Na krev: You can‘t uproot yourself but you can still grow
Shortly before the near end of the emergency state, but still in a time highly affected by the global pandemic, the empty Lucerna cinema (and the virtual world) hosted, I dare say, a unique event – the premiere of Erik Knopp’s documentary Na krev (There Will Be Blood) following the lives of the founders of the contemporary circus ensemble Cirk La Putyka. However, the documentary does not focus on the outstanding company, but on the private lives of the eighth generation of the Kopecky family (the legendary clan of puppeteers) - the brothers Rostislav Jr and Vít Novák.
Knopp decided to make the documentary in 2014. In three years and 147 shooting days he amassed more than 600 hours of material and rich archival footage of the Kopecký-Novák family (since 1946) and created a full-length documentary film on the blood relatives (not the theatre “family”) of the charismatic circus director Rostislav Novák Jr. Making use of attractive visual effects, a powerful music score and the emotional charge of La Putyka’s performances, Na krev always gets back to capturing family relations with an emphasis on the male line. The heirs of the famous wandering puppeteer “empire” are dealing with what is their genes in all possible ways, including a revolt. They confront with the family tradition and seek their own way but they never, not even in extreme situations, leave their kins. As they say, family is security, come what may.
The film accentuates family cohesion, it demonstrates the power of unity under all conditions, despite the uncomfortable overlapping of personal and professional lives, especially between the two brothers - the elder brother who is more popular (and enjoys media attention), more creative and impulsive, fulfills his dreams, works hard in the training hall and lays himself bare on the stage; the other one – unobtrusive, more silent, anonymous for many – is the catalyst for his brother’s visions, he is the shield protecting his sibling against palpable financial risks; he is the solid pillar on which the director’s cloud castles can be built. The Novák brothers are the first in their family who settled with their theatre and opened a multifunctional space in the former slaughterhouse in Prague’s Holešovice Market – a space for new art. The creative process and almost euphoric artistic achievements are documented by the Czech Television coverage of rehearsals, premieres, the gala opening of Jatka78 and the guest performance in Berlin’s Chamäleon Theatre.
The authors of the documentary take us to the theatre as well as family backstage. Rather poignantly, the first minutes of the film show Rostislav Novák’s sweating back during muscle endurance tests, while in a parallel picture we see the first meeting in a rehearsal room for the preparations of the Family project - theatre is a permanent loading test for the family, a test of mutual support and patience in the haven of loving care.
The documentary presents the highs and lows in the life of the leading figure of Czech contemporary circus, his desire to break with tradition and push the boundaries of an individual and the community. Novák opens up about his love for his family and profession, his obsession with risk and his belief in a good cause. So it comes as a big surprise that the documentary also gives an honest portrait of his silent and faithful partner – his introverted brother Vít. With his inner fire, Rostislav ignites passion in people around him, while his brother keeps the fire alive. And it was Cirk La Putyka who adapted to the unexpected situation this March and almost overnight, it embraced the virtual world, as if it were its natural platform. Along with his closest collaborators, Rostislav Novák Jr (the visionary and the driving force in the company) jumped headfirst into the waters of virtual performance and saw a wave of support for himself and for other artists. His ability to react quickly and take action, to instantly mobilize forces and motivate his team by his own authenticity, to leave work behind the door despite the desire to master the art, all this is depicted in the logitudinal documentary.
The camera often entered personal space, in extreme moments it offered close-up shots. There were tears and sweat, there was blood, the creators went to the very essence and the very bottom of emotions without servility or flashy pathos. The most valuable moments were those in which the heroes lost their self-control, those which showed the tough reality, the dialogue between generations representing the time’s order and the eternal circle of life. In other words, it painted humanity in all its shades and nuances. Knopp’s documentary focuses on a family which is so fascinating that it was impossible to miss “the bull eye”, although it certainly did not exhaust all the material. It is a coherent piece, although some redundancy can be felt, for example the flashback to the 1950s or the vintage cultural news. The dramaturgy, however, held all the elements together and eventually locked around Rostislav Jr and Vít Novák - obsessed with their dreams, they shake the pillars of the family and stir the waters of theatre art at home as well as abroad.
Written from the online premiere held on 6 May 2020.
Na krev (There Will Be Blood)
Direction: Erik Knopp
Camera: Patrik Balonek, Erik Knopp
Dramaturgy: Richard Malatinský
Cut: Šimon Hájek
Sound: Adam Levý
Production: Masterfilm – Dagmar Sedláčková
Co-production: Česká televize – Filmové centrum – creative producer Věra Krincvajová
Runtime: 90 minutes
With support of the Czech Film Fund
Premiere: 6 May 2020
Translated by Tereza Cigánková.