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Ondrej Vetchy stars as a World War II pilot in the Czech/English language romantic drama, Dark Blue World, proud to portray one of heros of his homeland, the “knights of the sky” as he tells Andrew L. Urban in this digital interview conducted in cyberspace.

What is your personal view of the period of history depicted in the film? What connects you to the period, or more particularly, to the politics of the post war period in Czechoslovakia?
From the point of view of Czechoslovakia, the period between the two World Wars was an enormously successful one on almost all levels of society – the economics, industry and the artistic values as well. Czechoslovakia had always been a multicultural country and - at that particular time - it was one of the few countries with a highly developed democratic system. This was further enriched by the abilities of those escaping the Nazi and communist regimes in the thirties. In 1938, France and Great Britain sacrificed the Czechoslovak Republic and its army, which was ready to fight, as a trade for ”Everlasting Peace”. 

Our story charts the period following these events. At first we meet the Czech soldiers and see their frustration at not being allowed to fight the Nazis. Their need to challenge evil is so strong that they flee to fight in the Polish Army. After the defeat of Poland they go to France and Russia. The British Army is their last choice after the capitulation of France. 

In my eyes these men went beyond the usual act of patriotism, because they were fighting for their country in the armies of others (Poland, France, Russia, Great Britain). For them the war with Nazism must have become the fight between good and evil.

Unfortunately, after the war our country was sacrificed once again, this time to the Soviet Union, and suffered for forty long years (at the hands Great Britain and France and newcomers USA and Soviet Union). From an overall perspective this period doesn’t seem to be so long, but from the point of our lives forty years is way too much. The enthusiasm of a post-war period was extinguished by the terror brought by Soviet communist influence. The soldiers returning from the war were, from the communists’ point of view, ”infected” with the ideas of democracy and freedom, and therefore they were the first to be persecuted, arrested, tortured and killed (the number of fallen pilots in the Battle of Britain is approximately the same as the number of pilots murdered by the communists in the period after the war). The communist government eliminated the nation’s elite; those who were not arrested or killed emigrated to Western Europe. 

After gaining control over the country the result is always the same – totality eliminates democracy. This is why it’s always our duty to fight for democracy until the last drop of blood’s been spilt.

How difficult was it to create your character in a dual-language film?
As this was only my second foreign language film, I was worried that in my effort to understand and pronounce the language properly the emotional expression of my acting would suffer. Also, we didn’t film the English-speaking scenes until forty days into the shoot, when I was feeling the first signs of exhaustion. My excellent English co-stars, meanwhile, came to the set nicely relaxed and perfectly prepared for acting in their mother tongue.

How does director Jan Sverak work with actors? Does he invite your ideas?
On this film, we spent a lot of time preparing for my role. We discussed both the dialogue and the plot, and we didn’t stop until each had persuaded the other. Thanks to this we were able to agree on my character before shooting started and I was able to relieve Jan of most of my character’s concerns during the shoot. 

I regard Jan as one of my best friends. We have similar ideals and I like to think I’m something more than just material to him. Jan intuitively recognises what isn’t true in acting. From time to time, he’s able to name things that seem to be unnameable. He’s an intelligent and intuitive director, and although he can sometimes be unkind, he wants his films to be kind. 

The film seems to focus on friendship – was this the original thrust of the script or did that evolve?
We could describe friendship as a thin red line that runs throughout the film from beginning to end. For those who fought in the RAF, friendship became their most important value, and it gave them the strength to survive and win. This aspect was present from the very beginning, as was the everlasting, ever-present power of love. 

What we learnt from making the film is that friendship and a soldier’s duty have a great deal in common, especially when the principles of freedom are involved. It's like when you’re playing a game. You always want to win, but when your best friends are on your team you feel even more responsibility for the result. You’re stronger, you play with all your heart and you also know you can rely on your team-mates.

Friendship is that moment when your friend is in danger or something bad happens to him, regardless how weak you might feel at that moment, suddenly you do things you never thought you were capable of. Real friendship has just such power.

What did you most like when you first read the script?
It was the theme. It was the first time I had the chance to do a film about the heroes who died for the freedom of my country, during and after World War II. It was about our knights of the sky.

What, if anything, did you learn during the making of the film?
I had the honour to meet with the extraordinary gentlemen who survived the war only to suffer in communist prisons. I am still in touch with a few of them and I like to feel we are close friends. Another benefit was working with a superb and committed crew. After shooting in South Africa I’ve also realised that not every encounter in the feeding grounds of the Great White Shark is necessarily fatal – Thank God!

Published April 18, 2002

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Directed by Jan Sverak, written by Zdenek Sverak

Five years after the end of World War II, Franta Slama (Ondrej Vetchy) is a prisoner in a labour camp in Communist Czechoslovakia, for having been one of the fighter pilots in the RAF; he’s considered an ‘enemy of the people’. From his grim quarters, Franta recalls those war years, when he and his young protégé, Karel Vojtisek (Krystof Hadek) escaped the Nazis at the beginning of the war and trained and fought alongside the British pilots. And how he and his best friend also fell in love with the same woman (Tara Fitzgerald), in an affair that tested their friendship to its absolute limits.
Australian release: April 18, 2002<>

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