Pod sluncem tma
Martin Mareček’s revealing documentary about two Czech technical experts working in Zambia casts uncomfortable light on a clash of cultures.
Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.
- Director-Screenwriter Martin Mareček
- Producer Vít Klusák, Filip Remunda
- Czech Republic 2011
- 82 mins
- Production company Hypermarket Film
Two Czech engineers, Milan and Tomáš, are sent on a mission to restore a solar electric system in a remote village in Zambia. It had been installed several years earlier as part of an international aid project but has since fallen into disrepair. They discover a number of causes, ranging from poor maintenance to theft and corruption. Basically an observational documentary, Martin Mareček’s film analyses the course of events with an ironic perspective that raises uncomfortable issues around the clash of cultures. Mareček is best known for his two previous feature documentaries Dust Games / Hry prachu, which focused on demonstrations against the World Bank, and Source / Zdroj, about issues around the construction of the BP oil pipeline in Azerbaijan. Winner of the Czech critics’ prize, Solar Eclipse is a collaboration between Mareček and the production team of Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda (Czech Dream / Česky sen).
How did you choose the people who appear in the film?
I have known Milan and Tomáš for a long time. Tomáš even appeared in my ten-year-old film Dust Games. He was one of the activists from Jubilee 2000 who presented representatives from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund with a petition calling for the cancellation of Third World debt. He has been traveling to Zambia as a development expert and technician since 2004, and has realised several electrification projects there using renewable resources. He took along his friend Milan as an expert on photovoltaics. Milan is an experienced inventor and chemist. I spent several years watching them, reading articles and analyses, and thinking about how to film their story. They interested me because their activities are not just about development aid, but also involve the issues of energy planning and new technologies, and because they do their work out of personal conviction and a clear sense of motivation. When the possibility arose of traveling with them on their final repair mission, I didn’t have to think twice.
What was the greatest surprise after arriving in Zambia?
One predictable but equally surprising thing was the pitch-black darkness. I knew that only roughly every fourth inhabitant of Zambia has access to electricity, so I knew there wouldn’t be any illuminated roads, but I was still surprised when we left the airport at sunset, and after a little while we were enveloped in an impenetrable darkness. We drove through the capital city, and our headlights illuminated dozens of people promenading around town. It’s an intense experience, one that very quickly brought home the conditions under which people live. What is also important is the nature of the darkness. The closer you are to the equator, the more day and night are equally divided: half the day is light, the other half darkness, and that’s the way it is all year long. There is no gradual twilight. Instead, the sun sets very quickly around six o’clock, and it appears again at six in the morning. I spent a long time trying to come up with a name for the film. At first, it was ‘Fixing the Light’, but the idea of ‘fixing’ things struck me as too one-dimensional. ‘The Light of Will and Imagination' was too laden with ‘wisdom’, ‘Bright Expectations’ was too literary and ironic, and ‘Waiting for the Light’ too dry and boring. Then I wrote ‘Light-Bringers’ into the title sequence, since the local inhabitants often referred to Milan and Tomáš as beings that brought them light, for which they were grateful. In fact, the word ‘Lucifer’ means ‘light-bringer’. In religion, he is an ambiguous figure: he is a source of temptation, but it depends on how you deal with that temptation. This title was pretty fitting, but it focused too much attention on the two protagonists, and I didn’t want to create a typical portrait of two development workers, to study their histories, motivations, opinions. I left all that out on purpose, I pared it down. I focused only on the situations that they encountered while on their mission. They represent a European way of thinking, European experiences and feelings. Different worlds, different forms of light and darkness passing by each other and also interacting. That is why in the end I came up with a name with more of a geographic and economic basis, one that contains the desire to help. It also resembles a Czech proverb: the film’s Czech title, Pod sluncem tma (Under the Sun, Darkness) is a reference to the proverb ‘Pod svícnem největší tma’ (‘The greatest darkness is under the candle’). My sister came up with it after I described my first impressions from the journey and from the filmed footage. Also, even on a sunny day, it’s almost impossible to see inside the houses – because of the thick blinds on the windows designed to keep out the scorching sun. Since the proverb doesn’t exist in English, we chose a different title in English. Solar Eclipse refers to the use of solar panels as a power source, but also to the fact that the project’s success is at least partially ‘eclipsed’ by its setbacks, that things aren’t all bright and sunny.
Born in 1974, he studied documentary film at FAMU, where he has led the creative workshop since 2003. He is also active as a musician and film dramaturge, and contributed to the founding of several social activities in the Czech Republic, such as Letokruh, Jednotka, and Auto*Mat. His film about the latter – a film/activist happening/unique project that broke through the boundaries of just one media – tells, in a subtly self-deprecating tone, the personal story of the birth of various activities aimed at creating a healthier and more liveable city. From a small and poetic-minded initiative, Auto*Mat gradually becomes Prague’s largest non-profit organisations focused on traffic. In a 2010 internet poll organised by Czech Television and the Jihlava festival, Auto*Mat was named the Documentary Film of the Decade.
1998 Javor 98 [s]
1999 Metody vejce
2001 Hry Prachu (Dust Games)
2003 Domov můj...
2005 Zdroj (The Source)
2011 Pod sluncem tma (Solar Eclipse)