A common stereotype of Slovaks is that they like to stay at home. Unlike their jet-setting Czech and Polish neighbours, when they have some free time they would rather do some housework, tend to the garden or perhaps take a trip to the Slovak mountains for the weekend. Only the bold few venture further afield than the familiar Croatian or Bulgarian coast on their annual summer holiday. However, filmmaker Pavol Barabas by no means fits into this stereotype.
In addition to TV advertising and promotional films, Barabas is the author of a broad range of mountain documentaries. He has travelled to the remotest and most extreme corners of the world, including the North Pole, the Himalayas and Africa. He has won many awards with his films. For example, The Mysterious Mamburamo won the Grand Prix at the 2001 Envirofilm festival and Best Slovak Film at the Tourfilm festival. Within the space of a few weeks, his film Mustang won Grand Prix at the 2001 International Mountain Film Festival in Poprad, Best Documentary at the Bratislava Ekotopfilm festival and the Mountain Culture Award at the mountain film festival in Banff, Canada. The film is set in Lo, a secret kingdom in the Far East:
Barabas: Even the name of the country Lo sounds secret. Most people don’t even know where it is. Lo is the ancient name for Mustang, and Mustang is a country near the main ridge of the Himalayas. It is on the territory of Nepal but stretches into Tibet. Because it is an autonomous part of Nepal, Tibetan culture has been very strongly preserved. That’s the reason we decided to try and get there.
It is necessary to apply for special permission to enter Mustang. Once you get there, filming and taking photos is strictly forbidden. How did the director manage to shoot a whole film there?
Barabas: In the end we smuggled a camera in and filmed secretly. We made a beautiful film. We talk about the King and how we admitted to what we had done. But I wanted to make a film about the etiquette of travelling and not just about Mustang. By this, I mean having respect for the culture of the country you are visiting.
Barabas hates to plan a journey. One or two days is enough for him to decide on a destination, pack his bags and filming equipment and set off. He was in Mustang with his friend Laco Gulik, who rang Barabas on the very day he was leaving for the Himalayas and invited him along. Gulik was one of the first Slovaks to visit the kingdom and was there when it was completely closed to any kind of tourism. On his first trip there, he secretly entered the country and went personally to the King to ask for permission to take photos. The King even allowed him to stay at his residence on the condition that the Mustang army and police did not find out about it. And did people notice the filming of Barabas’ new film? How did they react?
Barabas: Of course people noticed it. We experienced some interesting situations. I always had to hide myself away with my camera to try and film. People reacted differently. Some were OK about it, some weren’t happy. The reactions of people, evident on tape, really surprised me. I’ve received many letters from people who seem to have developed a fear for the kingdom. They are worried civilisation will reach it and that unhealthy tourism will arrive there and start to destroy the place. It’s good that people are worried and realise the importance of respecting the culture of a country where they are a visitor.
Mustang is 4000m above sea level. After crossing the border, a four day journey awaited Barabas to reach the capital Lo Mustang, at 3800m. The whole journey is portrayed in the film, the stunning scenery, as well as the people and their ancient Buddhist culture. The documentary looks as if it has been shot in the middle ages:
Barabas: Imagine a kingdom where there are no roads, no signs of civilisation or electricity. Is a preserved medieval kingdom, where time goes by very slowly. However, that doesn’t mean these people are in any way backward. On the contrary, I think that their knowledge about nature and the world is often more advanced than ours.
Barabas usually travels alone, or with a small group of people. He is the director, cameraman and scriptwriter of all of his films. 11 of his documentaries have been presented at international festivals, 8 of which have won awards. Does his new film Mustang have a special place for him in his repertoire?
Barabas: I’ve made a number of films set in Buddhist countries closed off to the rest of the world, where it’s very difficult to get to. Mustang is the fourth to belong to this group. I’ve made various films about sport and different types of travel, but all of them have one common leitmotif running through them. They are all about people living in extreme mountain conditions. That’s my favourite theme, because only in the most extreme conditions can you discover the most about people.
The director returned from Ethiopia in autumn of last year, where he travelled along the Omo river for 10 days in order to find ancient tribes untouched by civilisation and film their way of life. Barabas’ films have not only won awards at home, but in Canada, Yugoslavia, Spain, Russia, Italy and France to name but a few. Despite the unfamiliarity and mystery of the places he visits, people all over the world can relate to the lives and cultures he displays in his work. A modern day Moric Benovsky, a Slovak 18th century explorer who travelled the world and was crowned King of Madascar, Barabas also breaks the Slovak mould. According to the director of the Poprad Mountain Film Festival, he paves the way forward for this cinematic genre around the world.Vytlačiť stránkupublikované 02. 09. 2005, zobrazenie 54405x, dnes 1x