By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
Upgrading Yippie hijinks with Jackass banzai, gonzo documentaries have become the 21st-century answer to political filmmaking in an entertainment-saturated age: Witness the agit-doc activism of the Yes Men, Morgan Spurlock, and Michael Moore, the genre's eminence gris who recently unleashed his new health-care expose Sicko at Cannes. But punking for progress isn't just an American thing. To make Czech Dream(see review, right), two student filmmakers out-flimflammed all their fellow prankumentarians by bamboozling an entire central European nation. Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda orchestrated a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign for the grand opening of a new superstore that didn't exist, creating a powerful commentary on consumerism that became a media sensation in the Czech Republic.
"The idea came out of the huge amount of superstores being built in the Czech Republic," Remunda recently told the Voice. In just five years, foreign investors built more than a hundred ultramodern "hypermarkets" there, catering to a population smaller than Pennsylvania's. "It changed the environment and habits of the people. They started to spend entire weekends in shopping malls." Not only do Czech hypermarkets include movie theaters and restaurants, but some even offer chapels for weddings and Sunday worship. Czech dictionaries included a new word: hypermarketománie, or hypermarketmania, the pathological obsession with shopping in hypermarkets. "It was funny but also a bit frightening," Remunda says. "At the time, we heard of a project by an artist named Petr Lorenc, who did a campaign for a nonexistent superstore on a very small scale. He just put a few posters up in Prague, 20 or 50 or so. This was sort of an inspiration for us. We wanted to make a film based on this idea, but to go officially through all the channels of the advertising business and make the film inside the industry, to look into how we are manipulated by advertising."
Working with top marketing agencies, Remunda and Klusák crafted a massive two-week campaign for an imaginary store called "Cesk ? Sen" ("Czech Dream"), including print ads, TV and radio spots, a website, street flyers, public transport ads, 400 billboards and a wistful Europop theme song sung by a chorus of children. "When the guys from the agency asked about our target group, we said citizens of the Czech Republic," says Remunda. "So we were trying to build up something that would attract almost everyone." Though the duo had some government funding for the production, the marketing blitz cost much more than their cash budget. So they employed what Remunda calls "classical advertising principals: product placement." A company that leases illuminated billboards, for example, "gave the space to us as an in-kind contribution."
The ads touted Czech Dreambranded products at rock-bottom prices: hyper-cheap ketchup, beer, wine, yogurt, even a solar-powered television that would cost the equivalent of about 10 dollars. "We were really over-exaggerating with the prices, to make it suspicious. The prices were so absurd that it would be a key to unpack the hoax for some people. But [at the same time] we were fully aware that at real openings, people do expect really cheap items. In London, Ikea opened up a superstore and offered sofas for something like 20 pounds. And people used knives against each other to get them."
The filmmakers didn't want a similar scene to happen at their event. "We contacted the psychologist of the Czech military to ask them how to be fully prepared for this kind of event," Remunda says. "We had private security guards, we had an ambulance, medics, fresh cold water. The military advised us to use music to calm people down."
While tempers flared at the openingwhere potential shoppers found only a vast meadow adorned with a fabric façadethe advertising agencies themselves weren't too happy either, especially after they saw the final movie, which portrays them as savvy manipulators of public sentiment. The film, Remunda says, works "completely different in principle from advertising, which forces you to buy something and not to think about anything. In a way we are advertising somethingbut we make people fully aware of how this world is functioning."
"People in the Czech Republic are sensitive to any kind of propaganda" thanks to their nation's past, the filmmaker says, with "countries around us like Germany or the Soviet Union trying to sell us some 'dreams.' Politicians often use the very same tricks and tips to get our votes, to get us to support their positions and parties." Still, as the film shows, many Czechs weren't suspicious enough of propaganda bearing a sunny capitalist design. "The reason why the film is understandable all around the world is that it's really a global issue, but in Western countries, it's much more developed. In countries like the Czech Republic, we are real beginners."
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