Baťa Lives – A documentary film maps life in “Baťa cities” around the world

Batanagar, photo: Karolína Garguláková

In this week’s Arts, I talk to Karolína Garguláková, an independent filmmaker who, with her husband Lukáš, is producing Baťa Lives about inhabitants of neighborhoods built by the famous Baťa Shoe Company in cities around the world. Such areas, designed according to the same basic blueprint, still exist in the Netherlands, India, Brazil or Canada. It would be a mistake to think, however, the film was a history of the Baťa business empire.

Baťa shoe factory in Zlín,  photo: Karolína Garguláková
Karolína Garguláková explains:

“It is important to say that the film is mainly about the people living in Baťa towns and homes. These are towns and home which were built by Tomáš Baťa and Jan Antonín Baťa of the famous Baťa Shoe Company. I grew-up in Zlín and the subject of the Baťas is ever-present. If you see it every day, it can get boring or even annoying, but there is no denying that it fascinates many people, especially from outside the region. They, like us, are intrigued by the idea that in another part of the world there exist towns which are built on the same concepts, close replicas of Zlín, with similar buildings and streets. That is why we decided to make a movie about it.”

What are some of the countries where the Baťa family operated, where they built these kinds of districts?

“I like thinking of Baťa homes as being like the children’s brick game Lego… In my imagination, Zlín is like Lego City.”

“There are about 30 cities around the world with Baťa neighborhoods and factories which still exist. But some now days are just fragments and others are really alive, like Batadorp in the Netherlands.”

The homes kind of a similar blueprint… are these simple homes, how would you describe them?

“When I talk about the Baťa homes I like thinking of them as being like the children’s brick game Lego… In my imagination, Zlín is like Lego City. Red brick is a typical feature. The towns are very similar but there are differences as well. In Holland, the houses have these cut round windows that we don’t have in Zlín. In India, it looks more like colonial architecture. But if you are familiar with the Baťa style, you can identify it. The idea was that Baťa’s workers all got a place to live with facilities like a place to put the kids, to spend free time, and so on. These were the same for everyone.”

Batanagar,  photo: Karolína Garguláková
You and your husband’s film focuses on a few such neighborhoods… which ones?

“Zlín was the logical jumping off point, then we shot in Batanagar, which is in West Bengal, on the outskirts of Calcutta, also we shot in Batadorp, in the Netherlands, Bataypora in Brazil and hopefully we will shoot in Batava in Canada. There are differences: Batadorp is like a luxury version of Zlín, where all the houses are well-maintained and in great condition. In India, the situation is completely different. There is a developer’s project aiming to demolish the entire district to make way for luxury homes and building and golf courses.”

Who is the main protagonist in Batanagar in your film?

“He is a 20-year-old named Sona, a carefree spirit who hangs out with his friends, plays football, fishes, chats, and doesn’t care. But this carefreeness is about to change, because all of Batanagar could be demolished. His idyllic life and life for his family and friends will change.”

As filmmakers, are you yourselves engaged in what is happening or are you a step back, mapping what is going on?

“It is not possible, under the circumstances to do more: we are mapping what is going on, that is our focus. Your Lonely Planet tells you that everyone in this part of the country speaks English: that absolutely is not the case! No one speaks English! It is very hard just to communicate with locals.”

“Everything goes so quickly when we are working that we don’t have time to think of each other as wife and husband.”

This film is being shot with a small crew and you are working with your husband, who is doing the camerawork. What is it like to work on such a project with your spouse?

“Everything goes so quickly when we are working that we don’t have time to think of each other as wife and husband. But it’s great. Thanks to this work, we even have a chance to argue sometimes and to experience a silent household once in a while. If it wasn’t like that, things would be too normal!” (laughs)

I have to say I agree with that! What stage is the film at now? Is it a quarter way through, half-way?

“It is about half-way. The film crew will go to Holland in June, Brazil in October and to Canada in the winter. So if everything goes well viewers should be able to see it next autumn. The film is being shot on digital and will be in full HD.”

Batanagar,  photo: Karolína Garguláková
As documentary filmmakers, how would you describe your approach? It is something that is shot quick, impulsive, hands-on, or are sequences carefully planned out?

“It is a bit of both. We want viewers to have a cinematic experience of Baťa cities. Although it is a documentary, we have reenactments with the actors, we repeat moments in the film. It is a documentary film with a cinematographic feeling, a strong visual sense.”

Was there any moment that surprised you so far, or thread or storyline?

“For me, as a Zlín girl, it was also very surprising to see all the architecture in ruins there.”

“There was a moment when we were made aware how unusual this kind of travel still is for some and how lucky we are that we can do so. We are experienced travelers but we didn’t expect it when we met some teenagers in Batanagar, India, who wanted to have their photo taken with us. They were afraid they would only ever see Europeans on TV. So that made us realise how privileged we are to be able to travel almost whenever we want, that we have that opportunity For me, as a Zlín girl, it was also very surprising to see all the architecture in ruins there.”

It must be a very strange feeling to see something so familiar in a completely different country…

“Exactly. In a Zlín you live in one style of architecture, it is your home or the school you go to or the café and now you see it somewhere else entirely, only in a different context, conditions or shape.”