Lean a Ladder against Heaven

The director describes the process of shooting her new documentary

Lean a Ladder against Heaven (Opři žebřík o nebe, Jana Ševčíková, 2014)

In 2008, I read an article in Mladá Fronta daily about a charismatic priest from the small village of Žakovce under the Tatra Mountains. I stopped by there in the summer of the same year as I was hiking with my family in Slovakia. First it was hard to get to him. In the end I managed to arrange a five-minute meeting which then lasted one hour. I asked whether I could come back with a tape recorder, as I always have to get familiar with the people and the place before I decide to make a film. He replied that they were neither calling anyone nor throwing anyone out; that everything was in God’s hands.

First I stayed for more than two weeks and then I would go to Žakovce throughout the year. Marián was mostly with the men, I would go with them to morning and evening masses, to the woods to collect wood, to demolitions, to Roma settlements, to meetings. Later I had a chance to get closer to the community of women, who lived 4 miles from the presbytery and would commute every day for masses and work. I had to find my own space among these people. Gradually they started opening their hearts to me. The method of approaching both sides enabled me to observe priest Marián from a distance, from the perspective of people he had helped or was still helping. I have perceived it as a way to create a multi-layered portrait.

Lean a Ladder against Heaven

Marián’s role remained constant on the surface; which challenged me even more to go deeper and establish greater intimacy. On the contrary, the life stories of those he was helping were totally unpredictable. For instance, we have shot five returns and departures of one of the local alcoholics. During the five years of shooting, there has been a shift in the life of each of those people. In a way, their stories represent an answer to the question whether Marián’s effort makes any sense.

People who would come to the presbytery could not often tell the priest from the other men from the distance. In the morning, he would distribute work and drudge with the others in a shabby coat. At noon, he would stop the work and they would all go to the chapel to tell their beads. Sometimes he would wear muddy boots, sometimes a torn shirt. There were moments when he would get mad and bawl the men out. He behaved naturally and yet he was willing to sacrifice himself for those people.

Lean a Ladder against Heaven

In my previous documentary about children from Gyumri, Armenia, who were named after their deceased siblings and were turning into them gradually, there was a moment when I wanted to stop shooting and stop making the film, as I had no strength to go on. To me, the film about Žakovce and primarily about Marián meant a renewal of inner joy and meaning of existence. The meaning of humility. The meaning of sacrifice.


Photo: Author's archive

Jana Ševčíková

Jana Ševčíková (1953), independent director, screenwriter, producer. She is renowned primarily for her documentary The Old Believers (2001) about a Russian religious minority of the Bespopovtsy living in a Romanian village at the Danube Delta. Her other documentaries include Jakub (1992) focusing on Ruthenians living in Romania‘s mountains and Gyumri (2008) capturing the parents of children who died at the earthquake in Armenia in 1988. Her films have won numerous awards and were screened at a whole range of leading festivals across the world. Paradoxically, her works are renowned internationally but less known in the Czech Republic.


Lean the Ladder against Heaven will be screened at the documentary competition at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.


Translated into English by Tereza Chocholová





more articles from a section:  New release

1.21Shooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav Šmídmajer
2.20The Alchemical FurnaceJan Daňhel describes the concept behind his documentary film Alchemical Furnace that portrays the figure and work of Jan Švankmajer.
2.20Heaven over Today’s ChinaWhat is the story behind the feature-length documentary, Heaven, focusing on a Chinese Christian-run orphanage that is also a testimony about today’s China? Director Tomáš Etzler sees the film as a logical ending of his seven years in the Middle Kingdom. The second contribution was written by editor Adéla Špaljová who describes her collaboration with the director on the creation of the final cut of the documentary.Tomáš Etzler, Adéla Špaljová
2.20As Far As Possible Ukrainian documentarian Ganna Iaroshevych describes how she has been preparing her new film called As Far As Possible. It´s a portray of a man who decided to leave Germany and lives in the Ukrainian mountains fighting against the extinction of water buffaloes. „Our film tells about an alternative way of slow living close to nature and animals, and in harmony with yourself. And it seems to us that now this topic is especially relevant to many people around the globe,“ says Ganna Iaroshevych.Ganna Jaroševič
1.20The story of a small provincial townNovice Russian director Dmitrij Bogoljubov tells dok.revue about the circumstances surrounding the origin of his new film Town of Glory, a co-production with Czech production company Hypermarket Film and Czech Television. The film uncovers the mentality of Yelnya, a provincial Russian town that is one of the most depressing in the country and where the legacy of the Great Patriotic War still lingers – something Putin’s establishment has successfully exploited to gain the support of the local citizens. The film was available to stream for a short time in March on the portal DAFilms as a part of the festival One World Online. This fall it will be shown on Czech Television and possibly in cinemas as well.Dmitrij Bogoljubov
1.20Sun of the Living DeadAnna Kryvenko on the loss of compassion in the post-factual age, the battle with the chaos and hostility of the universe, and how to create a documentary essay from archive materials.Anna Kryvenko
1.20FREMWhat is it like to shoot a film in Antarctica? Is it possible to get into the head of artificial intelligence? And what is GAI? All this is described by the documentarist Viera Čákanyová in the text she wrote about her new film FREM in dok.revue.Viera Čákanyová
1+2.19Havel Speaking, Can You Hear Me?What were the two last years in the life of former dissident, ex-president Václav Havel like? How did he reflect on the fact that he was gradually leaving this world? Documentarian Petr Jančárek talks about his upcoming documentary film capturing the final stretch of Havel’s, life, the rough cut of which was shown at the Ji.hlava IDFF in the Studio 89 section marking this year’s anniversary of the so-called Velvet Revolution.Petr Jančárek
1+2.19On Adultery as Mirror of Our Own SelvesBarbora Jíchová Tyson, a visual artist, who has been living in America for seventeen years, has finished her first feature film Talking About Adultery this year. According to the author, the film is an essayistic collage and represents a perspective on humanity, which holds the mirror up to us all.Barbora Jíchová Tyson
3.16Gangsters, Helena and Me.Director and actress Petra Nesvačilová on her new movie HELENA’S LAW

starší články

2.14DOK.REVUE
30. 06. 2014


from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoySportPandemic as an opportunityJi.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisisSteve RickinsonInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková

related links:

Trailer filmu Opři žebřík o nebe