Q&A: Three Directors on Their Distinct Visions of ‘Velvet Terrorists’

Charged as terrorists, but now hailed as heroes, three Czechoslovakians recount and reenact their odd and fascinating tales of armed resistance against the old communistic powers. Three portraits by three directors: a presidential assassination foiled through sheer laziness; a botched political tribune bombing due to alcoholism; and a notorious bulletin board bomber who wanted nothing more than to blow up… you guessed it. Each story may be different, but the sentiment is the same: actions define you, and even if you don’t hurt anyone or change anything, they still may be recognized for better or for worse. Don’t miss Velvet Terrorists, created by the filmmaking team of Pavol Pekarčík, Ivan Ostrochovský, and Péter Kerekes.


How do you describe Velvet Terrorists in your own words?

Pavol Pekarčík: In my opinion, it is a film about the change of the term “freedom fighter” to “terrorist” and back.

Péter Kerekes: For me, it is a film about love. About searching for a woman behind every terrorist.

Ivan Ostrochovský: Three Don Quixotes from Eastern Europe, who had a mad idea to defeat communism on their own.

How did the project come about? How did you find these particular characters, and what made the three of you want to tell their stories?

Pavol: In a regional newspaper I read about one of them—Fero Bednar. He told us about the others; he was doing jail time with them both, more or less.

Péter: I had heard that Palo and Ivan were making a perfect film about two loser terrorists. One was preparing an explosion during a communist celebration, but he got drunk and fell asleep with two plastic bags full of explosives. The second wanted to kill the president, but he chose the wrong song for the signal. I liked these two stories so much that I decided to sneak into the team.

Ivan: One of the characters was brought by Palo. With Péter we found it interesting and we started looking for somebody with a similar story. We found the other two using the paragraph under which Fero Bednar was also sentenced.

When we were preparing the project, a controversy arose about whether one should fight for freedom with violence, which is actually how our characters fought. And we wanted to look for answers.


With three distinct stories, directors and visions, how did you collaborate to create a cohesive film, while maintaining your individual aesthetics?

Pavol: If any of us made the film on his own, it would be three completely different films. The unity is a result of compromises.

Péter: The collaboration of three directors was not easy. While we were arguing, the cinematographer made the film. That’s why the film’s aesthetic is so cohesive.

Ivan: We really were three directors, but fortunately enough we had only one cinematographer and one editor.

Did you debate about your use of reenactments in the film? How did you work with the actors you cast?

Pavol: It was not easy to persuade the three main characters to reenact situations. Two of them had a very clear idea about their media image and how they wanted to be presented. So the debate did not only run on a directorial level, but mostly with the main protagonists Hucin and Bednar.

Péter: We had no actors. The three guys are real terrorists. And we had no chance for casting, because, as far as I know, only these three people were arrested for the act of terrorism in Czechoslovakia after 1968.

The reenactment is a result of a discussion with the protagonists. We are not showing their life in front of the camera; we are showing how they see themselves.

Ivan: There’s actually only one actor that was cast in the film—Iva from the last story. The reason why this documentary has a feeling of a fiction film is that every chapter emphasizes the story and its visual, which is not that common in documentaries.

Do the three of you plan to work together again?

Pavol: I think one experience like this is enough. I prefer a more authentic approach. But, never say never…

Péter: After making Velvet Terrorists, a film about rebels against the system, with Ivan I started to work on a film entitled Censors, this time about people helping the system to work.

Ivan: We probably won’t be cooperating on a film altogether anytime soon—three is already a crowd. But I’m developing a new film with Péter and working on another one with Palo at the moment.


Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers? 

Pavol: I think every young filmmaker will find their own way. I, myself, would like to improve at the ability to observe reality in greater depth and that, in fact, could be my advice for aspiring filmmakers, too.

Péter: Be careful with explosions.

Ivan: Do not try to direct a film in a threesome.

What do you hope American audiences take away from your film?

Pavol: American audiences never experienced socialistic society, where people have a feeling nothing can be changed. Maybe this film can provide a new point of view for them and they’ll begin to understand the motivation of terrorists from that era.

Péter: I am very, very curious what the American reaction will look like. Our protagonists tried to do their terrorist acts at a time when it was basically impossible to change the system. They lived during times when somebody went to jail because of listening to particular songs. On the other hand, our protagonists are not typical heroes: sometimes they are losers, sometimes they are funny. Well, I will wait for the first comments.

Ivan: In Europe we tend to think that in American films, an individual steps out of the crowd to change the society and the film ends with a happy ending. And we also do think, that in films coming from Eastern Europe, the individual steps out of the crowd and nothing happens.

Even though there are various clichés in the perception of films, audiences all around the world like an active hero who is trying to change the world around him into a better place—regardless whether he succeeds or not.

Velvet Terrorists screens in the Golden Starfish Documentary Feature competition at HIFF 2014. Find tickets. Follow Velvet Terrorists on Facebook.

The director trio of Pavol Pekarčík, Ivan Ostrochovský, and Péter Kerekes make a great match, combining the topical professionalism of Ostrochovský and the experience of Pekarčík with the cooking, driving, directing and producing skills of Kerekes. As differing as their skills are, so were their visions for their documentary feature Velvet Terrorists (2013), but they managed to bring historical events to life by combining the stories of the fighters with historical context, while not losing sight of love.