"Somewhere Better" - a powerful new film about a Czech Romany family in Britain

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Friday saw the international press premiere in Prague of an extraordinary film. "Somewhere Better", a co-production between Czech Television and the BBC, looks at one of the many Czech Romany families that have applied for asylum in Britain. This is a much-discussed theme, but the film by documentary-maker Mira Erdevicki takes an unusual path, and is special in more ways than one. David Vaughan was at the premiere.

'Somewhere Better'
This is not a film about asylum seekers. Although it follows the lives of a Czech Romany family in Britain, with most members of the family still waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, asylum procedure is not the film's focus. Instead it offers a vivid, fly-on-the-wall portrait of a few months in the lives of the two sons and eight daughters of Ester Kovacova, all of them trying to get by in their new home in Britain. A typical example of the film's vivid tragic-comedy is the sequence where one of the Kovac brothers sets up a Romany pub and social club in London, in an unlikely business deal with a young Turkish Cypriot. Against the odds, he succeeds, with a contagious energy and optimism. Mira Erdevicki worked with the family for two-and-a half years - and as you follow the fates of the two brothers and their families, it's easy to forget that you're watching a documentary.

"It's like a feature film really. I always know what I'm going to shoot and I always know what will happen, because I make a terrific amount of research and I'm very close to the family. I prepare the camera in a position to film dialogue, and because of that they don't really play on the camera because I'm there like a camera, but they play on my like I'm really part of the family. So you have these extraordinary intimate situations. It's a sad thing to say, but I was lucky, because when I started the film the mother died, so immediately the story was absolutely focusing on that. This death just changed absolutely my view on the subject, because now it's not just a story about do I have papers or not, but it is: am I going to live here for ever? What's going to happen?"

In the opening sequence we see Ester Kovacova buried in the foreign soil of London's Hackney Cemetery. Suddenly the family faces a deep crisis of identity. Where do they belong? Is home in Britain, in the Czech Republic, or in their Romany identity itself? Of course there no simple answers and Erdevicki makes no attempt to pretend that there are. "Somewhere Better" will be shown in its English version in Britain on BBC 4 in the spring, and there will be further opportunities to see it in both Europe and North America when it is released for cinema screening later this year.