Making doc about pedophile forced me to face my own prejudices, says director Veronika Lišková

'Daniel’s World', photo: archive of Institute of Documentary Film

The most discussed documentary at this year’s Jihlava festival was Daniel’s World, a portrait of a pedophile and other members of his community. Protagonist Daniel, who is in his 20s, speaks candidly about his love for a five-year-old boy – and about his responsibility to keep his urges in check. First-time director Veronika Lišková handles the subject sensitively – but why had she wanted to tackle such a thorny issue in the first place?

Veronika Lišková,  photo: archive of Institute of Documentary Film
“It wasn’t my idea to shoot a film on this topic. It was the idea of the producer, a friend of mine who one day saw a very stereotypical report on TV which dealt with some case of child abuse.

“After seeing this report, he felt a bit angry and started thinking there must be somebody who was born with this orientation but never acted out, who never committed anything wrong.

“He called me and asked if I would be ready to cooperate with him on this topic.

“It took me a while to think this through, because I had a very similar stereotypical view on this subject as the media represents, or as the majority of society has.

“But then we started the research and I found out that it’s worth doing this topic, or shooting it, because I found it extremely important.”

How did you meet this guy Daniel?

“When we started our research I found out that there is a community that cooperates and meets on an internet platform. I started reading their web blogs and the articles they publish.

“I also logged in and made my own profile and started communicating with these people. I began contacting them one by one. I met about 30 people and one of them was Daniel.”

How long did it take you to establish the trust of these people, particularly Daniel?

“It didn’t take a long time, because as soon as the first member of this community, it was like a door opened to other members of the community, to other pedophiles.

“Because once somebody mentioned that I was a person who didn’t represent any tabloid media newspapers and so on it was clear to them that there was somebody with a real interest, who was open to dealing with this topic without any pre-constructions.

'Daniel’s World',  photo: archive of Institute of Documentary Film
“And Daniel, when I met him for the first time for a coffee after two hours of talking he told me that he was ready to cooperate.

“As at the time he had already published some novels which dealt with the issue and which were autobiographical, he told me, OK, I see this as a very natural extension of my previous activities, so I’m ready to do it.”

What do you think his motivation was in agreeing to be in the film?

“I think he really wanted to help the community, he wanted to spread the word on the issue. He wanted basically to support his colleagues, especially younger people who have to deal with this very complicated orientation and who need support.”

Was there anything that you saw or heard during the making of the film that you found difficult to deal with?

“I must say the beginning was most difficult for me. The research. Because I had to deal with my own stereotypes.

“As soon as I had the opportunity to meet enough people, to hear their stories, as soon as I had the possibility to talk to doctors who deal with the orientation, then… the urgency to make the film on this topic somehow outweighed my doubts.”

Were you uncomfortable… for example there’s one scene where Daniel and a group of his friends are standing outside a children’s playground talking about the children – in that situation were you comfortable?

“No. Of course it’s very hard to accept that somebody can make jokes about children like that. But in fact, from my point of view, their jokes are very subtle, compared to some jokes that men sometimes make about women.”

But is it really comparable? They’re talking about children, saying, he’s got long hair, or there are twins – you like twins, that kind of thing.

“I think it is comparable. Because they don’t talk about the sexual, physical parts of the bodies of the children. They really comment if they are cute… I would say it’s more a romantic commentary, if I can describe it like that.”

'Daniel’s World',  photo: archive of Institute of Documentary Film
These men say they are non-active pedophiles – they only have these thoughts, they don’t do anything. Would you have made a film about an active pedophile actually trying to have sex with children?

“No, I wouldn’t. There are many films which have dealt with the topic of pedophilia but which dealt with men who acted out, who did something wrong. I think it wouldn’t make any sense to make another film like that.

“I think it is important to sometimes show that there can be somebody who is born with this orientation… Because each person deserves to be regarded in relation to the presumption of innocence.”

You said that Daniel kind of outed himself in his writings, because he wrote autobiographical stories. But at the same time, when this film is shown on TV [it is produced by Czech Television] he will become the best known pedophile in the country. Do you think he’s aware of this risk, or what it might mean for his life?

“I think he is very much aware. On the other hand, I don’t think the film will be screened at prime time. I’m very realistic about this.

“I also think that the majority of people who will be interested in seeing the issue will be people who are already ready to see this kind of topic.”

But the tabloids could go to town on this. They could find out where he lives, that kind of thing, speak to his neighbours…

“Of course, this is the risk. And Daniel is very much aware of this possibility. But he knew that from the beginning and he decided to take this risk.

“And I must say that I really appreciate that he has been so courageous. I hope that it won’t destroy his life and that he will still meet rather positive reactions, like he has done to this time.”

This may sound strange, but I got the feeling that he liked the attention. A lot of the things that he said sounded like he had said them many times – that they were rehearsed.

“Of course after living with this orientation and during his previous comings out he had to find the proper words to describe his orientation and his feelings.

“Most of the thing he said in the film were recorded on his own. I gave him an audio recorder…”

There’s a lot of voiceover.

'Daniel’s World',  photo: archive of Institute of Documentary Film
“Exactly, there’s a lot of voiceover. I gave him an audio recorder and asked him to record his feelings and whatever came into his mind.”

What would you say you learned from making this film?

“I don’t know if it taught me something. But as I mentioned before I had a lot of prejudices and stereotypical views on the issue.

“So my mind changed a lot regarding this specific issue, this specific orientation. But of course it was a kind of lesson of tolerance, because when you deal with your own stereotypes, if you manage to beat them you take a big lesson.”