Andrea Culkova fisted her hands as she exclaimed, “I have 3 kids and I don’t want them to live in this fucking world with all these things happening. So when I started to film I thought, should we bow our heads, follow these rules and allow ourselves to be manipulated? No! We should scream!” From suffering through gestational diabetes during her pregnancy to having debt collectors raiding her home and confiscating her property and films in front of her children, Culkova is no stranger to life’s roller coaster. After graduating from Charles University and the Documentary Film Department at the Film Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), Culkova turned to documentary filmmaking to shed light on the injustices of businesses and political organizations.
“First it was more observational and doing research about diabetes, which turned into my film Sugar Blues.” Culkova shared.
“Then, in Don’t Take My Life, I turned more political because the film focused on exposing debt collectors. And I basically turned into an activist, which I hadn’t even necessarily planned.”
Culkova dedicated her life to art. But filmmaking was not her initial career focus. The lack of fulfillment in her initial field of painting and photography pushed Culkova to turn to her tutor at university for advice.
“Well, you were always thinking in series. In stories,” he told Culkova. “Why don’t you try film? I think film is good for you.” And with that, she redirected her focus to her true passion — documentary filmmaking. She hasn’t held a paintbrush since.
Although Culkova’s films act as a means of creative self-expression, they also invite the audience into her personal life. The struggles that most people try keep private, Culkova makes public.
“I don’t feel that it is something personal. When I’m doing these films, I usually feel like it is just another character in the film,” she explained, shrugging off her leather jacket and running her finger through her tousled hair. To her, filming her struggles felt natural.
Sugar Blues, Culkova’s five-year long project, revolves around her struggle with gestational diabetes and her quest to investigate and raise awareness about the consequences of sugar consumption. In 2014, the film had an international premier in addition to screenings at the World on a Plate Festival in India, and throughout Europe in Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Norway, Sweden and more. Additionally, in 2016, her film H*ART ON, a reflective and conceptual film created as a tribute to the universal emotions of fear, love, sex and loneliness, premiered at the DOK LEIPZIG 2016, a festival held in Leipzig for documentaries and animated films.
Quite simply, Culkova wants to change the world. She highlights humanity’s tendency to constantly focus on the negative aspects and on a dystopian narrative of their lives. Through her creation, Culkova attempts to shift people’s focus and uses documentary framing as a medium to achieve that. By focusing her film Sugar Blues on investigating which foods lead to diabetes and talking about her lifestyle changes, Culkova hopes to highlight to her audience that there is a solution to the issue of excessive sugar consumption through lifestyle change.
“After Sugar Blues aired in many parts of the world, I got so many emails from people asking me for advice. And at some point, my partner said, ‘Andrea, you’re a filmmaker, not a psychologist.’” For this reason, Culkova chose to deviate from activism in her movie H*ART ON and, instead, create a reflective and philosophical film.
“It’s like my chance to just take a breath.”
In contrast to Sugar Blues, H*ART ON focuses on documenting the struggle of finding a balance between living in the present and leaving your trace in the world. Specifically, the film involved the museum holding the forgotten legacy of Zdeněk Rykr, a Czech painter. Interestingly, the film includes footage of the museum guide, Jitka, who is hopelessly trapped in her small town without many opportunities to leave. So, she begins to live her life through the paintings of Rykr. However, after participating in the creation of the film, Jitka was inspired to leave the town and buy a trip to Turkey.
“She really took that step and it was a big step for her,” Andrea said, her eyes gleaming. “And when I meet her she gets so excited and shows me her photo albums that she creates from her travels. So sometimes during filming, you can help people like that.”
Currently, Culkova is testing new waters by producing a fictional film called Testosterone Story. Adopting the techniques of documentary framing, the film revolves around the topic of the fragile beauty of masculinity. The film criticizes the internal imbalance between men’s masculine and feminine sides. “I think it’s important to realize that we are complete as humans when our feminine and masculine sides within ourselves are balanced. Most of the time, it’s not in balance because men end up refusing to accept and embrace their feminine sides.”
Furthermore, the film points to the issue of the middle-age crisis. Specifically, Culkova highlights the importance of leaving the ego behind and beginning self-exploration, at the age of around 40, to determine your identity and values. “But so many men don’t dive within themselves. Instead, they boost their ego even further from the outside by buying faster cars, switching from wives to lovers, and so on. They are not leaving their ego.” However, Culkova emphasizes the benefits of beginning the journey of self-exploration at younger ages. “You must definitely start reflecting when you’re still young because you have this great opportunity of youth energy. But around your middle ages, you’re a little bit tired and start losing energy,” she said.
Culkova recalled her trip to the high mountains of Norway to film footage of bikers racing down icy roads to include in her upcoming film Testosterone Story. “The footage we filmed was so energizing and overwhelming that when we came home, my friend who came with me showed some of the footage to her husband and that night, after 8 years of not being affectionate, they started to kiss again,” she said, chuckling.
In contrast to the complexities of Culkova’s illness and the intricate philosophies of her films, her restorative hideaway is a simple place — under the sun. “When it’s sunny and I’m depressed I just like to go out and watch the sun,” she shared.
“Another thing I do is listen to music and dance,” she exclaimed with a grin, whipping her hair from side to side and pumping her fists in the air.
Photo by Pexels.