June 21, 2024

Pepa Lubojacki’s “If Pigeons Turned to Gold” was named the most promising European project at Ji.hlava Documentary Film Festival.

The Czech-Slovak co-production follows four family members, including Lubojacki’s own brother and cousins, unhoused for over a decade and struggling with addiction.

“I don’t use the word ‘homeless,’ because it has really negative connotations. Once you say ‘unhoused resident,’ it implies they are still a part of this society,” says the director.

“At times, I felt guilty I was better off than my brother. I wanted to rip off a part of me and just give it to him. But it’s not another depressing story, because I am fed up with them. There was always love in this film.”

Granted post-production services valued at €15,000 and €5,000 – courtesy of UPP and Soundsquare – the Ji.hlava New Visions Award winner is produced by Claw’s Wanda Kaprálová and Klára Mamojková. Matej Sotník co-produces for Guča Films.

Lubojacki will also appear in the film.

“If Pigeons Turned to Gold”
Courtesy of Claw

“I didn’t want to be in front of the camera at all. But we realized that you should look at these people through my eyes,” Lubojacki explains.

“I talk about what it means to be a child of an addict, a sibling. What it does to a family. I always wanted to be like my brother. He used to be that beautiful skater boy. Then addiction took over and I strongly believe it’s because of transgenerational trauma and repetitive patterns.”

Seeing Lubojacki’s own frustration in the film was “one of the worst experiences,” says Lubojacki.

“I hated myself for behaving like that towards him. After 10 years of dealing with this, you get angry and you can be mean to the people you love – just because you are tired. You try to help them and they keep slipping through the cracks and relapsing.”

“I learnt you have to accept people the way they are and the way they live, even though it might also mean the way they will die. Or you can cut them off and be sorry that you missed out on these last moments because you wanted them to change and they couldn’t,” Lubojacki adds.

“I made this mistake with my late dad. You can love people also as addicts.”

In the doc, Lubojacki opens up about their own struggles as well.

“The film shows me in a mental health institution. No one knew about it before. I had so much shame about it,” Lubojacki admits.

“We shot therapy scenes, but I don’t know if we will use them. I want to make sure this film won’t hurt anyone. Not me, not my characters. I find it problematic if you film someone who can’t really consent, because they are too drunk or high. They will see the film first and nothing they are uncomfortable with will be included.”

“If Pigeons Turned to Gold” will be told in “essayistic style,” they assure, with some of the most important scenes shot on an iPhone.

“I don’t know what ‘the rules’ are, but the observational style is not for me. I am interested in following emotion, so it’s not going to be entirely linear.”

It will also be hopeful.

“This film is full of hope because I love my brother so much. I love my cousins. Our relationship has never been better. Now, we call each other and say ‘I love you.’ Before, trying to talk about this hidden trauma was like hitting a wall.”

“There is this traditional way of approaching addiction. ‘Give them tough love, let them hit rock bottom.’ But so many people don’t hit rock bottom. They just… die.”

“People who are addicted and unhoused are already hurt. They don’t need ‘tough love.’ They need to hear something uplifting. I remember how I was treated when I was with my relatives on the street. If we would look at them with compassion, it would make a massive difference.”

“We see this film as very powerful and universal. Addiction is a very common consequence of stressful and fast-paced culture we live in,” says producer Wanda Kaprálová, with Klára Mamojková adding: “It uncovers very intimate and fragile family moments, and we see Pepa’s determination to share their story as very brave.”

“As a Slovak co-producer, we are convinced that this debut is a part of a strong emerging generation of Central and Eastern European female documentary talents,” notes Matej Sotník.

You can find the full list of the Ji.hlava New Visions winners here.

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