My Prague – Olmo Omerzu

Olmo Omerzu at the Trade Fair Palace

Slovenian filmmaker Olmo Omerzu has been living in Prague for a decade and a half. In that time the director has enjoyed lots of success with Czech-made movies such as Winter Flies and his most recent work, Bird Atlas. Our tour of “his Prague” begins at the spacious café Kolektor at the Trade Fair Palace (Veletržní palace) in Prague 7, which was previously known as Café Jedna.

“It’s a coffee place but I usually work here. Even though I’m not a big fan of working in cafés.”

“But this is actually the only place where I can concentrate.

“Probably it’s connected with the echo in this place, because you don’t hear actually the voices – you only hear the echo, so you can be more focused on the work that you are doing at that time.”

Also I guess the tables here are relatively very far apart.

“Yeah, which is not very common, if you compare it with other places. It’s true.”

What I like here too is – we’re here in the late afternoon/early evening – the light is nice and low. That’s so unusual in Prague: in so many places the lights are crazy bright.

“That’s true, but it’s also because it’s mostly natural light. They have these big windows.

“For me it’s always nicer to have natural light than unnatural light.”

The cafe Kolektor at Prague’s Trade Fair Palace | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

When you sit here for a long time working, do the staff come and look into your empty and try and make you feel guilty or whatever?

“No, it’s not this kind of place. Also you need to order at the bar.

“This is something that I don’t know from Slovenia or other countries – that the waiters are always checking if you already drank the thing that you have, your coffee or something.

“Quite often it’s a very unpleasant experience, when somebody is all the time trying to take the cup from the table.”

You mentioned Slovenia, where you come from. What led you to move here to Prague?

“FAMU [film school]. Actually this was the first motivation – to try to do the exams, and then I was accepted to the school.

“But I didn’t think about my studies that I was moving to Prague and I’d be living in Prague.

“Also when I finished school I moved back to Ljubljana and I was living there for one year and [laughs] I realised that in a way I was homesick for Prague.

“That was very weird for me at that time, and a very new experience.

“But somehow it’s logical, because I was 18 years old when I moved here and I was studying here for five, six, seven years.

“It was a period of time when somehow I lost friends in Slovenia, I realised because I was for a very long time away.

“And also I got a working space and work friends and actually I think that I formed my real friends here.

“That was the reason why I moved back.

“Also at that time I finished FAMU with a shorter feature called A Night Too Young, which was premiered at the Berlinale Forum section.

“Somehow I established my career already in the Czech Republic, even more than in Slovenia, where I was in a way a newcomer, because I actually didn’t any film in the Slovenian language; I still didn’t do it.

“Also I always had a problem with Ljubljana in way, that it’s so small [laughs].

Fair Trade Palace | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

“Probably it’s a very nice city for old people or young families, but somehow it was more interesting for me to live in Prague.”

You’ve been living in Prague for 15 years or so. What do you feel the city has given you?

“I was always very much orientated toward work. I’m very glad and very happy that I’m shooting my films here, given that I’m not from the Czech Republic.

“I see that this is very generous from this country – that I can do my films here.

“Probably this is the main thing why I’m staying here.

“But at the same time I like Prague very much.

The cafe Kolektor at Prague’s Trade Fair Palace | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“I have a wife here. Monika [Omerzu Midriaková, musician, composer and film editor] is from Slovakia so it’s interesting that we are both foreigners.

“She’s more connected to the Czech Republic as a Slovak, but at the same time we share a similar experience, that we are living in a country that we weren’t born in.

“I remember that Prague is a very intense city.

“I felt it more at the beginning, when I was staying here for a few years, in my first few years.

“Because I wasn’t adapted so much. And also I had homesickness sometimes.

“And I always remember these winter time periods, how dark it was [laughs].

“I had the feeling that even the city had this dark atmosphere, more than some other cities.

“But yeah, I like it very much.”

Fair Trade Palace | Photo: Štěpánka Budková,  Radio Prague International

The next port of call on our short tour of “Olmo Omerzu’s Prague” is literally a few metres away. It’s the bookshop at the Trade Fair Palace, the Functionalist gem that houses the Czech National Gallery’s modern collections. The street-adjacent store opens on to ground floor of the enormous building’s atrium.

“For my work it’s very important for me to be inspired by other artists, so I’m always – also when I’m travelling – looking for art book stores.

“I’m often very much inspired by authors that are doing photos or contemporary art.

“Actually I’m very much seeking a maybe bigger bookstore in Prague, but this one I like very much because [laughs] it’s close to the café that I like.

The art bookstore at the Trade Fair Palace | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“And also they have a very interesting selection of art books.”

Art books tend to cost quite a lot. Do you frequently buy?

“It depends. If I see something where I feel like I need to have it… but it could also be that I see only one photo that is important for me and through it I start thinking about something totally different.

“Then it’s enough for me to photograph it with my telephone [laughs], or to Google it.

“It’s more about this association process than studying a certain book.”

What do you think of the building here? We’re sitting by the bookshop in this main hall at the Trade Fair Palace and it really is quite something.

“Yeah, it’s totally unbelievable, actually.

“I remember that I was at an exhibition and in one moment I realised that I was more looking at places and the architecture and the building than at the paintings on the wall [laughs].

“I was also fascinated with the building itself.”

The art bookstore at the Trade Fair Palace | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

From the Trade Fair Palace it is only a short walk to the café-bar Kavárna Liberal, which is at the lower end of the Letná district that has become synonymous with hipsters in recent years. Olmo Omerzu is a regular.

“One of the reasons that I like this place very much is that I like the diversity of the people that are coming here.

“It’s so interesting. There are a lot of people that I know, that are from the arts scene.

“But also there are people who I don’t know what they’re doing; I can see that they’re from a totally different world.

“I like this mixture of different people and that a bar or coffee shop could be this melting pot of different views and different experiences.

Liberál in Prague's Holešovice district | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“I feel very comfortable in this place [laughs].

“I like also how it looks. It’s not this minimalistic type of hipster bar that is now more or less everywhere, so it has got some authenticity.”

I see on the menu that they’re serving mussels, which is surprising to me. Have you eaten here?

“Yeah, I’ve eaten here a lot of times and they have really good food.

“I think that’s also not so common – that you can go somewhere for a coffee and they have good coffee, good beer, great wine and good food also.”

Also for me they have maybe the best beer available now in this city, Unětice.

“Regarding beer I’m very much conservative [laughs]. I’m the guy who’s drinking Coca-Cola and Plzeň beer!

“But yeah, I like Unětice also.”

Kavárna Liberál | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

Do you spend a lot of time in this area? I know you live around Dejvice, so do you spend a lot time here in Holešovice, near Vltavská Metro station?

“Yeah, I’m living in Dejvice and I like it very much, but somehow when I go for a beer or for a coffee I usually go to Holešovice, to the Letná district.

“There are two reasons. One is that I like to walk before I go for a coffee for 15 minutes.

“And I have a great walk: Either I go through the park Letná or through the park Stromovka.

“For me it’s a great balance – to have 15 minutes of walking and then to have a coffee somewhere.

Stromovka park | Photo: Jolana Nováková,  Czech Radio

“And I don’t have favourite bars in Dejvice.”

I have never lived in Dejvice but somehow I’ve always had the sense that it’s a really boring part of town. Am I right?

“No, no, I don’t think so. I like it very much.

“Maybe it’s even more… I don’t know how to say it, but I have more of a feeling that people are living there already for a long time.

“Because this Letná thing is very hip and you see a lot of young people, students living here.

“Sometimes you have the feeling that everything is kind of temporary only – that it may look different in a few years, because another neighbourhood will be hip.

“And this is something that I’m OK with, but it’s not that I would like to live in a neighbourhood that is popular in that way.

“I don’t have that feeling with Dejvice.

“I like the sense that things are probably happening in the same way there for years [laughs].

“Before I was living on the other side of the river, for years, and then I realised somehow that I really need space, which I got at Dejvice.

Dejvice | Photo: Barbora Němcová,  Radio Prague International

“I mean the streets are wider, they’re more like avenues, and it’s also kind of a platform which is settled beyond Prague, in a way.

“It’s very interesting for me. I like to live there very much.”

What are the good things to do in Dejvice?

“I’m very much a person that needs to go for walks.

“For me walking is the most important part of the day.

“I actually realised that I’m sitting, I’m working, I’m working on a script or on some ideas for films, but then I need to walk.

“And it’s not like walking where I’m resting or I’m thinking about other things.

“It’s usually more as solving a problem that I have on my desk – and I always solve it through walking.

“So I have these long one- or two-hour walks where I can concentrate in my head on only this one thing.

“I don’t even see so much what’s happening around me.

“I like that about Dejvice. Actually the part that I’m living in, Dejvická Street, is in between two parks, so I have this circle [laughs] where I’m going from one park to another if I need, for example, a longer walk.

“Also in the last few years there are also many new coffee spots where you can get very good coffee and restaurants.

“It’s not so much a part of the city if you’re looking for nightlife or something like that.

“But you know, I don’t want to live above a popular bar.

“I had this experience one time in Ljubljana and it was horrible. I was feeling that I was kind of a grumpy old man and I was like 18 years old.

“I was all time going there and complaining about the noise, you know, so it’s very stupid.”