Month: January 2016

Maya on casting, fashion and film

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

There are some incredible expats living in this city. Each and every one as inspiring as the next, especially for an expat like myself who is constantly searching for the next step; the next challenge. Maya is probably one of the original expats in Prague. Arriving shortly after the Velvet Revolution, she has seen it all and has played a huge role in this insanely addictive city. Her influence can be felt all over the art and fashion scene and speaking to her in her hidden Ujezd studio of Myrnyx Tyrnyx was not just an interview, but invaluable advice about creative life in Prague from one generation of expat to another. Hopefully in the future I can pass down the same wisdom. And also.. her first great love was superman! Read more. Now!

Where are you originally from?

I’m from California, from Santa Monica.

What was it like growing up there?

I grew up during the 80s. Performance art was just emerging and the punk scene was happening. It was so thrilling and new for me! The scene was the beginning of a rebellious voice that I could relate to. That doesn’t exist now. It’s hard when everything has been done.

Why did you come to Prague?

Well, I knew that I didn’t belong in the United States. I wanted something much more challenging. My idea was to set up some kind of business that would be successful but also would be beneficial to the city. Originally it was a little squat in Betlemske namesti where we made a performance centre for about 4-5 months. But after talking to local artists, I eventually decided on a vintage clothing store. But I chose the Czech Republic out of absolute serendipity.

I read that your casting agency Myrnyx Tyrnyx has been pushing racial and cultural boundaries since the beginning. Tell me a little bit about it.

There was a very homogeneous commercial industry here at the time – everybody was white, and not just white but very straight and classically attractive. To me, this was very boring. I tried to shake up the scene a bit with some fashion shows so that people could understand how to wear the clothes I was selling in the store. It was 1995 and at that time people here had just come out of communism. They weren’t individuated. They were very careful not to stand out. And I’d come from this internal and external universe of people shining and being themselves in L.A. So I invited talented interesting people, pierced, dreadlocked, African, South American and Asian, all different body types. And this was the first time the Czech Republic had seen multicultural elements, and I added other elements such as a man wearing a dress, and looking gorgeous! I was also not pro models being thin and classic, I was pro models being healthy and alive.

So you’ve recently started casting for films as well. Tell me about The Zookeeper’s Wife which was recently filmed in Prague Zoo with Jessica Chastain, I’m a huge fan of hers.

She is incredible, isn’t she? It was a unique project. Very deep. A wonderful director from New Zealand, Niki Caro. Something that was very unique about this project and something that I’d never seen before, was that she pretty much didn’t leave the set. She stayed within the mood of the scene that she was shooting. You never saw her floating around and gabbing with people nor did you see her in a classic director’s chair. It’d been said that the film would get some attention for the Academy Awards, so there was a lot of pressure around it but it was actually very calm on set and everyone was in good spirits. I cast 54 roles from people that live in the Czech Republic, and other Eastern European countries.

What are some of your favourite films?

Well, I love The Great Beauty, You, Me and Everyone We Know, and also What About Bob!

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I’ve been thinking about that and they’re all dead (laughs). Maybe Gilda Radner, she’s from ‘Saturday Night Live’. She was my first idol, or maybe it was superman?.. No, actually superman was my first great love. He was also the only person that I had a poster of on my wall. I went to see one of the old superman films one night and my mum and I were seated behind Christopher Reeves… I saw him kissing a girl and was absolutely flabbergasted!

That’s such a good story.

My heart was crushed! He was MY superman.

How would you describe Prague?

Sparkly and unknowable. In these streets there are possibilities for things to happen that don’t happen anywhere else. You are thinking of someone and they run into you or other coincidental things. There is a lot of that going on here. If your eyes are open and you’re here, a lot of amazing things can happen. It can be very heavy though, especially in the winter.

What is your favourite word in English and in Czech?

I love the word embark. In Czech.. maybe my favourite is one of the first difficult Czech words that I was able to say. So mine is trychtýř, which is a funnel! Whyyyyyyy? (Laughs).

Mine is ‘zmrzlina’.. for the exact same reason.

What advice to you have for creative people that want to establish something in this community?

Have tolerance and compassion. It’s the same advice I’d give to someone who wants to stay in a relationship. Be prepared to stand your ground and persevere, but be diplomatic. Always look for the next challenge and the next adventure.

Photo: www.marielletepper.com

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Mirek on Old Prague Legends and Sean Connery

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

I stumbled across Mirek’s project Old Prague Legends when I was doing some research on Czech legends to write about for a client. Had no idea that this even existed but it actually premièred in 2013… Thought I might put it out there for other expats to get stuck into. Stunning animation that pays homage to famous Czech animator Karel Zeman and others, coupled with creepy creepy tales of Prague’s past, plus a little moral message embedded in each one to keep you all well behaved. Mirek is also a cameraman by day and has managed to film some interviews with some VERY big international names. Read on for more info.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Jeseník, but I moved to Prague in 1987.

What is Jeseník known for?

Good skiing!

Nice, and what did you want to be when you were a kid?

I wanted to be a musician and travel the world.

What do you do now?

I’m a cameraman.

Great, how did you get into that?

I studied at a film school in Zlín and have worked for a lot of Czech TV channels. I’ve done a lot of interviews with many interesting people, for example Ozzy Osbourne, Mark Knopfler, Ian Anderson, Ron Wood, Michael Hutchence, Sean Connery and Michail Gorbatschow..

Wow! I’m not even sure who to ask you about.. What about Sean Connery? What was he like?

The interview was done at the premiere of the film The League of Extraordinary Gentleman here in Prague. He’s a great guy and a very good actor. It was also just a great atmosphere to be in.

Who was your favorite?

Definitely Václav Havel. I shot a lot of interviews with him and I really respected him.

He was an icon. How did you start your Old Prague Legends project?

I’d had an internet project for a while and I was looking for some good content. I like the history of Prague so that was an impulse to create the animated legends.

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Why do you think it’s important to know these legends?

Legends can be interesting to anyone who visits Prague or likes history. Each legends takes place in a different part of the city and the audience will discover some very interesting secrets and mysteries about these places.

What is your favourite legend?

Well, I like all of them but my favourite is The Innocents of the Jewish Cemetery (pictured below).

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Sounds pretty chilling. Tell us a little bit about the creative process.

The animations were created by director Ondřej Žatečka and the main animator was Marek Berger. Basically, it’s a mix of a few techniques – silhouette animation: which closely resembles shadow plays, as well as classical drawing animation and realistic elements.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I’d have to say Kevin Spacey.

If you could go back in time and see anything, what would you see?

The time of Rudolf II in Prague.

For more information and to order Old Prague Legends, check out the website and stay updated on Facebook.

 

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Photos: Mirek Vesely

 

Nick from Nottingham on crafts and cats

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By Ryan Keating-Lambert

So this was kind of cheating, because Nick does NOT live in Prague. But how many time do you get the chance to interview an expat living in the isolated Czech countryside?? He also lives with 8 cats (one of them named Mario from Milan) and a German shepherd, so I couldn’t resist having a chat with him. I’m fascinated by country life but definitely couldn’t handle the islolation myself… Nick deals with it by crafting, building and rebuilding furniture with vintage market materials from his village. I realised after looking at his handiwork around the house that he wasn’t just a handyman, but a kind of home decor “MacGyver”.

 

Where are you originally from?

Nottingham England, like Robin Hood!

What was it like growing up there?

Looking back, it was perfect. I was living in the suburbs only a bike ride away from beautiful countryside and yet we had a pretty big city on our doorstep. As a child I spent most of my weekends playing in the forests and gardens of Wollaton Hall, an Elizabethan Mansion close to our house, and later for a teenager at art school, Nottingham was a fantastic place to live.

What did you want to be as a kid?

I got into acting when I was young which is kind of strange as I was quite shy, but my real passion was drawing, designing and building…anything and everything! I think I wanted to be a roofer first, then a builder, carpenter, set and costume designer, artist… the list is endless!

What made you decide to pack your bags and leave England?

I had been studying then working in London which I loved but felt I was no longer following my dreams-is there such a thing as a ‘mid-twenties crisis? A friend of mine in Italy suggested I take a break and visit, and within a couple of months I had moved to Milan and started a new life. It was totally irresponsible and I was broke, but it was fantastic.

And what made you decide to come to the Czech Republic?

I’d spent most of my summers in the Czech countryside with my friends and family at my father’s neglected holiday house (my father also loves Czech but doesn’t have the time to visit often) This area is a dream-it’s truly beautiful and Ustek the closest town, is stunning. It was so different to what I was used to, but somehow felt familiar. When I left Italy I took my cat Mario and our junk, and decided to come here and start working on the house and garden in Czech. The first night I slept here alone, I felt like I had come home.

Tell us a bit about your home here. What do you spend your days doing?

This house is about 200 years old and has gone through many changes. Most of the original features had sadly been removed over the years and it was kind of plain. I started little by little removing modern walls, opening original doorways and fixing problems as and when they came up and things continued from there. I taught myself to plaster and build and as I didn’t have much of a budget I found creative ways of reusing materials and doing the work myself. It now feels like I’ve made some progress but there is still a long way to go.

What are some of the things you’ve made in here?

In the kitchen I built the fireplace (pictures below) and put in an old English stove. Around the fireplace I painted 17th century tile designs by hand (using ‘real’ tiles would have cost soooo much) I copied the designs from images on google and painted them straight onto the plaster.

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I also built the staircase paneling from old wardrobes and made the sofa from old wood, some curtains and some flea market feet. The sofa was kind of a bet with a friend who said I wouldn’t be able to make one.

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I also design and make bags and small accessories, from surplus or vintage materials, under the name ‘From No 19‘which is the house number here. It started off as a necessity as I didn’t have any money, now I think it’s something I should do – I hate waste!!!

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Very nice, and do you ever miss the big city life?

I thought I would, and sometimes I do miss the anonymity and diversity, but overall I’m pretty happy being one of the village people 😉

You’ve got some pets! Tell us about them..

After spending his life in a flat in Milan, my cat Mario slotted himself into Czech country living with remarkable ease. When a farmer offered me a German Shepherd puppy I gladly accepted but vowed he would never enter the house…he now spends his nights on the sofa with Mario and the 7 other cats I’ve given a home to over the years. I know I’m falling into the stereotype of a mad old person, but I do enjoy the company of animals.

8 cats?! That’s a lot. How is your Czech?

Bad! However, I would have gone mad without the daily company and conversation of the friends I’ve made here in the village, an older Czech lady and a Roma boy, neither of which speak English and so I guess I have at least some level of communication. I find some people make an effort to understand my bad Czech which really helps me, and others don’t even try-that’s just the way it goes.

How would you sum up Czech Republic in a few words?

A pretty door, closed but unlocked, hides something far more interesting and beautiful.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Someone unknown.

If you could travel back in time and see anything, what would you choose to see?

I think the village and area in which I live has such an interesting history it would be fascinating to see it in the past-to know who also loved and lived in this place. On my attic ceiling there’s a painted love heart with the words ‘built with love’ in German…I’d love to see this house when it was first built. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind going back in time and revisiting all the places I’ve been! What an adventure it would be!

For more on No 19, check out the website or Facebook.

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Refugee crisis: the difference in photos

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Photo: Human Rights Watch

By Ryan Keating-Lambert

So this is a little bit late, but it’s still extremely relevant now. I was talking about the topic of refugees recently on the November 17 holiday in the Czech Republic, a day dedicated to the struggle for freedom and democracy. There is absolutely no way that you haven’t heard about this crisis and you may even feel that you’ve heard it all. But I thought you might like to see a new perspective on the situation; a perspective that can help you relate directly to this crisis.

Like countless others I have witnessed the pain and loneliness of these refugees through 100s of photos posted on news websites all over the world and when I think about these photos, two come to mind in particular.

The first being the photo that most people have seen in the Guardian or somewhere else… The one of the dead Syrian boy on a Turkish beach. This photo sparked a lot of controversy in the media and it seemed that people started to pay attention to the situation much more after that.

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Photo: Reuters

The other photo (pictured under the headline) is one that a lot of you probably haven’t seen. A photo of Syrian doctor and student Ali when he was in transit in the Budapest Keleti train station waiting to go to Germany. He looks reasonably healthy, not smiling but also doesn’t look particularly upset or angry.

What was interesting to me was that even though these photos appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, both are capable of provoking an intense emotional response.

The death of a child, especially when it’s associated with war, is utterly heartbreaking and shows the true destruction of innocence. But at the same time, isn’t that what the media usually uses these photos for? To provoke emotion and read on and sympathise? This definitely works and does make people more aware of the situation which is certainly an advantage… However, it shouldn’t only be these photos that make a situation like this hit home.

Ali is a young doctor and student, wearing normal clothes and a baseball cap. He could be me and he could be my friends, and that is what makes it terrifying. He is not the typical poor and rugged looking refugee that the public is trained to see and feel for.

Refugees are not in rags anymore, they are in your clothes. These people ARE you. They are me. They are everyone we know. They worked and had families and were simply trying to live their lives.

You can find more information on Ali’s story through Human Rights Watch here.