By: Patrick Doss
After screening his film, I was able to sit down with Jeffrey Brown, one of the producers of the film Listopad, and ask him a few questions about his involvement in the film, and his additional works.
You originally hail from Texas. What brought you to the Czech Republic?
I went to Texas A&M. We had a program in my living room in college, called students for Czechoslovakia. A friend of ours was the head of that program, and it was organized when Vaclav Havel first visited Washington DC, and was asked what can we do to help him and the Czech Republic. The answer was you can “learn us English” rather than teach us English. It used to be a really funny story, but now it has transformed into a rather hokey anecdote. Anyways, it was the truth, and there was a program called students for Czechoslovakia. We opened up what was called the southwest office, even though there were no other offices, and we were really flying by the seats of our pants! It was more through my roommate, than it was me at the beginning, but we all went over to the Czech Republic at the same time. I finished college and I wanted to travel, and I wasn’t interested in getting a “job” job, and I had traveled a lot before. When I went over I caught the tail end of the good times. I went over in 1993, and it was a time where nothing was possible yet everything was possible. It was something that I had never really experienced here. Its rather hard to explain. I got lucky. There are certain places; San Francisco in the late 50s early 60s, and Lebanon at that time as well. There are certain places in the world that have this mystique. A special atmosphere which came about through political change and societal change. I was totally naive, but very lucky to have caught part of that, and make the most of it.
Why did you choose Listopad (November in Czech) as the title of the film?
I didn’t choose the title, as the film is really Gary Griffin’s baby more than mine. Gary shot the revolution for American network TV in 89′, and I’m one player on the film, but in terms of who called it Listopad, no. It’s always been a story of the revolution, and on November 17th this year, there will be the 26th anniversary of the velvet revolution. It was always a story of that, and we never call it November, because November just sounds wrong. We always call it Listopad, and that’s kind of an obvious choice, and I don’t know if its poetic, but it felt right, and so we’ve always run with that.
What made you choose Heartland Film Festival as a way of displaying your work?
The festival has a good reputation among filmmakers. I had spoken to Tim (Irwin) last year a little bit late, and it wasn’t up for consideration last year. So I followed up with some choice film festivals that I wanted to see the film play in. I am now focusing on more filmmaker friendly festivals, rather than industry festivals. So we are not trying for the Sundances, or the Tribecas or the Torontos of the world. Also, because the film is in no way dated, but it’s not absolutely brand new, and our experiences have been that it has gone over much better there. There are a million film festivals, and we are trying to focus on the higher tier film festivals which are more filmmaker friendly.
For someone who has little to no knowledge of the velvet revolution, and the fall of communism, why might they be interested in seeing your film?
I think if you go to a film, you want to see something new. I think you want to see something that hasn’t been done before. You know, indie dramas are cool. I still like them. As opposed to some of the more American flavored films here, I think it’s something out of the ordinary, and something unique. To get someone to spend ninety minutes of their life on your film, especially in this day and age when people want it fast, and are excited about web oriented, and web driven series, I think if I’m going to spend ninety minutes on something, I want to see something different. It also depends on personal preference. Maybe people here haven’t seen American indie films, and that’s all new, and they need to experience that. For those who have seen that, hopefully this is something different that they are going to see with probably the vast majority of the program. I don’t think it’s a waste of time. They are probably going to learn something about a place, that if they have been there, they haven’t known it they well, and if they haven’t, than it’s going to be brand new. So why not?
During the Q&A you talked about the sister work of Listopad, could you maybe explain a little bit more about that?
When we shot the film we didn’t really know what was going to happen, and we invited over a lot of our filmmakers, I was a producer on both films, and we decided to shoot a documentary as well, because there was something to be documented and we weren’t entirely sure what that was going to be. We didn’t want it to be a making of Listopad, so what it ended up turning into was this film called Vinyl Generation. It takes a theme from the film, but it just kind of naturally gravitated in that direction. It’s looking at the Czech generation X, and it’s looking at those people who were active in culture before ’89. It also pulls in the theme of people going to the forest to trade LP records before the fall of Communism, because there were certain albums you couldn’t have. It was a lot of eighties oriented stuff, it was The Cure, New Order, and it was the Joy Division, which is more of the seventies. It was also The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, a lot of Frank Zappa, and there were certain albums and bands that had more influence on the people there. We’ve put together that group of filmmakers, and its Gary and myself, and the director is Keith Jones. We’ve worked together on other music films, and we are at the point now where we are trying to get finishing funds for it. We’ve made the film. We’ve set up a fiscal sponsorship which allows people to get involved and get a tax deductible write-off so they get something right away rather than this sense of investment in a film that is a culture project that is not going to make money. That’s where we are at, and I think it’s quite good. I think we’ve created a good film, we just have to take care of the post production.