Zora Cejnkova - TV producer incognito in Cuba

Zora Cejnkova

This week in One on One Rob Cameron speaks to TV producer Zora Cejnkova, who's just returned from Cuba where she was forced to work undercover after being refused filming permission by the Cuban authorities. The result is Cuba Incognito - a look at ordinary life on Castro's "Island of Freedom". Zora began her journalism career in 1994, as an investigative reporter for the commercial station TV Nova.

Zora, what was it like working for Nova in the early days?

"It was an absolutely exciting job. Listeners wouldn't know it, but Czech Television in the early 1990s was very, very old-fashioned and traditional television - very, very slow cuts and very, very long reports. When Nova entered the market it was like a big bang, like a supernova in the Czech media. For example they introduced the concept of a reporter standing in front of the camera, which wasn't usual up until then..."

Hard to imagine now isn't it?

"It is actually. And as a freshly graduated person I entered this job, and it was absolutely the biggest experience in my life until now."

You left the field of investigative reporting to concentrate on making documentary films. What makes a good TV documentary would you say?

"It's a pretty general question. I would say again that you have to show things. You shouldn't describe them. It sounds like an absolutely obvious thing, but it is not."

And in your view, do the documentaries that are on Czech TV and Nova succeed in "showing things"?

"Well, there are no documentary films on Nova that were produced by Nova, except for one travel programme that is very successful, and actually was developed in co-operation with Czech television and a very good private studio. So Nova is a little bit out of this business. Czech Television has a very difficult duty. It has to show documentary films for a wide scale of viewers. So some people want more sport, some people want more history, some people want more contemporary issues. We have a great need to show our recent history during Commuism, because we have a big wide gap in this."

Your work has taken you not only across the Czech Republic but also across the world. Which place that you've been to sticks most in your mind?

"It's Cuba, that was my most recent project. But also Egypt. I filmed two documentary films in Egypt, and the first was about four days after September 11th, 2001, so it was pretty exciting. The atmosphere in Cairo was pretty hard for us. We weren't sure how Egyptians would react to white foreigners. All the tourists were gone - everybody had cancelled their holidays. So we were absolutely alone standing in front of the great Cheops pyramid for example, which isn't possible anymore."

That must have been a wonderful experience.

"Yes, it was great. We were filming a documentary about Czech Egyptologists, who've been excavating in Egypt for about forty years."

You mentioned your latest project - Cuba Incognito - a documentary filmed secretly in Cuba. Surely that was very difficult indeed.

"Well, it wasn't intentional to film there secretly. We were trying hard to get official filming permission from the Cuban authorities. I filled in many, many forms in Spanish - and I don't speak Spanish. Finally, about six or seven hours before our departure from Prague, we received an official ban. We were diagnosed as enemies of the Cuban people."

Why was that?

"Nobody explained to us why. Nobody would give us a piece of paper, it was just via the telephone, so I can't prove anything. So we were diagnosed as very dangerous people for Cuba, and we were banned from going. So I discussed the whole situation with the producers - that was Czech Television - and my crew, and everybody said 'we want to go to Cuba despite the fact that we could theoretically end up in jail'. So we exchanged big cameras for two small DV cameras and just one microphone, and we were playing the role of tourists."

So you pretended to be tourists and filmed secretly?

"Yes. Our official programme was cancelled, so we basically got to the airport, went through customs, and we had absolutely no idea what we would do, because all the official meetings had been cancelled. So finally, with the help of people from the Czech Embassy and another contact I made during the preparation of the filming, we finally made a trip that was very exciting. It was Havana, Trinidad, Varadero, Playa Larga - basically the Bay of Pigs, and other great places."

Were you caught?

"We were trying to be invisible. So the interviews were filmed only inside houses, where nobody else could see us, and on the street we behaved like tourists. But the most striking thing was how to do interviews with ordinary Cubans without telling them that we were actually a film crew filming a documentary film. So I must say it was the first time in my life that I really had to lie to the people we were filming."

How did you feel about that?

"Well, I hope we didn't put them in any danger. Of course we didn't give their real names. For example in Trinidad - a fantastic city under UNESCO protection - we wanted to get into a huge, fantastic palace from Spanish times. So we went to a family who lived in such a palace and said 'we're Czechs and we're from a club called the Club for Friends of Architecture, and we're filming a short film for a friend of ours from the Club, so please would you allow us to film you here, and would you tell us a few sentences about the history of this building?' Luckily the people were so kind that they accepted this funny story. So in the same way we did an interview with a guy who owned one of those great old American cars from the 1940s, as members of the Club for Friends of Cars. We were also Friends of Music, so we did an interview with a great Cuban singer in Havana."