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THE RISE OF AN UNSTOPPABLE MAN

Inside the making of Rivers of Babylon:

It has been a white water journey for "Rivers of Babylon," a film currently finishing production at Bratislava's ALEF studios. The project, based on the controversial 1991 best-selling debut novel of the same name by Peter Pišťanek, has been in the works since 1992 and continues to struggle as it nears completion .
Producer Marian Urban and Minister of Culture Ivan Hudec have squabbled over the release of 4 million Sk from the Pro Slovakia fund. The ministry is uncomfortable with the film because comparisons have been made about the main character of the movie and Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. Urban, however, flatly denies that there is any similarity.
Still the film will be completed after five more days of shooting and will hit Slovak movie theaters by the beginning of next year. The drive to finish the film has come from a crew that has united around the powerful story, which takes a critical look at contemporary Slovak history.


The premier's shadow? Andy Hryc stars as Racz, a character often compared to Prime Minister Vladim'r Mečiar, though the producer flatly denies that this was intended.
ALEF Studio, M. Polák

It has been a white water journey for "Rivers of Babylon," a film currently finishing production at Bratislava's ALEF studios. The project, based on the controversial 1991 best-selling debut novel of the same name by Peter Pišťanek, has been in the works since 1992 and continues to struggle as it nears completion .

Producer Marian Urban and Minister of Culture Ivan Hudec have squabbled over the release of 4 million Sk from the Pro Slovakia fund. The ministry is uncomfortable with the film because comparisons have been made about the main character of the movie and Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. Urban, however, flatly denies that there is any similarity.

Still the film will be completed after five more days of shooting and will hit Slovak movie theaters by the beginning of next year. The drive to finish the film has come from a crew that has united around the powerful story, which takes a critical look at contemporary Slovak history.

Urban has made over 60 documentaries at Bratislava's Koliba studios, including the series "The History of Slovakia" and Dušan Hanak's feature film "Paper Heads" (1993) (Papierove Hlavy), before breaking away from the state-run agency in 1990 to form a private enterprise.

Urban continued to teach at VŠMU though, which is where he met a young up-and-coming novelist named Peter Pišťanek, who wanted to study documentary film-making. Over objections from the selection committee, Urban accepted the student, and they soon found themselves writing screenplays rather than studying them.

Urban knew he wanted his next film to be a fictional work, something that could have both "commercial success and cultural ambitions." After surveying Slovak literature, he set a course for "Rivers of Babylon."


From the boiler room to a life of leisure. Rivers of Babylon, the famous book by Peter Pišťanek, has been in the works as a film for five years.
ALEF Studio, M. Polák

"I chose this as the best story for a film because it addresses problems that we all live in, and I felt that this (period) would soon be history, so the film had to be made quickly," Urban said.

"A lot of people wanted to speak about 'Rivers...' as a book, but not many wanted to work on it (as a film), because it is a very special novel," he continued. "Everyone told me that it would be a very hard film to make because the story uses a very special language, practically without dialogue. We had to prepare an autonomous film, not just a transcription of the novel." The film has survived pressures of filming over five years that would have sunk lesser projects because of the commitment of the talent involved. "Everybody has seen the rushes and is really standing behind the film, helping however they can," Urban said.

This includes Andy Hryc, the owner and general director of Radio Twist, who plays the lead role. Hryc plays "Racz," an uneducated villager who works as a coal furnace tender and attempts to rise to respectability through the ranks of the urban underworld. "It is beautiful working with Andy Hryc. He is one of the biggest supporters of this story," said Urban. "He believed in it from the first moment."

It wasn't easy finding the right fit for Racz. "We looked for five months for the main character," explained Urban. "We spoke to Czech actors, Yugoslavians, Russians, Ukrainians. We chose Andy, and he took only two days to decide. He told me that he hadn't read such a good character since Kapitán Dabac in 1949." Hryc had to sacrifice his hair and beard for the role, which had him worried that his children would not recognize him, but he claimed that his wife found the new look attractive.

When shooting first started, the famous Slovak musician Richard Muller read about it in the newspaper. The same night Muller , who liked the novel, called the producer and said, "I want to help! Make a role for me!" Two months later, Urban called him back, again in the wee hours of the night, this time from a New Year's party, and told him to come to the set. The musician was busy and said he would come only if a Mercedes were sent for him. A Škoda Felicia was dispatched, but Muller folded his two meter body into it anyway and came to the set. No one will say what Muller's role in the film is; the producer will only say it is a role Muller has never acted before, small but surprising and well-played.

More time, or delays depending on one's point of view, has meant higher quality. The film editors have used a complex Dolby surround sound mix to enhance sound. Delays have allowed scenes to be rewritten to better reflect current events, and the author Pišťanek and his co-screenwriters have had plenty of opportunity to debate the fate of one of the characters, "Video Urban", played by Vlado Hajdu, that some want to kill in the movie. Pišťanek, however, has already written him into the sequel of the novel.

The film's money woes meant that the location for the final scenes had to be changed from a remote island near Tahiti to a less exotic location closer to home. You won't be able to recognize the actors around town by their sun tans, but with any luck early next year they will be known for their work.

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