Short film on attacks on Roma aimed at increasing public awareness

The Czech Republic's treatment of its minority Roma population has frequently been criticised by human rights organisations and the international community. Observers say that attacks on Romanies often go unpunished and that the silent majority seems reluctant to intervene when attacks occur. In a new short film, a young Czech student at Columbia University's film school depicts a train ride that turns nasty as two skinheads gradually begin to taunt a young Roma couple in their carriage. But as Nick Carey reports, this is one story with a happy ending.

"Trainwreck" is a 17-minute long film, directed by Michal Sedlacek as part of his studies at Columbia University. In the film, three young Czechs have just completed their military service, and head for home by train. They find a compartment containing two young Roma, a man and a woman. As day turns to night, two of the soldiers, clearly skinheads, try to provoke and intimidate the couple, culminating in one of them trying to rape the girl. At this point, the third soldier, who originally shared their jokes, steps in and forcibly prevents his companions from continuing their attack.

Michal Sedlacek has been living in the United States for some years, and says that seeing how the Americans deal with racism helped inspire him to make this film:

"This kind of theme really interests me, racial tensions, race relations. Not just in the Czech Republic, but also in the United States. I had the opportunity to compare how people deal with racial tensions over there and here. Of course, I feel that the situation is totally different in the United States to that in the Czech Republic. What most upsets me is that the silent majority knows clearly what is right and what is wrong in the United States, and I don't feel that that is the case in the Czech Republic."

The story itself is not based on true events, but real attacks on the Roma in the Czech Republic provided the background for the scenes depicted in "Trainwreck":

"It was an inspiration for me. I mean, it was a totally made up story, it never happened, and I hope it never does. However, I read in the papers, for instance, about an attack in Vrchlabi, I believe, where a gypsy [Roma] girl was forced into a river and she drowned. So, it was definitely inspired by real events in the Czech Republic."

Unlike many of the attacks that have occurred in the Czech Republic in recent years, Trainwreck has a happy ending, with the young soldier intervening to save the Roma. Michal Sedlacek wants the film to serve as a moral tale, to show Czech audiences the difference between right and wrong:

"The film, I feel, has to give some hope. And I hope that it gives hope, that there are people willing to stand up against evil, who are willing to do the right thing, and I think it is important to show what is right."

"Trainwreck" has already received offers from four small film distributors in the United States, and Michal Sedlacek hopes that it will be included in national anti-racism campaigns here. There is a chance that one of the country's television stations will pick up the film, but unfortunately due to it's length this is not as easy as one would think.

"Unfortunately, it's a short film, so I don't think that we will see major distribution in movie theatres. However, I understand that there is a chance that Czech Television or some private channel here in the Czech Republic might be interested. It's just seventeen minutes long, so it's not easy to fit it into the structure of broadcast schedules, but I hope it will happen."