Radim Špaček, director of Walking Too Fast: if you wait long enough it will happen

Radim Špaček

The psychological thriller Walking Too Fast recently triumphed at Czech Lions, winning five awards including best Czech film of 2010. The movie, set in the early 1980s, tells the story of a communist secret police agent who eventually loses his mind. But when the film was first released in February 2010, it only attracted some 20,000 viewers and ranked far below the top 50 films of the year. Following its success at the Czech Lion awards, Walking Too Fast has been re-released – but why did it fail a year ago? That’s a question for the film’s director Radim Špaček.

Radim Špaček
“I think it’s quite logical that our film did not draw large audiences. It’s long, sad and depressing; it really is a description of a secret policeman’s mad mind in the 1980s. I’m not surprised this kind of film is not attractive for most people. They prefer to go watch movies with young people, comedies and so on.

“But the fact that we won those Czech Lions and also the Czech film critics’ award, that tells me that we didn’t fail, that we did a good job and the film is good. It also goes in the theatres again in many copies, and the five Czech Lions are a good recommendation.”

Are the Czech film awards also a good recommendation for distribution abroad?

“I can’t say. I did not have this kind of experience before so I can only hope so but we’ll find out soon enough.”

You were 16 when the communist regime collapsed. Did you have any personal experience with Czechoslovakia’s secret police?

“Not really. I could have because I know from my family history that my family was under scrutiny by the secret police because of my father’s political activities in the late 1960s. But I didn’t notice anything because I was so small.

'Walking Too Fast'
“In fact, the first touch with the secret police took place when we began working on the film and we consulted some historians who explained to us what kind of methods secret police used, how they listened in to phone calls and what tricks they used.”

Did you talk to any of the former agents?

“I didn’t but the author of the screenplay, Ondřej Štindl, did. He actually met one or two guys who used to work for the secret police, the StB. But it was just a proof how empty these people were and how they much more liked partying and getting drunk than working. But that’s only a funny story that wasn’t that important.”

Your film is one of the first that looks at the post-1968 period, known as the normalization, through the eyes of those who supported the regime. Was difficult to try to think like they did?

“I didn’t think about that too much because first of all, we didn’t want to make a film about the times, about that period. We are no witnesses to how cruel the regime was in the 1980s. The main focus was a personal story about the deconstruction of one’s mind and about the man falling in love and feeling his emotions. That it was a policeman was only secondary, because of the environment he was in. But I certainly would not like to be in their shoes, it’s not something pleasant to think about.”

'Walking Too Fast'
You rediscovered the actor Ondřej Malý for Czech cinema. He was a child star back in the 1980s when he was featured in a popular TV show. But for the last decade or so, he’s worked at a famous if regional theatre. Why did you pick him?

“I was with him in a film, called Mrtvej brouk, in the mid 1990s. He played a lunatic, and when I saw him, I thought that he was real, that he wasn’t an actor. But my sister, who is a producer, told me he was an actor. So ten years later, when I saw his photo when we were working on the casting, I said, ‘Oh yes, I remember this guy, I have to get him to come to the auditions.’ When he left, all us – the screenplay writer, me and the producer – we knew that was him. Maybe not for the lead, but we knew we wanted him in the movie. And then we slowly found out that Antonín, the main character, would fit him just great.”

Some film critics did not like the way you portrayed dissidents in the film. Do you think you treated them fairly?

“When I first read the script, I was very happy that those dissidents were not the positive guys, that they were not exclusively good characters, that they had something bad in them as well. They were also only human beings, and we all know they had their own flaws and issues. So I’m quite ok with this, that it’s not all black and white. Also, we were not really interested in what they had to say about it. I’ve heard this criticism several times but I think it’s ok because I think that only shows are characters are more plastic than perhaps in other films.”

'Walking Too Fast'
You will continue working with the author of the screenplay, Ondřej Štindl, who wrote a new screenplay called Místa, or Places. What will that be about?

“That story is not so depressing and remote from the present; it’s set in the mid 1990s. The writer says it’s a story about love, death and joy. I think it’s about losing illusions; there are two 18-year-old boys and a girl of the same age, and they are entering the world of the adults. The producer calls it ‘a young, summer sexy film’. So you will have to choose, but first of all you will have to wait until it’s finished.”

The Czech Lion awards should help with the funding, shouldn’t they?

“Possibly, but it does not necessarily work like that. We are now waiting to see if we get support from the State Fund for the Support of Czech Cinema, and also from Czech TV. If these two agree, I think we’ll go ahead with it.”

Walking Too Fast got 13 nominations for the awards but you skipped the nominations ceremony because you were in India. You go there often, and you also help organized the annual Bollywood Film Festival in Prague. Would you like to make a movie in India? And would it be possible at all?

'Walking Too Fast'
“These are two separate things. Of course I’d like to make a film there, not necessarily a real Bollywood blockbuster. And if it’s possible? I think it is. I think it depends a lot on the subject I would choose, and the context. But I’m not pushing it because I have this theory that if you wait long enough, it will happen. For instance, the offer to do Walking Too Fast came after 12 years of me not having shot a feature film. So I’ll keep organizing the Prague Bollywood Festival and I will keep going to India, watching their movies and trying to learn Hindi, and then, if it comes, I’ll be ready.”