In last week’s post I wrote about candidates we auditioned for After The Velvet Revolution.   This week is about a few hours on the last day of my initial trip to Prague when we edited the trailer for the project

View Part Four here.   If you missed Part One, Part Two, or Part Three click the links. Read on, below.

Shooting the trailer for After The Velvet Revolution was an insane blur of fourteen hour days, meetings, interviews and locations, one story after another of lives warped under communism and poignant hopes for a better future. How to make sense of it all? Jiří got an editor and translator to work with me, but we only had an editing room for one day.   The room was located deep in the bowels of Czechoslovakia’s State Television complex, in a suburb of Prague called Kafji Hora. People referred to it as Kafka Mountain because it had truly been a Kafkaesque place, a factory for communist propaganda. The editor, Hunsa, was not an employee at Kafka Mountain. He was, instead, a feature film editor accustomed to weeks and months of creative cud chewing before arriving at anything resembling a finished product. This was sheer agony, as the clock was ticking and we only had eight hours to finish the trailer.

To make matters worse, one of the tape decks broke. A wave of panic overtook me. It seemed terribly unfair to have come this far, to have our goal in sight, and to have it all be rendered impossible because of a stupid broken machine and an editor who wanted to have a philosophical discussion about every cut.

While a technician was summoned to repair the deck Ivana my translator, called Jiří to report on our troubles. Jiří just yelled at her over the phone. He told her we had no choice but to finish the trailer on that day. While the deck was being repaired, we paid a visit to the canteen. I thought food might help, only it seemed dangerously inedible. There were a dozen kinds of greasy sausages, rancid potato salad, pickled red peppers, rows of grey crackers laid out like fallen dominos, and some stiffened jelly donuts. To amuse ourselves and giddy from too little sleep, Ivana and I envisioned making a film about the history of communist food. Secretaries and technicians waiting in the cafeteria line were alarmed by our hysterical laughter.   When it was our turn to be served, Ivana got a portion of salami and I got a Coke, Ivana scolded the server for weighing the salami on the scale without putting a sanitary paper underneath it. The server huffed but found a paper. Ivana said this reminded her of a visit to a gynecologist who had refused to put a clean sheet on the examining table. She delighted in anecdotes that she knew would horrify me. I think she was also righteously angry from being yelled at by Jiří who probably would not have spoken to me (or any other man) in the same way.

Hunsa found us to tell us tape deck was fixed. We headed back to the editing room only to find our way blocked by two cleaning ladies. They leaned defiantly on their mops and told us we had to wait until their floor dried before we could go back to work. Hunsa was perfectly prepared to accept this. Ivana was uncertain. I stepped boldly across the wet floor and told Ivana and Hunsa to follow me. The cleaning ladies were speechless. They were not used to being defied. Under communism the work of a cleaning lady was considered on par with that of a highly skilled technician. Janitors, drivers, stokers, and food servers received the same salaries as editors, directors and producers. Often people in menial jobs were informants for the secret police.   They had power and they were known to have power.   Obviously this had changed, but old habits die slowly. Neither Hunsa nor Ivana were rationally afraid of being ratted out by pair of resentful cleaning ladies. But the memory of fear remained.

With the machine fixed we went back to work. We cut by the numbers, slapping shots together on the basis of a paper list with only minor adjustments, because that’s all we had time for. I think Jiří also had spoken to Hunsa because the philosophical editor mostly kept quiet. Miraculously something began to take shape. It was not just a trailer, but the beginning of a four-year journey.