It was just over a week after the election when we met up with Eva Doležalová at the MacArthur to discuss her career, her perspective as a director, and what’s up next for her.
The political environment was top of mind when Eva walked in, dressed in a leather jacket and square-heeled boots. Before we talked logistics (“let’s shoot here, let’s talk here”), she wanted to see how we were doing, as both her and I were clearly troubled by the outcome on November 8th. The night prior she had attended Glamour’s Women of the Year event which boasted named like Lena Dunham, Simone Biles, Gwen Stefani, and in a controversial move for the magazine, Bono. But instead of lamenting or blaming, Eva was ready to talk solutions. As we dove into the interview, it became obvious that she is a clear-thinking, purposeful woman destined for great things.
Let’s start by introducing yourself.
Hello, my name is Eva Doležalová. I was born in Czech Republic.
How did you get your start?
When I was 10 years old, I started acting in Czech films. My grandmother saw a casting notice in the newspaper, and she saw this energy that was in me as a hyperactive kid who was always full of ideas. So she said I should definitely go to the casting, and out of 300 girls, they picked me. It was super exciting.
Was your family supportive of the whole thing?
My mom was very supportive as were my grandparents because they saw that I needed to do something. I was always very creative and I was always making something, like this book of short stories I started based on my mother’s relationships that I started writing when I was like nine years old. My mom and I always had a very open relationship and she would freely talk about anything.
Did you have a title for it?
I did, hold on! I’ll remember it. It was in Czech. It was just how I felt about her being with a certain boyfriend or a certain situation. I remember one guy that tried to marry her and I stopped him. I took the ring and I ran around the room… I literally screwed up each potential relationship that she had and I just wrote about it. But it was all out of love, which we very much had for each other.
So it was like you and mom against the world?
It really was. I never had anyone else, just my mom. She gave me so much love. We had each other in the world, and we had films. We would go to stores and she would grab three films and I would grab three films and we would have these marathons. And we would just snuggle with each other and be so close and live each experience, each film together, which is beautiful.
In that sense, is it important to you to think of your films in the context of how people see them?
I just go in with my intuition and what I believe with lighting and actors and how I want to create and set the scene, and then the magic happens.
I’m always surprised when filmmakers say that they didn’t grow up watching movies because it seems to me like that’s inherently part of the process.
Oh definitely, I wish I had a story like Spielberg where he got his first trains and he kept filming them, he kept crashing them actually. His dad goes, “I’m not going to buy you new trains.” And he said, “well if I film them, I can watch it forever.” He was about 12.
For me, I would film everything. I would get a small camera and just film very closely the piano or my mom’s eye or the movement of hair or how the wind is moving.
You were a little French impressionist.
I wish I still had them! I remember filming things closely, not that it made a story necessarily. I just knew that if I had enough footage of enough things, I could make a surrealist story. Since I was very young, surrealism influenced me.
In terms of storytelling – American storytelling is very mind-blowing to me. You get this great narrative and you just tell it as well as possible. My first short films have been very surrealist, because that’s where I’m coming from when I was a child, it kind of completes that journey. And then the feature I’m working on will be very narrative.
When you’re thinking about American storytelling and you clearly have an appreciation for film history, are there particular films that you watch over and over again or makers that you go back to for inspiration? Is there anything you go to or that you’ve seen recently?
My three favorite American directors would be David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, and David Fincher. They are the ones I always go back to. And the best I’ve seen really recently that actually blew my mind was Arrival.
I just saw it!
It would have been difficult for this film’s smart script and sublime visuals to survive a studio’s development process perhaps. Arrival and Moonlight were masterpieces of 2016 in my eyes.
As for the film that I always come back to, the one that makes me feel something that no other film does is 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a perfect masterpiece in my eyes. It’s visual, it’s colors, it’s stories, it’s invention.
I have this theory about 2001 that everybody remembers where they were when they first saw it.
I stole mine. I was in Italy. I was living in Venice and we went to Milan, into this video store, and we rented a bunch of DVDs. I didn’t have cash at the time, and I really wanted to see this film but nobody in my group wanted to. And then I remember just putting it in my jacket. I’m sorry video store in Milan. I’ll give it back to you at some point! I’ll send you a fresh copy.
They are probably okay with it at this point in your career.
They had a bunch of them. If it was the only one, I wouldn’t have taken it. I’m not proud of stealing, but I’m proud that I stole this film.
I remember I waited until everyone was asleep and then I watched it. I ended up staying up til 6 in the morning just stunned, totally in awe. I was only 17 at that time, but it already touched me so deeply. Then I took a break from it, and didn’t see it for another five years. When I was 22, I watched it again and I was deeply affected once more. I see the film now once every two years or so. It’s such an experience, if you overdo it, it loses its taste.
Another film that profoundly touched me was Victoria, which is a beautiful trip of emotions. Gaspar Noe is a friend of mine, and he kind of introduced me to cinema in Paris, and has been a little bit of a mentor for a time. He showed me many films, and his style, when you finish watching his films leaves you with a hole inside, not in a bad way, but just with this feeling that you can’t get rid of. His films stay with you, it’s almost disturbing.
It’s like the impact, it’s what everyone wants. Even if it’s just a scene or a sentence, or a moment.
Yeah, and what I loved about Sound of Sun, just to comment quickly on these emotions. Everybody after watching it felt something else. It’s like you have certain films when you finish watching it and there’s only one ending and only one way to go. But then you have films where it leaves you wondering. With Sound of Sun, everybody felt differently about it, and that’s what I found magical about this film. Life is confusing, sometimes it doesn’t matter if you make a short film a little bit confusing because it’s an experience.
You know what’s interesting with Sound of Sun, is that I watched it a few weeks ago, and then I watched it again after the election, and I felt different. Like it affected me differently a week or two later, and the feelings of identity and reality that the film grapples with are totally different when you’re looking at the climate now, and it just made me think that this is something that’s timeless.
Well, thank you that’s a beautiful compliment. It wasn’t my goal to make something timeless, I just went with my intuition with what I’ve trusted. This twisting adventure of a self discovery in terms of reality was originally my dream. I saw this in my dream, and I thought “I want to make it.” And it’s very much a story between me and Suki, we’ve known each other since we were 17. I wanted to tell the tale of our journey a little bit, our each individual unchaining of freedom. I think everyone, including me, had struggles with identity, because we do certain things in life and we have certain role models. We all have that, when we’re maybe 15 or even 20 and one day you realize who you wish to be and who you are has been there all along.
That’s how I feel with directing. I’ve always wanted to do it, and as you can see, I’ve always had these instincts of filming and writing, and then one day it was just right. And all the hard work that I’ve done before has been a prequel to what’s going to happen. Now, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m being used to my full potential.
That must be an amazing feeling.
It’s like when a kid really wants to paint but has no instruments. And then you give him a brush and the colors and he just goes.
It just has to be cathartic in a way, the first time when you’re commanding this set.
I’ve always felt like I had three lives [model, actress, director]. And I feel like this is the last one that’s going to last forever, the one that I want to be and the one that I am. I’ve never felt more confident in my life.
You know, I have a fear of supermarkets. I can’t go to them – the music, the lighting, the people, the boxes, the brands. And you have not two kinds of toilet paper, but thousands. And everything looks good and I don’t know what to choose. If I go for one thing, I can maybe concentrate. So people go, “if you can’t choose in a supermarket, how can you be a director?”
That feels kind of like apples and oranges.
Well it’s the craziest thing when it comes to shooting and lighting, I’m like “I want this.” People question, “are you sure?” But I’m sure. I don’t even have to question it, I just know what I want and what is right for the film I’m doing.
And of course I love collaboration, making a film is a collaboration. I want everyone to be involved, share ideas, and I want everyone to be on the same level of understanding each other, feeling safe and creative.
And being invested in it.
Exactly, even the lunch chef. And everyone knows who the character is and it’s all in the same energy. I just recently directed something in The Hollywood Roosevelt, in Teddy’s, for Suki Waterhouse’s music video – it’s a bit more like a short film. On the set, I had eight brilliant actresses and eight brilliant actors, and they all felt great on set. Many of them expressed tears at the end, how empowering it was. People were coming up to me saying it was one of the best experiences of their life and that I’d really created something very secure. And the room at Teddy’s is so great, it feels so cavey, and everyone was in the same space, and it felt like a beautiful day that was so relaxed. And the women felt so empowered that day. I was proud to create a set where everyone felt so empowered and safe.
As a female director, there’s so much conversation around the lack of inclusivity in the industry, and so it sort of gives you an added responsibility and I was wondering how you felt about that?
Actually I feel great about it, and it’s not because of the power or anything, it’s only because I know what I want. And people actually listen to you when you are sure about yourself and your decision. As a female filmmaker today, I believe I came at the right time to the right place. Hollywood gives space to hard-working people and hard work pays off. Everybody gets a chance, everybody gets a go, and it’s only up to you how you pursue it and how hard you work on it.
Let’s talk about Sound of Sun. What would you say the film is about?
The discovery of self awareness in a twisting venture between dreams and reality.
And when did Sean Penn become involved?
He just came by the set to say hi. And it was the first time he saw me directing, and he gave me a huge compliment and said, “you remind me of myself when I direct. Have you done this before?” And I’m like [sheepishly] “first time.” So he says to keep going. And I remember I’m out having a cigarette and I say, “Sean, would you mind being in one of the scenes?” and he said sure. And I said, “I’ll be right back.” And I went to the bathroom and went like, “AH!” and had a little scream out. Then I came back to set and instantly knew what I wanted. So I told Sean and the magical scene happened.
Has he seen it?
He’s seen it and he loves it very much.
There’s such an interplay with reality and identity and imagination, I got the impression that like as a filmmaker who has lived a lot of their life pretending or posing as other people, it must be relating to that?
Definitely, it’s a transformation. Everything in life is a transformation and I literally filmed that in Sound of Sun. I felt that I was at the brink of changes, had my dream and filmed it. And thanks to this film I have fully fulfilled my path of self-discovery.
When Suki’s character is transforming in the film, Sean and I come in to help her pass to the other side and discover her true self. Yin and yang, male and female, two opposites that fulfill one another.
It seems like she would be very familiar with that reality too, as a model and someone who has grown into being an actress.
Yeah she went through a transformation as well, and we still all are. I have the big one behind me, I’ve transformed into what I want to be as an artist. But there’s still small transformations that you didn’t realize before, in relationships or friendships or anything. So I told her my dream, this recurring dream of me changing.
What are your aspirations for the film?
We are releasing on NOWNESS on the 30th of December. And now I’ve been concentrating on my next films. A big production short filming at the MacArthur in January with extraordinary actors, and then my first feature film that I’m doing end of summer 2017. A very powerful female protagonist story.
As much as you can, let’s talk about your upcoming projects.
The short film that’s going to be filmed here at the MacArthur, Carte Blanche, is my experience in Hollywood. It’s how it’s made me feel as an individual and as an artist, and Mulholland Drive meets Fight Club. It’s about a young actor who achieves stardom and once that happens, his dark past starts haunting him. It’s a proper narrative but still combined with avant-garde, two stories being told from the past and the present, but the way we see the past is very unusual. But that’s as much as I can say about the short.
And I have two original feature films in development.
Let’s say we’re talking in 80 years from now, and we’re both old ladies in our early 100s, what do you want your legacy to be? What have you contributed to the world?
I always kept saying to my mom when I was young, “I want to change the world.” And she was like, “okayyy, just take care of yourself.” And I really do believe that when you are a public figure, you can make people think a certain way. I just believe that if I can send out some positive vibes of unity and equality, and to believe in ourselves as human beings and in our careers, and if I really put it out there, people will listen. So I want people to remember me for my great films that have made them feel something they’ve never felt before, and as that woman that brought the positive energy and light.
Follow Eva Doležalová on Instagram.
- Story by Amy Jacobowitz
- Photos by Che Stipanovich