May 20, 2024

Czech punk rocker visual artist Marta Kovarova says it was becoming a mother that made her realize she had to do something radical to fight climate change. So, five years ago, she embarked on making “The World According to My Dad,” which won the Czech Joy student jury prize at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival on Saturday.

“When my children were born, environmental grief fell upon me,” she says. “I had to start doing something. By that time, my dad had been trying to get his idea published in reputable journals for over a decade. But there was no response. I told him that nobody reads professional articles and that we would make a documentary.”

Kovarova’s father, Jiri Svoboda, a materials expert at the Czech Academy of Sciences, has been advocating for years a simple plan like that of U.S. academic James Hansen that he believes would dramatically cut greenhouse gasses: create a unified global carbon tax to be paid at its source – coal mines – to create a price for harmful behavior. Then use the funds to reward those who maintain a low carbon footprint.

So Kovarova set out to document his idea and a campaign to get the world to sit up and take notice. She filmed him explaining it at home while she created art to illustrate his points; and she followed him to work and eventually on the road to join climate change rallies and get the attention of influential figures.

As the two worked out scenes and strategized, creating a video diary accompanied by Kovarova’s songs, she says their relationship began to change.

At first, the determination of the two seem to energize both of them as they chase down politicians and try to disrupt power structures, with Kovarova and her dad joking along the way, keeping each other’s spirits up.

“At first I worshipped my dad as a demigod,” she recalls. “Then it turned out he had some flaws. Like not being able to talk to people diplomatically. I think we’ve learned through our travels what our strengths are and who’s going to do what. But at the end of the movie, I was surprised the most.”

It concludes with a touching connection between the two even as they sit, exhausted and frustrated at their lack of success after such epic efforts.

After first writing the film’s general subject in 2018, Kovarova says, “we shot from 2019 to 2021 and then we spent a year and a half editing. We have more than 200 hours of footage.”

Throughout the filming, the biggest challenge was living their lives while also documenting them properly, she recalls. Kovarova had her music and art career to maintain while caring for two kids, now 6 and 9, and her father’s work had to carry on throughout.

“Often there was no energy left to think about how best to capture what I was experiencing on camera. Often I was filming with the last of my strength. That’s why it’s so punk!”

Kovarova’s father, although often a flinty figure, was fully onboard for the filmmaking, at least.

“He agreed and didn’t resist. He said: ‘Well, at worst it’ll be another flop. We have nothing to lose and we can’t be more ignored than we are now. And he was open to filming anything. Anything, really.”

Indeed, she gets her father to sing and dance along with her improvised environmental ballads played on a ukulele and to help her in crashing major climate change rallies, including one where the team push their way to the front to try to buttonhole Greta Thunberg. 

Kovarova says at least she learned several lessons about documenting your own family.

“Every time something funny happened at home, I was tempted to take out my camera and I was in a dilemma whether to enjoy the situation or to film it. If you really just want to enjoy something, never bring a camera.”

Keeping yourself open to unplanned situations is also key, she says, recalling a spontaneous scene in which her dad unintentionally shows off his dedication to fighting climate change by cramming a dishwasher almost beyond capacity after making everyone shut the windows in a stuffy room.

“Nothing will happen as planned,” Kovarova says, adding, “everything takes five times longer than you expect.”

One additional insight, she says, is related: “Never say you’re gonna finish this year. Tell your husband you’ll be gone for six years and if it only takes five years, he’ll be happy.”

As for whether she still believes her dad’s idea to save the world could actually be adopted, Kovarova says she remains committed and is expecting to release an e-book about it soon through the project’s web site,

“I believe that the world will indeed one day come to see that this is the most effective and equitable method of reducing global CO2 emissions. However, the question – unfortunately a very crucial one – is: When?”

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