My Street Films inspires amateur and professional filmmakers to produce short docs

'Stopovaná', photo: archive of My Street Films

The winner of this year’s My Street Films project was announced earlier this week; we talk to the project's Diana Tabakov about the winning entry as well as the competition’s main aims.

Diana Tabakov,  photo: archive of Czech Centre London
“Every street has a story but not all every street has a film is the kind of motto of the project. The idea is to get people interested in their surroundings to shoot short documentaries, up to 10 minutes in length, about a street they know, about people there and so on, and send these films to us, so we can pin them to an online map. At our website we have an audio-visual online map of streets in different Czech cities. And people can come and look at the online map and discover new places through subjective stories.”

Where did the idea come from?

“The project was launched about five years ago in London at the Open City docs fest; it was invented by British anthropologist Michael Stewart, the founder of Open City. We talked with him about transporting My Street Films to the Czech Republic with a few differences, namely that the project is accompanied by more workshops here. The educational and cultural context is different so we thought that workshops here would be very well worth doing.”

I imagine regarding some streets in the capital, in other Czech towns, that there are a lot of forgotten or unusual stories to uncover…

“Yes, absolutely. There is of course a never-ending range of stories; the trick is to tell the story in an unusual way. When you shoot a film it is different than writing an article. You have to point the camera at something. So you have to think many different aspects through: visual, audio, a motif or central character. You have to pin the story on something, one person perhaps, and you can tell a big story based on a small topic. There are various ways you can tell a story. Many people are sensitive to what is going on around them, but many need to learn how to tell a story, not just in a conventional way.”

'Stopovaná',  photo: archive of My Street Films
It is immediately apparent that the street or name of the street is just a springboard or launching point: there was a film last year which was about advertising posters in the city, but the way the short opens, there is a certain mystery or ambiguity – the story doesn’t start the way one might expect…

“Exactly. This film worked on many different levels and there is no reason to set up the film in a conventional way. Here we see images before we know what is going on: the poster ad for a travel agency. Is it a poster or are we on a beach. So reality and the unreal mix. There is reason why the puporse of the film should be explained in the first two minutes.”

This year’s winner, announced just a few days ago, is called Stopovaná. It is set on a street in Plzeň and the filmmaker focuses on a series of white arrow painted on buildings, pointing down. And of course, no one she speaks with, or almost no one, passers-by, knows what they represent.

“That’s right. It is hard to talk about this film to not give away the main point – which is the origin or purpose of the arrows, and I don’t want to give anything away. Viewers can see it online for themselves. But I will say that this film was a good fit for this competition and ultimately why it won. The filmmaker used conventional means, vox populi interviews of the person on the street, but in this case it was very effective because most had no idea and that came across. So she chose her methods well and very deliberately. It is a story from one street, about something which only one generation will remember.”

How do the workshops complement the competition?

Photo: archive of My Street Films
“What the workshops do is bring in ordinary people, amateur or budding filmmakers who did not have the chance to study film at the academy in Prague or elsewhere, and provide the opportunity to learn more. There is quite a large audience for this we have found. The workshops take place in an informal setting, usually in the evening hours in a place where there is also a bar, and we invite guest lecturers who are established filmmakers willing to share their time and knowledge with others. Some of workshops are a basic introduction to camera, sound, editing and so on. Often the guest filmmakers are very generous, staying far longer than we pay them, and it is a chance for those who want to take it and perhaps try their hand at making a short movie of their own.”