AMERIKA || 2015, Czech Republic || Documentary || Directed by – Jan Foukal / Written by – Jan Foukal / Produced by – Hanka Kastelicova, Tereza Polachova, Ondrej Zima / Music by – Johannes Benz / Cinematography by – Jan Baset Stritezsky / Editing by – Josef Krajbich / Running time: 70 mins.
Despite the instinctively misleading title, this documentary is very much set in the Czech Republic. Amerika, directed by filmmaker and musician Jan Foukal, is an exploration of the traditional Czech culture of tramping, a popular practice of older generations that saw people take off to the countryside and the woods for long treks.
He undertakes this exploration through his own journey on such beautiful and mysteriously darkened settings, accompanied by Czech-Canadian musician Barbara Adler. Their reactions to the surrounding environment and delights of discovery they very naturally experience in their journey are very real, as well as their progressiveness of the impact and effect it has on them. These discoveries include meeting all types of colourful characters, such as an eccentric poet and musicians who fixes them up with a shady makeshift handamde boat, or the reunion of an old camping group among others.
The documentary embraces its impulsive nature by never feeling structured, and treasures it even in the leading figures’ interactions, as they converse on various topics, such as freedom, culture, dreams and identity. These conversations also chronicle the growing bond of friendship throughout their trek, and as the film progresses and they quote famous lines from notorious folk songs, they begin to resemble romantic tramps ala Kris Kristofferson and Janis Joplin, whose songs they quote. On this point, it might be fair to say that more musical interactions could have perhaps elevated the film’s overall appeal and given the film a more defined structure.
Eventually, we come to realise that the title Amerika is meant as a distant goal or dream, much in the sense that immigrants would have meant it at the turn of the twentieth century where the far new world seemed to present such opportunities. Ultimately, this also provides an excellent contrast between the old and the new, which is enhanced by the very fact that this is a film starring young induviduals going against these consumerist times of technological dependance with a practice dependant on alienation and isolation. Thankfully, however, Amerika doesn’t aim to make a grand and preachy statement, despite the many opportunities it has to do so. – 4/5