Oldschool at its Best – Martin Slivka: Water and Labor

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Although Martin Slivka produced numerous moving pictures which are famous of their innovative use of film language, this national treasure of the Slovaks is more of a folklore inspired documentary filmmaker than a „full-time” representative of the Eastern-Central-European experimental film scene.

Slivka, born in 1929, was a pupil of the well-known Karel Plicka, the co-founder of FAMU (Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague), and adopted his formal teacher’s ethnographic enthusiasm and its professional calling. But while Plicka’s approach was more „romantic”, Slivka’s viewpoint was rather scientific. Still, one of the strongest work of his oeuvre, the 1963 film, Voda a praca (Water and Labor) is the synthesis of the creative attitude of both the master and the pupil; one of the proudest lyrical documentaries of its time.

The film, which won the Golden Dragon at the Krakow Film Festival in 1964, suggestively follows the traditions of the European avant-garde of the 20s and 30s, recalling the works of Dziga Vertov, and revisits the documentary techniques, as used in Night Mail, pioneered by Basil Wright and Harry Watt. Water and Labor depicts the mechanism of an old watermill, built in 1876, while showing its environment and the work carried out there. The movie guides us through a world in which technology had not lost its balance with nature. It is nostalgic about those times when people enjoyed work itself and not just the result that came of it.

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In the opening scene the viewer witnesses the unstoppable force of mother nature, and during the review of the structure of the machinery the ingenious exploitation of this force is revealed. By „sacrificing” almost a minute of wide shots to present the flow of the water, Slivka assures the viewer of the superiority of nature. This principle is emphasized by the series of images showing two men balancing on a raft while floating down along the river. Although with their two huge paddles they can influence the direction of the raft, they are only able to move in accordance with the greater flow. Slivka does not allow an image of the water mill itself, the camera immediately gets inside of the machinery and shows moving pictures of gear-wheels, saws, suction pumps and presses. The rhythmically edited images are accompanied by Ilja Zelenka’s electro-acoustic composition, which – by mixing the (mechanical) sound of the keyboard with the melody of the flute – illustrates the symbiosis of technology and nature.

Slivka, who was specifically interested in Slovak folk theater, music, beliefs and celebrations, chose to remain in his native Czechoslovakia instead of emigrating like so many of the artists of his country. The director who worked according to strict principles, tended to refuse taking orders from the state agencies. As a result, many of his films stayed in boxes for several years. Despite the international success of Martin Sulik’s biography about Slivka (Martin Slivka – muž, ktorý sadil stromy, 2007; Martin Slivka – The Man Who Planted Trees), most of Slivka’s films are still not available to the non-Slovak audience.

Written by: Dorottya Szalay

 

To watch the film click on the picture.

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