Romany soccer team face hatred more or less all the time, says FC Roma co-director Tomáš Bojar

'FC Roma', photo: Nutprodukce

Two years ago there were international headlines about the Czech amateur soccer club that other teams were opting to forfeit three points to rather than play – because their players were members of the Roma minority. Staff from a number of Prague embassies formed a side to take on Roma Děčín in a friendly as a gesture of support. Now the club, and in particular two of its organisers, are the focus of the subtle, often amusing documentary FC Roma, which recently shared top prize at Jihlava. In the wake of that success, I asked the film’s co-director Tomáš Bojar what had initially drawn him to the project.

'FC Roma',  photo: Nutprodukce
“When I first came to Děčín it was for a match of Roma against foreign national embassies.

“I must confess I didn’t like the event very much. The intentions were good and everything, but I somehow felt it wasn’t really helping the Roma team, that it was a bit pretentious.

“I thought, This is too much of an affair for me, I’m interested in more intimate films, there are a lot of hysterical reactions going on – this probably isn’t for me.

“But then for maybe 15 or 20 minutes I was observing Pavel, the coach, during this match against the embassies.

“I saw somebody who is perfectly dedicated to the game, who wants to win it, though it’s only a friendly and no big deal.

“After these 15 minutes I thought, Wow, this is a character I’m interested in – we might make a film, we might not, but I really want to get to know him.

“So this was the motivation.”

You have fabulous main characters: Pavel the trainer, who’s calm and reasonable, and Patrik the goalkeeper, who’s kind of hot-headed. Was casting the two of them central to the whole project?

“I guess so, yes. In terms of its narrative structure and basic dramaturgy, the film is rather simple, I would say. It’s a very modest film with little experimental elements involved.

Tomáš Bojar,  photo: Standa Soukup
“I think together with Rozálie [Kohoutová], my co-director, we were aware from the very beginning that – as you say in English – the film stands and falls with the characters.

“We might possibly portray some phenomena that are a bit more general than that. Maybe, I don’t know. But if we can achieve that, it’s only through following the characters from a very close distance.”

When you actually filmed it, were you attempting to explore the terrain? Or did you have in mind what you wanted to achieve, what you wanted to find, there in Děčín?

“For me, with all the movies I’ve worked on so far – which is not that many – this exploration as you call it is the most important part of the process.

“It’s also the most enjoyable one, actually.

“We spent days and weeks and months in the town of Děčín without any camera, without any equipment.

“We could have spent even more time there, that’s always possible, but I think this was rather deep in a way.

“We walked a lot through the city, through the woods around it. We got to know many local people.

“We also really got to know all the other guys from the team, quite well. We’ve become friends.

“We were aware from the very beginning that the film stands and falls with the characters.”

“It’s hard to talk about trust, but I think with Pavel and Patrik it’s probably the first time in my filmmaking so-called career [laughs] that I can really say even now that we’ve got some basic mutual trust.

“So this all lasted for months and what you would call the script or the scenario kind of emerged out of this.

“But yes, when we got to know the people and the situation they live in and the whole Děčín ambience we then were quite sure what we wanted to get in the movie.”

To me as a viewer, there were one or two conversations that felt almost like exposition. For instance, there’s a scene where Patrik is talking to his girlfriend about the fact that he might have become a junkie except for the influence of Pavel. Was that a conversation that you encouraged, or did it just happen?

“Actually, this one just happened. To be honest, there are some conversations in the film that we kind of encouraged. Very few of them, but there are some.

“This was is actually not that case. They just saw [laughs] some very strange junkie walking by and this was an immediate association for Patrik.

'FC Roma',  photo: Nutprodukce
“This is the way he feels – that young people should be playing football instead of doing drugs.”

Sometimes it almost feels like a feature film. For example, when there is a scene at a football game, there are so many voices we hear, so many people we see. How many microphones did you use? How many cameras did you have?

“I think this is maybe especially the case of the last match that you see in the movie.

“There we have five different cameras and numerous microports [cordless mics]. Actually, most of the sound that you hear in the movie, all the dialogues, are recorded by microport.

“Apart from that we had quite a few microphones deployed within the football ground.

“I worked on the film Dva Nula [Two Nil] with Pavel Abrahám back in the day, in 2012, 2011.

“So I already had experience of this on a much larger scale, during a Sparta-Slavia match with a much higher number of cameras and microphones.

“I kind of used that as a model, but this was obviously much smaller.”

The film is about much more than racism, but some moments of racism do stand out. Like for example when they’re playing and somebody in the crowd makes a comment about Hitler. Did you get the feeling that for the players this is just normal, this is what they’re used to?

“The sad thing is they’re facing some kind of hatred, more or less all the time.”

“Unfortunately, it is quite normal. Not that people would shout these things at all matches. They don’t always talk about Hitler – this was a bit too much even for our protagonists. That really doesn’t happen every day.

“The sad thing is they’re facing some kind of hatred, more or less all the time.

“But most of it these days is mild racism.

“Pavel often has the problem that he’s lacking players for concrete games. Sometimes there are only nine of them, sometimes there are 10.

“That’s because most of the players work and sometimes they have to work on Saturdays and Sundays.

“It’s not like they got drunk and didn’t make it to the match.

“When they go away as the visiting club and they’re there at the stadium, the other team asks, What the hell’s going on?

“They say, The guys had to go to work. And people always say, Gypsies working? I never heard of that before.

“So things of this sort occur.

“On the other hand, they’ve got a lot of white friends in the other teams as well. It’s like a community, really.

'FC Roma',  photo: Nutprodukce
“Always you find a few spectators, a few fans who shout nasty things at them. But at the same time you can see Patrik having a beer with a white guy that he knows from work after the match.”

You also see him making racist comments about Muslims. Which I guess maybe would be typical of somebody of his social status, in some ways?

“He’s not a saint. He’s also partly racist and he’s aware of that.

“We felt that if the film should be true and authentic, this has to be shown as well. Roma people are not saints.

“Actually they welcomed the refugee crisis, a lot [laughs].”

It takes the attention away from them?

“Yes, exactly, that’s the reason. We don’t have many refugees here. We have 15 or 20, I don’t know, but people are afraid.

“Especially last year, with the peak of the crisis, some of the Roma people I spoke to in Děčín told me, Yeah, this is actually quite welcome [laughs] – it’s a relief for us, we’re not the main target.”

Whatever way you look at it, the Roma community does have a lot of problems. You have spent more time among that community than most people from the majority society. I know this is a big question, but do you see any ways forward, any ways to improve the situation of Romanies?

“I’ve spent time in Děčín and I know this very local community. It’s a particular case.

“Some of the Roma I spoke to told me, Yeah, the refugee crisis is actually quite welcome – it’s a relief for us, we’re not the main target.”

“I’m really not an expert in the Roma issue in general. And from what I’ve heard, the community that I got to know is in certain respects maybe a bit different from other communities.

“But there’s maybe just one thing that I would say. I’m kind of sceptical when it comes to these big human rights programmes and NGO involvement. Not that the intentions would not be justified and good.

“But in reality I feel that it’s often just those big words that remain.

“I’m in favour of small, modest steps taken mainly on the local level.

“Pavel is running this football club. In his building there’s another guy and a girl who are running a kindergarten and a kid’s centre. There’s a boxing team next door.

“They’ve got a community board that deals with things. All of these people are doing something for the community.

“The problem is there’s no real support, or very little support from the local government or the local town hall in Děčín.

“There’s very little support from these NGOs that follow all these big goals but when it comes to small ones, it doesn’t fit into grant criteria or whatever.

“For me, the common sense approach would be to have the local politicians more involved. They fear their voters, so they don’t want to support anything that’s Roma. And to have the NGOs more focused locally. For me, that’s the only way forward.”