Eric Bergkraut and his award-winning film, "Coca: The Dove from Chechnya"

Coca: The Dove from Chechnya

On Thursday evening, the closing ceremonies of Prague's One World documentary film festival honoured Swiss director Eric Bergkraut's film, "Coca: The Dove from Chechnya" with the Rudolf Vrba Award, for the best film in the category of Right to Know. Now in its 8th year, this year the One World festival screened 118 films from 40 different countries. During the festival Eric Bergkraut spoke to me about his film, and why he chose to feature Chechnya in his latest documentary.

"Somehow Chechnya is an example of how morality, and what is called Realpolitik, co-exist. It's an incredible tragedy for ten years, or for 300 years you can say, and it goes on and everybody should know—could know—but nothing really happens. So, on the one hand it's very much about the concrete situation in Chechnya, but one aspect is also more general, about the world and how it works."

The heroine of your film, she takes great risks to document what has been happening in Chechnya for the past ten years. How did you feel about telling her story?

"It is true, that if you don't agree in Chechnya—or in Russia in general—with the politics of Mr. Putin, you can easily find yourself in a very dangerous situation. I mean, look at how many journalists died during the last years. It is obvious that there is a kind of role-back in the Russian system that reminds you of the years of the Soviet Union, and now the years of Yeltsin seem quite liberal [laughs]. It is very dangerous—it is a closed country, the Republic of Chechnya, and I think that the hero of my film is completely aware of how dangerous it is because other women doing the same thing, or those who did do the same job she does today were just killed. In the night people come—masked people—and kill. That's happened not once or twice, but hundreds, maybe even thousands of times. So she is of course aware of the danger, but she told me from the beginning, 'the more people know of my work, the more my name Zainap Gashaeva is well-known, the more it's a kind of life insurance.' If something happens to her now, you could read it in the papers. We were in a dialogue throughout the entire time of the work, and I think that she was right. But it is true that sometimes I felt bad about this question, of course. I'm very happy that she got an award in Germany last year: the Lev Kopalev Award (Soviet dissident Lev Kopalev who went to Germany) and it was a big satisfaction for me. She was not known before, and she got known through the film so that's quite positive."

Coca: The Dove from Chechnya
The film was shown here in Prague as part of the annual documentary film festival, One World. Where else has it been shown, and how has it been received internationally?

"The film was first shown at the Berlin Film Festival last year, and it went around the world. That's nice of course, for the film-maker to know that, and to see that, and getting emails from Australia, to Canada, etc. It was also shown in the cinemas in France, Germany, and Switzerland. Of course the audience is not enormous in the cinema because the story I have to tell is somehow too sad. Even if you look into the future, there is not very much hope, you know? And you prefer to go to the cinema and have a good feeling at the end, and I can't really deliver that feeling—although these women are really heroes because they are going on positively. Yet still, if you look at the global political situation, Russia is needed. Russian gas is very important; now I read that 75 % of the gas for the Czech Republic comes from Russia, I think in Germany 25%, and in France about the same. Unfortunately, the Chechens have no lobby and a lot of people think first of the terrorists. There are Chechen terrorists doing awful things, and I have no sympathy at all for them, but maybe we should first consider that in Chechnya something happened that Jean Le Carre called 'state terrorism,' over many, many, many years. So, Prague is an interesting place because of the Czech history, and all the countries in eastern Europe who were under the influence of the Soviet Union—they are very open, of course, and they understand the message very quickly."

Coca: The Dove from Chechnya
Given President Putin's stance in Russia, and his very strict attempt to control movement in and out of Chechen territory, how did you go about making this film from a technical standpoint? How did you gather all of the footage that you did, and how many trips did you make to Chechnya yourself?

"Chechnya is a closed country—you can't go there and that's one of the main problems. No journalist can just go there and make reports. Some colleagues did it, they went there and brought extraordinary documents. I never had the intention of producing a war report, so there was no need for me [to go there]. My film is about women who are covering what happened, so their tapes, hidden in the ground or in walls—their testimony is the most authentic material I could ever find, and there was no need for me to go into the Chechen villages as a reporter. If it would have been possible I would have followed the women and covered how they do their job, but this was definitely too dangerous. My only trip was with a propaganda tour organized by the Kremlin; a three-day trip to Chechnya and of course we didn't see the reality at all—it was really absurd."

How did you learn of the story of 'Coca the Dove,' as you call her in the movie?

Coca: The Dove from Chechnya
"You know, I don't consider myself to be a specialist on human rights issues. I'm just doing documentaries about people, and to understand the world better—to better understand people and myself. My father came from Vienna, he was Jewish, and he told me what happened in 1938 during the so-called Anschluss when the Nazis came. During the few months until he could leave the country, not one of his school comrades ever came to ask him 'How are you? Are you still alive?' He was very lucky afterwards, during the war, but he was running for his life for four of five years. But being in Vienna and nobody caring what happened to him, that was...till his death, he wasn't at peace with that fact. In French there is an expression, 'Le silence qui tue' (The silence that kills), and the silence about Chechnya goes on killing every day, so we have a kind of responsibility. Even though it is very hard to say what the responsibility is, and what can be done—but we do have a responsibility, so biographically, this is why I made this movie."