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Victoria Film Festival Interview: THEATER OF LIFE director Peter Svatek

THEATER OF LIFE - At Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

"What fascinated me was the meeting of two worlds that don't fit together at all. The most elite cuisine; the best chefs in the world, Massimo Bottura leading the way, and Europe's most desperate and hungry. The Refettorio fed some of Milan's many homeless and refugees from Africa and the Middle East; the heart the migrant crisis. Most had never heard of any of the famous chefs. Would they care? Would it mean more than free soup kitchen meal?

But the philosophy of the Refettorio was different. There were no lineups. Food was served restaurant-style by volunteers. It became a home-like environment. The same guests returned every day. Relationships were formed. So the question arises...what is "home" for a homeless person or a political refugee?

These are the questions the film tackles. I wanted to go deeper and humanize the story. Truly get to know the people the Refettorio fed as well as the chefs. To see the ethical questions through their eyes as much the chef. The film is, I hope, a moving, human, compassionate look at all that." Director Peter Svatek on THEATER OF LIFE which screens at the Victoria Film Festival.

Tell me a bit about yourself and your background? Your bio, if you please!

I have been making films for a long time now, and for most of my career I have done fiction. But unlike some directors who have gone from doc to fiction, I have gone the other way. I love the experience of doc filmmaking, embarking on a new voyage of discovery each time. Unlike directing a scripted piece, where you struggle so hard to bring that concept to the screen, on a doc you try to open your mind and follow the reality you film wherever it leads. Also, the economy of a doc appeals with tiny crew, tiny equipment. And finally, the incredible process of someone letting you into his/her life. Some of my recent docs before Theater of Life: Takedown: The DNA of GSP and Stolen Babies, Stolen Lives. Some of my fiction: The Call of the Wild, The Christmas Choir, Everything She Ever Wanted.

So how did this movie come together from your perspective?

The film idea began when I met the wonderful Italian chef Massimo Bottura and suggested we do a film. He told me about his project to create a soup kitchen in Milan during the 2015 World Fair and I loved it, and it all started there.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you, creatively?

I truly believe compassion and empathy are in short supply and that documentary is a great medium for fostering them. That is what I strive for and hope the docs I make communicate.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you overcome it?

Many of the people the Refettorio fed were in dire straits. Being filmed was an issue for some. Getting the story and never betraying the subjects' needs was a challenge.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?

There were many, but the one I'm thinking of right now was when Fawaz was unable to find anywhere to sleep except his abandoned car, and I asked him what his plan was for the rest of his life and he chuckled and said he was tired and needed to sleep. He would think about the rest of his life tomorrow.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the “technical” side of the film.

Like almost all docs these days, we filmed on digital. Canon equipment in this case.

Where is this movie going to show next at festivals?

The Berlinale film festival in February; the One World Human Rights Fest Prague in March; and the Thessaloniki doc fest in March.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

Never give up.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

My favourite moment at a festival happened in the 60s, when I was basically still a kid, and along with Tony Reif and Joe Medjuk I got to interview Jean Renoir and Fritz Lang for Take One magazine at the Montreal film festival, where they were judges along with John Ford!

Visit the official website for THEATER OF LIFE!

THEATER OF LIFE plays at the Victoria Film Festival from February 3rd to 12th. Visit the official site HERE for showtimes.

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originally posted: 02/11/17 06:23:56
last updated: 02/11/17 06:28:07
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