This article previously appeared on Crossfader
The 2017 Student Academy Awards feature a batch of outstandingly diverse directors and stories. With three thesis films shot outside of the United States (from Croatia to Taiwan), and the rest dealing with issues of serious political and personal weight, the nominated films continue to prove themselves as a beacon for unheard voices in a rapidly changing industry. With this series, Crossfader will be highlighting all seven filmmakers off the Live Action – Domestic section.
New York University leads the pack this year with three Student Academy Award nominations. Marie Dvorakova is one of those nominated directors, and her thesis film, WHO’S WHO IN MYCOLOGY, is quite the specimen. Inspired by the whimsical extravaganza of Jean-Pierre Jeunet films, Dvorakova flew home to the Czech Republic in order to bring her fungus-inspired fever dream to life. With assistance from the Institute of Microbiology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Dvorakova’s film is a visual effects tour de force, combining motion capture technology and fungal timelapses to stage her comically vivid theatre of decay. It’s rip-roaringly charming, and a feast for the eyes, boasting an aesthetic precision that showcases the workings of a nascent talent. Few films are this exhilarating on a moment-to-moment basis, let alone student projects.
So you’re from the Czech Republic?
Yes, I was born in the north but lived in Prague for a long time. I studied at FAMU, one of the oldest film schools in the world, and was lucky enough to get a scholarship to attend NYU.
So when the time came to make your thesis, what was the incentive, or the motivation, behind returning to Prague in order to shoot there instead of the United States?
I think the biggest reason was the cost of the production and the skill of the film crew. I knew that considering the limited budget that we had, it would have been impossible to film this project in the United States, especially at this scale. So I contacted my friends back at FAMU, befriended many film professionals, and teamed up with people who wanted to team up for free. NYU helped us so much with their mentorship and obtaining grants. Our screenwriter was from there, and it very much is a film that couldn’t have been made without the school, but it’s wonderful that my contacts from FAMU were there to help out.
What were the inspirations for the film? Did you have any references?
My favorite film is DELICATESSEN, so that was definitely biggest inspiration.
That’s amazing. One of my friends asked me what the film was like and I said that “it’s a lot like DELICATESSEN”! I mean, the production design is out of this world, it’s all so beautiful.
Thank you very much. It was a lot of work and took us a lot of time to prepare.
Which brings me to one item in particular: the bookshelf! How did you accomplish the effect of it swinging left to right like that?
That’s actually a fun story! I had to gather over a thousand books, physically, from the local library in my hometown. We had this bookcase that we stuffed the books into. There were these joints on the hinges of the bookshelf, so we had to screw it to the wall so it wouldn’t collapse. And when we’d film, we’d have two guys with ropes that would hold onto the bookshelf and let it tilt left and right [like a game of tug-o-war]. Of course, the bookshelf got way too heavy with all those books in it, so we had to take out the pages from the books and put styrofoam inside instead. That way it became lighter. All the books have the same title in the film, so we had to glue the “Who’s Who In Mycology” text to the spine of all the books.
So how did you get that idea to make a film about mycology?
Well, my friend and I were applying to a Sloan science foundation grant. It’s a grant for films that have some scientific content. I found mold to be such a beautiful visual element that we decided to write a movie about it. I don’t know if it’s a national habit or something, but we Czech people are very known for our research in mycology. We’re big fans of mushrooms and fungi. When I grew up, my parents had all these lexicons of mushrooms and different species in the home. So I started playing with it. I had my own petri dishes that I was provided from the Academy of Sciences. They told me to open it, let the species from the air go in, and watch what grows inside. The molds are everywhere, in every room! The microbiological institute provided me with different species of molds, and so when I asked for certain shapes and colors, they accommodated us. They let us grow it and we shot timelapses for the film. We composited these using the computer and put them onto the walls in post.
Wow, that explains why it looks so great!
Thank you. Yeah, we tried so many things. We thought of clay, or stop motion, and the advisors just told us to use timelapses. But to do so we had to befriend the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. But they loved the project and partook for free!
That’s amazing! So if you could distill what your film is about into a few sentences, what would it be?
It’s a fantastical tale where anything is possible. I wanted to capture a great adventure within four walls. It’s a film of transformation. One where a man changes what he thinks of a girl. Mold changes his mind. It’s all seduction.
It’s a very beautiful film. And what I love is that you don’t see these films a lot. You don’t get such exciting or fresh films receive a spotlight from the Student Academy Awards, which is great!
*Laughing* I was so surprised we were nominated. Usually people like to put things in a box so it’s a huge shock that our film made the cut.
And what are you doing now that you’re done with film school?
I work for a cultural institute in New York. I’m the programming director, which is fun, because I get to do a lot of film programming.
That’s amazing. Well I hope to hear more from you in the future!
Thank you, Sergio.
Catch WHO’S WHO IN MYCOLOGY on the festival circuit later this year, and keep your eyes peeled for more of Marie’s work down the line!