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Oscar®-Winning Film Takes Viewers Back to Their Childhoods

Tajik filmmaker Daria Kashcheeva never took a drawing class or learned how to work with puppets. Despite this, she was accepted to FAMU, and in mid-October, she won a Student Oscar®. Her film Daughter has captivated viewers worldwide for its excellent portrayal of the adult world from a child’s point of view.

You had a good job in Moscow, and yet you and your husband left for Prague. What brought you here?

We no longer enjoyed the hectic lifestyle that everyone considers normal there. We worked from morning until night in the theatre, and even at weekends. We thought about moving somewhere else. Eight years ago, we were very impressed by the FAMU presentation in Moscow. We really liked not only the films but also what the students were saying about their studies. I was fascinated by how an animator can conjure up their own world in a small studio.

But surely you needed to be able to speak Czech at FAMU...?

You can study in English at FAMU, but then you have to pay tuition. If you learn Czech, you can study free of charge. My husband and I began attending Czech courses at the Czech Centre, which was just around the corner from our apartment in Moscow. We focused mainly on grammar, the rules of reading and pronunciation. It was definitely not just about learning the language – the teachers also talked about Czech culture, about your habits, and even tried to explain Czech humour a bit.

And does it make sense to you?

Honestly, I still don't understand some of the double meanings, and your black humour seems too harsh. But the thing that helped the most was watching Czech films, not only so I could learn how filmmakers work, but also because they showed everyday Czech life. I love Věra Chytilová’s movies, such as Daisies and We Eat the Fruit of the Trees of Paradise. I also really liked the film The Firemen’s Ball.

But it was a long way from the first time this idea entered your head until the actual entrance exams. What did your dream school expect from you?

The application for admission had to include 15 drawings, animation samples, an analysis of an animated film, and an idea for an animated film. But I have never drawn, nor have I ever studied animation. I looked for various how-tos on the internet, for ways to learn everything quickly. I set up an improvised studio at home, pushed a banana and a mandarin orange around and tried to put them into motion. I didn't pass the entrance exams the first time – they said I should study art techniques and then apply again.

So you finally succeeded, and one of your first films was an animated film about foreigners in Prague. Was it based on personal experiences?

I based it on interviews with my friends, and most of them had the same experiences that I did. At first great enthusiasm for living in Prague, then the shine wore off when you start dealing with practical matters and encounter all sorts of problems. I tried to speak Czech as much as possible, but I had a hard time understanding Prague slang. My husband had similar problems – he got into FAMU a year before I did and could speak with his Czech classmates. But no one seemed to mind that he really didn’t understand everyone. I had a harder time of it. I was embarrassed that FAMU didn’t work out, and I had doubts about this whole move to Prague.

From these negatives, you created a positive. Did you find your inspiration here?

It was such an effort just trying to come up with a story. I originally wrote the story for Daughter for my FAMU entrance exams, but I came back to it later in Prague. I became interested in psychology, especially in books where they write that our childhood experiences affect our entire lives. As I was writing, memories came back to me, and then it practically wrote itself. I wrote the screenplay in three days.

I suppose the audiences are wondering whether the film is really about your relationship with your father...

It’s probably quite logical to seek parallels to my life in it, but I see it mainly as a metaphor for the relationships within my family. It takes just one misunderstanding as a child, and the sense of injustice stays inside you, and you start to pull away from each other. I wanted to show that even if it seems that there is no resolution in sight for this grievance, there is always a chance for reconciliation. I worked on the film for two years, and quite often during that time, situations from my childhood came to mind – I would tell my parents something, and they didn't understand me. I realised that although they didn't understand what I was sharing with them, it didn't mean they didn't love me.

Did your parents understand the message that you were trying to get across with your film?

We never really talked about feelings, so that made me even more curious about how they would react to my film. They had an idea what it was about, but they didn't see for the first time until last New Year's Eve. My husband, who helped me quite a bit with the film as scriptwriter and editor, and I were so nervous about what our parents would say. When we showed them the film, you could see that it struck my father emotionally, and after it was over, he left the room to calm down. Then he came back and told us how much he liked that the daughter reconciled with her father. He was very impressed and the next day told all his relatives about it and said that sometimes you simply need to forgive those you love.

How did Daughter find itself in competition for the Oscar®?

That was mainly thanks to FAMU because every year our school can enter one animated film to the Student Oscars®. In late August it was already on the website that my movie was going to the finals and that they would announce the winner around September 13. In early September, I went to an animation film festival in Switzerland, and when I got back, I only had two days before my exams. I still had six questions to work on, and my nerves were shot. Out of the blue, I got a call from the school that the organisers of the Oscars® wanted my number. My husband and I sat there, willing my mobile phone to ring. When it finally rang, a man told me many things, but I did not understand much. My English isn't very good, so I only understood that he asked me if I could come to Los Angeles, but it still wasn't clear exactly what he meant. And then he finally said: “You’re the winner - you’re getting an Oscar®!”

But the drama didn’t end there...

I spent the night phoning family and friends, we were all incredibly excited, but I still had those exams looming over me. I only got a couple of hours of sleep, and at six in the morning, I woke up and said: "Jesus Christ, I won an Oscar®!" Everyone at school already knew so they congratulated me, and the exams took place without any problems. I managed everything successfully, and now I’m studying for my master’s.

You have already presented your film at festivals around the world. What interests the audiences most?

They often ask about the hand-held camera, because it’s used primarily in documentary and live-action films. The cameraman isn't restricted by the tripod and can move around and can get much closer to the figure. This is the first time that a hand-held camera has been used in an animated puppet film. I have no idea why no one thought of it earlier. It is undoubtedly technically difficult but not impossible. I used one unusual technique on the puppets' faces. They usually have bulging eyes that move, but I drew the eyes directly on puppets' heads – it seemed more realistic to me. I tried hard to make the father and daughter think and live. They don't make any big gestures, but even so, I believe that it's clear to see what they're experiencing.

You have many months of work on the film behind you, and you've successfully completed your exams – will you take a bit of a break now?

That's what I initially thought, too, but instead, everything has gone into overdrive. I finished Daughter in February, and a month later my producer Martin Vandas called to ask if I had the idea for my next film ready. I wrote a new story in one month, and I'm already starting work on it. I still have a series of festival screenings to attend, and I hope that I'll be able to take Daughter to Moscow. The Czech Centre there is co-organising the Animation Festival next year, and I'd be delighted to have my film screened there.

Five years ago, you made a decision that completely changed the course of your life. It paid off, and now you have an Oscar®. What more could you wish for?

When we moved here, there was so much uncertainty. Again and again, I wondered if I'd be accepted to the school, if I'd be able to find my place in Prague. Now I'm positive the risk was worth it, and I know that I'm in the right place here.


CV box

Daria Kashcheeva b. 1986

Originally from Tajikistan. In Moscow, she worked as a sound engineer at the MCHAT Theatre and at Satirikon. In 2014 she and her husband moved to Prague. She studied animation at FAMU, where she is now pursuing a master’s degree. For her animated film Dcera (Daughter), she won the Crystal Award at the Annecy Film Festival in France and the Student Oscar®, which she received in October of this year.




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