruction through play. I applied for the job, they selected me, and I then taught for two years at a children's home. One of the principles of this method is to work with children in such a way that they relax and don't feel pressured to learn something, that it just entertains them. For me it was both beautiful and very difficult. These children are amazingly intense, which I really like, but at the same time that complicates things because their behavior is often troubled. It was a great challenge, sometimes I had to fight with them, but we became friends and thanks to our work together on the hip-hop video, the children calmed down a great deal. For them, I was the person that made it possible for them to devote themselves to their hobby.

Q: Why hip-hop in particular?

A: What I liked about it was the connection to a text in which the children can say what makes them angry and what they love. If it had only been about dance, they couldn't have expressed themselves clearly enough. In hip-hop the communication is verbal, and most of all, teenagers accept it.

Q: What did the children write about specifically?

A: Some of the texts were very candid and sweet. One girl, for example, wrote a very personal text about love that really touches many people who see the video.

Q: How did you come to study documentary filmmaking?

A: I didn't study documentaries in particular at FAMU, but I am at the Center for Audiovisual Studies, where I started to make this documentary about the children - the work in that department is rather free, you can do anything from performance to video art to documentaries. That freedom of genre and that kind of work with images attracted me to it.

Q: When you started working at the children's home, did you know what you wanted to film in that environment?

A: It only occurred to me after a while to make use of the experience for my work at FAMU. I originally wanted to write my thesis about it and the documentary didn't come about until I started working with the children on their joint video.

Q: How was the video made?

A: The video was just one of the outputs of a long-term project. During my visits to the children's home, I discovered that the children really like hip-hop and were also writing their own texts. It occurred to me that I should organize a hip-hop workshop for them. During several such workshops a song and video were created in collaboration with the beatboxers Jaro Cossiga and Ivanhoe. The children themselves invented the screenplay and the texts. Jaro Cossiga does a great deal of work with "problematic" children from children's homes and from the so-called ghettos, for example in Chánov. We then presented the video at the One World and Khamoro festivals and we also did two concerts with the children. I do my best to travel regularly to the children's home because I have selected two or three protagonists whom I would like to follow over a longer period of time and for another documentary.

Q: So you are getting into the topic of children leaving children's homes for the long term...

A: No one has worked on this topic in the Czech Republic yet. It's an opportunity to see, in the specific story of an individual, what some of the results of an institutional upbringing are. There is a lot of talk about the issue of children in children's homes, but it unfortunately often takes the form of "a model is bringing them presents". The children themselves are not much discussed, what they are experiencing, what they feel, what their stories are, what their futures will be like, there is not much discussion of the overall context. I want to offer an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of such a child, to show what they live through, what they have to go through, what steps they have to take in their effort to be included in society, what awaits them on that journey as Roma people who grew up in institutional care. At the age of 18, what happens when their ideas meet the reality that they must find work, pay rent, etc, to what extent do they understand bureaucratic speech, do they know to whom to turn in various situations, what their rights and obligations are? I am concerned that they often know nothing. At the same time I am interested in how willing Czech society is to help them. In order to feel like you are in that situation, a longer time period is required. More is revealed over time.

Q: Do you ever have the sense that the presence of a camera sometimes hinders the opportunity to capture a real situation?

A: On the one hand, yes, but when the camera is around for a longer time, it is easier to stop noticing it. Children let down their guard especially rapidly. As for the others, I believe they will behave more helpfully thanks to the camera. There is also the option of hiding it.

Q: In the film you also ask the children what it means to them to be Roma...

A: Most of them consider their Roma origin to be an enormous handicap. They do not want to be Roma. They would rather be "black" - black people do hip-hop well and have a more prestigious position in our society - in the media. That is another topic I would like to do a film on: What it is like to be a Roma person, but to grow up without the coherence of a Roma family, without its support.

Q: Are you planning another performance with the children?

A: Now we would like to perform with the children at the Khamoro festival and in the G-Talent competition for Roma children. Last year we started that competition and Michael Kocáb is its patron. It will be led by the beatboxer Jaro Cossiga, who is looking for Roma children who are talented in beatbox, breakdance, rap and singing.

The video "Sewerka feat" is available for viewing in the video section of the G-Talent Facebook profile at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/GTalentShow

Gwendolyn Albert, Michal Kříž, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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