Modrý tygr (The Blue Tiger) wins Best Picture at Kinodiseea

'Modrý tygr', photo: Czech Television

Just a few days ago a Czech/Slovak/German children’s film called Modrý tygr (The Blue Tiger, released earlier this year) won the award for Best Picture at the Kinodiseea international children’s film festival in Bucharest. The film, based on a book by Tereza Horváthová, is set in a magical part of the city, focussing on a little girl and boy whose botanical garden is in danger of being demolished and can only saved by a magical tiger that the children befriend.

'Modrý tygr', photo: Czech Television
The movie marked the directorial debut of well-known Czech producer Petr Oukropec, co-founder of Negativ films.

This week he told me more about the project, including how he made the leap from production to directing.

“It was a long process before I decided to direct for the first time. I really wanted to shoot a children’s film. Czech cinema is historically known for children’s movies but the number of them made declined after the Velvet Revolution. I began looking for possible material and I came across Tereza Horváthová’s The Blue Tiger. We began developing the project together and because I got to know the source material very well and really liked the characters, I decided to direct. My colleagues saw how I involved I was and I began to direct.”

I gather that some compromises had to be taken to adapt the book for the screen: what were some changes that were made?

“Well, the book is mostly a mosaic: you have the main character and her story but there are also parallel stories in the book. So we had to find the right thread to follow concerning Johanka and so some minor changes were introduced. Overall, I think that the film is true to the characters in the book as well as the atmosphere and theme.”

'Modrý tygr', photo: Czech Television
You mentioned Johanka there, one of the two main characters, and Matyáš are friends: how would you describe the setting in which their story takes place? It is in a sense a very magical one…

“That’s true and all along I wanted a story that had magical elements and this is in the book and we worked a long time to come up with ideas of how to transfer that atmosphere into the movie. Animation is used in the film to represent the fantasy of the main character. We also had to construct the setting of the botanical garden, a kind of paradise right in the middle of the city, since that kind of thing no longer exists.”

There is a very well-known adage among filmmakers which is to ‘stay away from’ animals and children when making a movie. You had both in your debut no less! At the start, did anyone warn you away from the idea?

“Some people did but I have to say we live in a village and at our home we have a theatre than can seat 300 people. I have worked many times with both children and animals at my home. I had help from my assistants but it wasn’t something I was new to, I had experience from before. I have to say that the kids were even better than the adults because they forget their lines less and really become the characters they are playing, focused as they are.”

'Modrý tygr', photo: Czech Television
Did either of the two leads have previous acting experience?

“No, no. And they are very different from the characters they played. Linda Votrubová who played Johanka is really a very talented young actress. I think she will be someone to watch in the future. Matyáš was different: even at the age of 10 he was a real character. He is original and authentic but I do not think he will continue as an actor.”

Because of the kind of story you were telling there were animated sequences: what were moments you had the most fun with in post-production?

“It was hard work. Doing all the animation required six months and a lot of animators were involved. It was our aim from the start to use handmade elements to make the sequences natural.”

There is something quite thrilling about the use of shadow to represent a big cat, in this case across cobblestones in the film which is unusual.

'Modrý tygr', photo: Czech Television
“It creates suspense. It’s a fairytale for me but with real elements.”

How old was the tiger that was used, in fact, I read that there were two of them?

“We had to actually wait for them to be born, they were twins. When we used them in the film they were three to four months and they were perfect in size in relation to the kids. Any bigger, though, we couldn’t have used with shooting with children, it would have been too dangerous.”

It’s also worth mentioning I think that they were provided by one of the best animal training families in the Czech Republic, the Berousek family…

“Yes, they have a farm near Prague where they have all kinds of animals, tigers, and so on.”

The Blue Tiger just received Best Film at the children’s film festival in Bucharest, which must be very pleasing.

'Modrý tygr', photo: Czech Television
“It is of course. It’s not the first award the film has received but it made me very happy. The film has been screened at festivals around the world now and it is very rewarding to be able to talk to the audiences and see how they understand the story and to hear that the kids enjoyed the magical moments. That is very rewarding.”