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New Chairman of Matica slovenská
Our mother Matica (the Mother, the Matrix, or the Nut), definitely needs some new blood in its veins, new ideas and new projects. Therefore, we were very interested in the newly-elected Chairman. JUDr. Marián Gešper grew up with the ex-Chairman in the same rural area near Vranov nad Topľou. He was the chairman of the “Young Matica” (Mladá Matica) and later a member of the Chair Board of the old Matica. He also worked for Matica as a lawyer for a monthly reward. And because he is full of energy, he is also a member of the local assembly for the Smer party. As a lawyer in the leading executive position, he wants to tackle all sorts of Matica activities and not any boring scientific activities. Marek
Maďarič Leaves the Tatrabanka Building
We are not surprised. Marek Maďarič, the ideology and marketing boss at the SMER party, is no longer in the good graces of the party Chairman (because he lost a few elections), has been waiting for the right moment to leave the captain’s bridge deck of the leaky mother ship and joined the ranks of ordinary workers of the party in the engine room. For a long time we had a suspicion that he only worked part time in the building of the Ministry of Culture. He thought, quite correctly, that the reckless murder of two young people would spark off a wave of legitimate anger of the public, and so he went surfing. After all, the programming period for EU funds is now over.
Slovak National Newspaper
We bought the Slovak National Newspaper after a long time, and will not buy it again for a ling time. We read in it that the southern part of Slovakia is going to become a Hungarian autonomous area, and that the President of the Slovak Republic would have deserved an award, according to Matica, from George Sorosh. If only were they able to write the name properly, at least. Propagandistic articles are still full of swearing “Czechoslovakists, Denník N contributors, lesser potentates, and the President as the violator of the Slovak statehood”. And all of that for taxpayer money and in full colour. Along with an interview the most important man, as seen by Matica, Vladimír Mečiar, who claims that the we have fought for our statehood for 1600 years. These are the new things we have learnt. Quite laughable, if it was not so sad. This is called privatised Matica, Ex-Minister Maďarič. This is a piece of picture of your 10-year term.
The success of the “The Land Sings” (or “The Country/Earth/Soil/Ground… Sings”) TV show has come as a surprise. The audience sat down at TV sets to admire “our unique folk culture like no other in the world”. As if other nations did not have their folklore. Maybe, however, they have not converted it to a sole and exclusive cultural achievement they are proud of. Norwegians dance in traditional costumes too, but can also boast about Munch all over the world. Why should the folk songs, nowadays finetuned by professionals, and lightly censored folk tales, should be forever the only cultural message that we send out to the world? It this “touch with the spirit of the nation”, or with the “depth of its wisdom”, as mentioned by Zelienka, the only thing we have? What about urban culture in the Slovak territory? Do not we consider it to be of our own? Has it not touched us, has it not formed us? After all, in addition to the decorated wooden houses of Čičmany, we proudly show tourists the Spiš Castle and our medieval towns. These places are hardly any folk dancing venues.
For the definition of urban culture, I was inspired by Robert Redfield, who wrote an article titled “The Folk Society” in the 1940s where he pointed to a contrast between urban life, being multi-layered, multicultural and personalised, and an image of a folk community which he characterised as a small, sacred, isolated and homogeneous world. In the spirit of Romanticism, he took the side of those who defend cultural traditions, who live in rural areas, and by moving to a city, into an urbanised culture, strengthen cultural disorganisation and occurrence of social pathologies. This view, 80 years old, is still present in our urban culture. More than 30 years ago, we were warned by historian Ľubomír Liptak not to give up freely our nine-hundred-year Hungarian history, particularly not in the modern times, when the nation is no longer endangered by extinction. Why not relate this challenge to cultural experiences of urban people, more modern myths and urban legends in the heavily industrialised area of Slovakia since the 15th century? Why should we be, culturally, merely some descendants of peasants, when there were actually so few true farmers in Slovak mountains? There were metal-working and farming communities in ironworks and mines. Urban and suburban cultures still had their demons, ghosts, contemporary cultural practices that were apparently not attractive for Dobšinský (a collector of popular fairy tales), although he was an urban scholar. After all, the so-called village fairy tales, except a few special cases, were also based on well-known European fairy-tale patterns. As a person born in a town I grew up on the myth of a local man called “Náco” – not a miner to do a vigorous Slovak dance with his shepherd’s hatchet after his shift. Neither did the Knights of Sitno twist a girl in a headscarf, but wielded swords manufactured in Slovak ironworks, and nor were they involved in any hay-making, but rode in noble saddles. We understand that our ancestors in the 19th century deviated from urban culture, which was multinational, as evidenced by our dialects, full of words borrowed from foreign languages. We have already managed to weed that out, artificially. But why have we weeded out the culture of urban people along the way? Why have we emptied-out the bathing-tub, but with the baby along with it? We could just wave it off, if only the gap between painted little windows and the urban Gothic gates still did not affect our cultural feel of the world and the way it runs. Why do not we ask how cities, with different cultural settings, had to put up emotionally with the state-supported village-culture attacks throughout the 20th century? How their cultural development was stopped by communists wearing folk costumes, who were also the nationalist romantics, although it may sound absurd? In fact, the communist idea was an exclusively urban phenomenon, and internationalist. But not in Slovakia. What have our rich towns lost in the process of persuading the townspeople that fujara (vertically held Slovak overtone flute) is the one and only guarantee of the national culture? Societies were were dissolved, no more cultural events at spas, no more home music-making. We threw the books from large libraries out to carriages and took them to an unknown location. Suburban and rural masses took over. And now we want to improve our image by criticising the all-embracing mass culture. We enforced it ourselves! And in the name of unity and uniformity of the nation. Well, now we are in the 21st century, watching “The Land Sings”. Perhaps these are no longer any original songs – some really come from Ukraine – but how long will we keep insisting that we are plebeians, even with our 18 royal towns and a castle in every third village? Culturally, this knocks us down. This means that we are still closed in from the world, we do not trust it, we do not trust in our power. What we prefer most is building a fence around us to contain and preserve “our one and only” culture, with that terrible desire to be all like the children of a one-and-only mother. Cities have always been able to cope, both economically and culturally, with a variety of ethnicities, religions, languages. We do not want to come back to that, not at all. Why did we then expell all those Germans, Jews, Hungarians and Czechs out of the towns , why did not we let them prosper, so that the Slovak national culture would not be left in villages with grazing geese?
Art in the core and culture around it, I imagine the whole thing to be like an apple. At the ICP, we have already used this analogy, when we identified the core – the living, modern culture. And the rest we named the pulp. However, the cores of apples cannot exist without the pulp. Neither can the Earth without its core, or a cell carrying the basic DNA information in its core. Of what use would be a mere DNA without the cytoplasm with all essential organelles, a mere Earth’s core, without the reasonable geosphere, or an apple core without its flesh? We are talking about highly interconnected systems for which we have to use the definition of ecology. As for the concept of ecology: It is a branch of science that examines the relationships between organisms and the environment and the mutual relationships among living organisms. Culture, art, lifestyle, work, education, environment, … none of these can be understood in isolation. At the same time, the effort to understand everything at once points out our limited understanding. The Socratian saying “I know that I know nothing” is an ideal crutch in this context.
In his book Creative Ecologies – Where Thinking Is a Proper Job, John Howkins is really looking for his starting points in biology, in the Darwinian evolutionary theory, in evolutionist Schumpeter, and in the theory of social and institutional changes. He elaborates upon, and in some sense opposes Richard Florida and his perception of the creative industries. As a matter of fact, he thought the above phrase seems too simplistic and limiting. “We should be careful about the word industry … it has become a metaphor of a large-scale, repetitive, mass production … in the scope (in the sense of the diversity of activities) in which creative workers work, this concept is irrational.” As a result he replaced “industry” with “ecology” and talks about a creative system. In Europe, the art is seen as the core, while in Asian countries the core is often thought to include mainly technology and innovation, which is the result of a social perception, a consensus and the cultural policy settings. In the creative ecology, we can also see some efforts to extricate economic benefits from the total centre of the interconnected system, the notional DNA is in this case a thought and an idea, which can however be brought by anyone, as Howkins points out, “everyone can be creative”, that is, the input to the system is infinite. This is similar to the way we think about the Internet. My connotation associated with creative ecology is the film Avatar, carrying me to the imaginary planet named Pandora, inhabited, as we see it, by mythical peaceful people of the Na’vi tribe. The plot tells about nothing else than a violent colonisation by the greedy human race. But outside of it, before our very eyes lies a world that plays a light theatre in each of its vibrant vein. The aboriginal people show us how to behave to their Mother Earth, which they call “Íva”. Íva pulsates from the inside of the planet and interconnects all around it, like a supercomputer, like a perfect mechanism where each creature, each cell, is a particle essential for the functioning of the entire ecosystem — the world. Information passes through the vibrating interwoven fibres, which shine and pulsate, as if we were looking at the pulsing blood in the human body, the sap in a trunk of a tree. The aboriginal people lived in perfect symbiosis with their environment, they respect it in an unprecedented scale. They are the ideal prototype of inhabitants of creative ecosystems. Creative ecology is a view of the world through the lens of knowledge, responsible and ethical behaviour, and finding new and previously unknown thoughts and ideas. People have got the opportunity to change the world around them, and they do it day after day. They create and maintain an infinite web of relationships which start or cease to exist at any time, and which we call creative ecology. Our ecosystem can flourish, or may be destructive. However, this is no longer a question of the quality of culture. And humility and tolerance of all its co-creators. The Na’vi tribe is a positive example in a world of phantasy.
At an ICP meeting, we asked a few itchy questions: How many new buildings for cultural institutions, that is, for libraries, theatres, museums, galleries, philharmonic orchestras, etc., were built during the 14 years since the Slovak Republic has joined the European Union? What percentage of the structural funds went to culture and its infrastructure? How many museums, libraries, etc. have been modernised to become open cultural and community spaces?
We are concentrating on the initiatives of the Ministry of Culture, because there are some private initiatives, for example of bookselling companies like Martinus, Gorila, and, well, even the J and T imitation, have created pleasant spaces where people like to come, meet, talk and consume hipster products, while the Ministry is asleep under the duvet of the old concepts in the style “come, look, but don’t touch anything”, it is 15 PM anyway, so get out now. Let’s make a little comparison:
National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra Katowice vs Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava (new building)
2 halls, 1,800 + 300 = 2,100 vs 3 halls 901 + 635 + 192 = 1728
Project budget: € 145 mil. vs € 148 mil.
4 years, 2010-2014 vs 21 years, 1986-2007
Floor area (m2), space (m3):
25,450 m2, 199,841 m3 vs 46,776 m2, 262,827 m3
Visitors per year:
150,000 vs 270,000
We are clearly better! Almost the same price tag, but our National Theatre is larger, at least as regards the space. It has more visitors, although there is not a hall for as many as 1,800 visitors at a time. And, most importantly, we have been building it for longer time, we are really good at that. The construction works in Katowice took 2 years, which is about the time each one of the the Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic promised the completion would take. The fundamental difference between the concert hall in Katowice, which is one of the most advanced in the world, also as concerns the acoustics, and the new building of the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava and its miserable sound, is also that while our northern cousins took advantage of the generous offer of the European funds, we built the Theatre using our own money. The Concert Hall in Katowice was built at a time of an influx of the EU money, whereas the Slovak National Theatre, with its original intent of architecture for Communist rallies, was not opened until the time when the schemes for spending euro-money had been created, including the favourite legalising ones.
And why do not we compare the Concert Hall in Katowice to a similar Hall built from EU funds in the same period in Slovakia? Well, because there is no such a new building in Slovakia! By the end completion of the new Slovak National Theatre, the era of the boom was ended, as regards major public-funded cultural buildings. And so we are left with spaces from the late 19th century, and a lot of hideous socialist shacks. For example, Istropolis in Bratislava, what a mess. We spent about 125 million euros from the European Regional Development Fund on the cultural potential of the regions, that is, roofs, polystyrene, plasters and plastic windows in about a hundred organisations, less than the amount needed to build a good concert hall. Even if it was built, hardly anyone would come, except on the International Women’s Day. In short, we do not build but maintain. We do not plan anything new, we just earmark special budgets for renovation of what is old. Despite the fact that Minister Maďarič was the a deputy prime minister and one of the most influential people in the ruling party, the money went to motorways, water treatment plant, after all, it’s probably enough for culture to start with. When we look at the map of Poland, and see the many places where something new was created for culture, there is a big difference between Slovakia and Poland. In spite of the proclaimed economic growth, culture in Slovakia is traditionally marginalised. The Ministry of Culture has not negotiated any use of EU funds for culture and to build its infrastructure, if we do not count in the huge pile of hardware.
We have had many different wars in the history. Thirty-year one, the big one, the other big one, the cold one. Probably, we have experienced a cultural war many times, but we have not used any militaristic terms to denote it. Voting rights for women in 1919 were enforced immediately after the first big war, and the word “war” was rather not used after the Verdun’s hecatombs of victims. Today, thirty years after the end of the cold war and seventy years after the second world war we return to words as if we no longer felt the the smell of bombs and rivers of blood from the distance. We forgot. So, what is going on in the field of culture, not only in Slovakia but throughout Europe, that we started to write, speak and, finally, think in the context of war in culture? It has been several years since a female representative of leftist-conservative party, the Christian-Democratic Movement, cancelled a gallery in the centre of Bratislava because of some paintings portrayed nudity. In the name of morality and displeasure at the existence of the human body, which is and has been centuries, the source of inspiration for artists. The thousands of Madonnas breastfeeding baby Jesus with uncovered breast, they would probably not pass. We had not heard then about the impending conflict that would lead to a war. It is therefore necessary to ask what was the attitude of the Ministry of Culture and the Minister to this issue. The answer is simple. None. This exemplary case of attitude is supplemented with the replacement of high-quality managers of regional galleries (Trnava, Banska Bystrica, Košice), in the name of providing space to “our truly Slovak artists”. The attitude of the Ministry – “not my job”, which means that we only care about the same things as before. And maybe that’s why these shifts in the perception of autonomy and modernisation trends in the infrastructure of Slovak culture were not considered as the first shots, the first signs of culture war but just maintaining the party’s voters. And perhaps that was the reason why the Slovak cultural community remained passive, like “I do not respond to what does not affect me personally”,”it’s none of my business.” The eighty-thousand march for a referendum under the slogan of protecting life has not been and is not today only an issue of medicine or human rights. It is the first attack in the cultural war, as seen in the examples from the neighbouring country, Poland. This time, arguments are not related to naked male bodies, but uteri of adult women. But the spawn is the same. A cultural one. In terms of perception of today’s problems, attitudes of today’s society, today’s responses to the shifts in culture throughout Europe. If anyone has got an impression that the struggle for a cultural shift involves only the extreme right and its efforts to conserve and isolate Slovakia, they are wrong. This struggle, as long as we do not want to repeat the word war, also takes place on a different front, which is not “quiet”. On the one hand there is an apparent effort to justify the horrors of the repressive communist regime in the 1950s, in the name of emphasizing the tragedy of ex-communists fired from their party in early 1970s in the struggle to “normalize” the life and culture in Czechoslovakia. Along with this effort, there is a silent ongoing fight for an interpretation of the fascist and communist history of Slovakia. This is not just a virtual and political struggle (see ĽSNS), but mainly a cultural one. The fight over words and their meanings, names and their censored biographies, the Tiso’s grave and the Dukla statue. This is just for illustration, so that we are know that it is the part of the cultural war that is not presented with ten-thousand marches and on billboards, but it is as relentless and devastating as any other fronts of this war. One of the fronts, currently the most prominent in the media, is the war of words and symbols over the “Istanbul Convention”. An international commitment which we signed without much public attention, but which is coming in handy right now as perfect ammunition.
This is no longer a kind of a macho effort to feel free to hit a woman without remorse. This is one battle won in the culture war as well as getting to see on which side of the barricade one stands. Who is a traitor, who still keeps winning the information war, and who digs into trenches fortified with culture. It is interesting to note that culture and its part, art, is not always an example of impartiality in such battles, of purity of intentions and good will, or even Europeanism, but rather only some kind of instant gunpowder for cannons. It seems that this war will take a long time. One generation, optimists say, accounting for the mortality rate of veterans. They forget that “the new warriors will stand up”, with God at the helm. Regardless of whether that god of theirs is Tiso or Stalin. And whether Brussels, or globalization is the enemy.
Sorry, this entry is only available in Slovak.
Sorry, this entry is only available in Slovak.
We live in tragic times, let’s face it. So no wonder that we in ICP remembered Minister of Culture František Tóth who died tragically. We have made a critical evaluation of every minister except him. And now the time has come since we the “best” and the longest-serving minister of all times, Marek Maďarič, left us. Let’s see who was the shortest-serving minister. František Tóth was a teacher, then a headmaster, the State Secretary for Education, and ultimately the Minister of Culture. For less than a year. He died in an accident two months after his removal and this Oxygen’s Pink Elephant will take a look at what he did, which is a kind of a pink elephant. While maintaining all the respect and reverence. Tóth was a member of the infamous party Alliance of a New Citizen (ANO). We recall that the main characters are faced with suspicions and allegations of widespread corruption and contract killing order. In ANO, František was the more “humane” face. To support that, he wore his face in the pocket of his jacket on campaign cards to hand out to his fans. His role as the Minister of Culture was probably not so bad, because he was brutally criticised by the Mečiar mob. Not to mention some artists frightened merely by his words of the need to reform the cultural sector. They shivered terrorised by his views that the cultural policy was still deeply rooted in socialist practices. He even spoke about the need to research the audience, something in terms of the value for money. Back then! After all, culture was supported by public funds! For a moment, he startled representatives of churches, when he started talking with a straight face about the need for making an inventory of church property. That would be a genuine disaster! The feedback showed how well we actually lived in our little cultural and political shack. Why fresh air? This is how things have always been, so let it remain like that forever. Amen! Maďarič also swept off the table Tóth’s cultural vouchers, which at one fling addressed education in culture (finally!) and better visitor rates in the boring cultural institutions. He put on a triumphant face, like Alexander the Great, but a Slovak one. Just to reintroduce the cultural vouchers after a while in silence and with difficulty. And so we recollected Mr. Tóth. Lest we forget, each new Minister of Culture should rather give up any plans for major reforms, however necessary they might be. May the destiny of the Minister Tóth’s term be a warning.
As an allegedly French saying goes: “Give a dog a bad name and you can feel free to kill it.” Obviously, this does not say anything about the relationship of the French to animals. It expresses the power of words, the magic power of a name. Because if something is given a bad name, then we do not have to be bothered by remorse when we get rid of it. The saying now does not say what happens if we give the dog a nice name and say it with love, but we all know it: the dog will become our friend, protector and guardian angel. Because that is how it goes with dogs and especially with words.
Cyrano de Bergerac and youtube
I was fourteen, I lay in the dark on a hospital bed and cried. Tears of emotion and being moved deeply. In the 1980s each orthopaedic ward bed had a little radio receiver wrapped in a soft washable coating. A patient could put their ear to the radio and it was pretty quiet, playing just for them. If they fell asleep, their head could just drop onto the soft wrapping and nothing would happen. But I did not sleep. In a silent ecstasy I listened to a radio adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. When Cyrano professed love for Roxane, I understood that it could also be my destiny – to seek the truth and love and store my findings as words. Because words are incantations. With words we create these new worlds and affect those that already exist. Whether we speak or write, read or listen to words from a stage, a cinema screen, from a TV or a computer screen. We are shaped by what we perceive and we shape ourselves and others with the words we produce. Recently, I spoke about my teenage captivation with Cyrano with students at school. They are perceptive and talented, yet somewhat astonished. Cyrano? Why should they be interested in long plays in verses? On the radio? And so I began to investigate. What is the idea of today’s fourteen-year-olds about Cyrano de Bergerac? And for those in their twenties? What impresses and motivates them? The answer is simple. Images. Images in motion. Today’s young people are more visual. Less listening, more watching. Less reading longer texts. More interested in short ones, most preferably associated with an image. Comics. Video clips. Series. Films. Dynamics. Quickly, concisely, briefly. Because staying focused is hard, just as digging in, it is rare to become dedicated, there is a continuing nagging need for new excitement. Is the fault of the Internet? Yes. Is it transmissible? Yes. Have we succumbed to it, once crying over a radio play in the past? We have, indeed. And even those of us who once decided to make a living at words. Nicole Krauss, probably best known worldwide as the author of History of Love, contemplated in an interview how the texts of contemporary writers are about to change under the influence of the different process of their creation. Indeed, all those whose working method is known to Nicole – and my observations do not differ from hers – write their novels and short stories on computers connected to the Internet. This is useful on the one hand, because we can edit the texts on an ongoing basis, with a few clicks, without the pains or rewriting, we can verify the facts on the Internet, communicate with advisers. However, at the same time, we can pop out from the work, and we do that. How will literature change in the coming decades, when the creators constantly interrupt the process of composing words into sentences, and flee from combining ideas into stories to the compulsive search for stimuli on the Internet? Henry Kissinger asserts in his World Order that rapid availability of information brought by the expansion of the Internet has resulted in less need to think over facts, putting them into context, to handle them in one’s own way. We read, we store, and we go on. We do not have to make long searches for facts, analyse their relations, regroup facts, create stories. What will be the result? I do not know. But I hope that word – meant, read, written, spoken – will see a new renaissance. That the childish fascination with speed, change image and moving pictures will wear off slightly and we will get back to words. To calmly flowing words. Why is that? Because we need that inherently as people. The Hunters and Gatherers in Us Need Stories
American anthropologist Polly Weissner argues that storytelling has got a fundamental impact on the human evolution. When our ancestors discovered fire, it helped them keep wild beasts away and cook, but at the same time, their economic and social development made a leap too. “There is something about fire in the middle of darkness that bonds, mellows and also excites people,” Professor Polly Weissner said and supported her claim by her research results. She spent 40 years among the natives in Botswana and Namibia, and analysed the records of many conversations among them. She made an interesting conclusion: while their conversations during the day concerned mainly the economic discussions and contained more conflicts, evening camp fire talks were amicable and included singing, dancing and telling stories. The stories were about people, about magical beings, about past hunters, fires, marriages and premarital habits, stories about how someone got lost, stories about passions, jealousy and murders. The natives studied were hunters and gatherers living in a way like our ancestors.
Therefore, Professor Weissner emphasises that it was the stories told around the fire – because they used imagination, allowed to make contact, to settle conflict and pass on experience – which were the means that helped the human race to survive and populate our planet. “Such extended communities had networks for mutual support, which we can see today in our ability to build social connections,” Professor said. Why do stories play such an important role in our evolution? Why was it the words? Because words and stories have shaped the way our mind processes information. It was not so long ago when evening stories were a common daily routine. However, today, in the age of laptops and smart phones, people have the opportunity to work from home even in the evening or enjoy their own amusements and so they often prefer that more than devote themselves to each other. “Once the parents spent their time with their children, but today they do not have enough time to read for them and discuss the events of the day. What will happen to our relationships?”, Professor asks. And how our culture, and the word as its carrier, is going to develop? What can I do? I have got a couple of books at home on first aid and on what various diseases we may encounter and the views of the medical field. The best of them are the sentences at the end of chapters – titles in bold type “What can I do?”. And that is where all of us, responsible hypochondriacs, can read what to do to avoid getting sick, and when we’ve already got sick, how to get ourselves together until the doctor comes and when we have been treated by specialists, how to prevent getting sick again. Indeed, there is something every one of us can do. And not just with their bodies, but with all the spirituality that we contain and that surrounds us. Even at the moment when words are devaluing in a way, when authors do not feel responsible for them, when words are getting lost, distorted, as if we often didn’t need them in their entire meanings, just as a sound filler before the next the song. What can we do? To remember that Cyrano of our own. Something that once touched our hearts. What changed our lives. And return to it. To read again. And to read aloud. To try to formulate ideas again, in all their richness. Without ellipses. Complex sentences. Indeed, the word that slips out, with contents. To use adjectives where they are needed. Talking with the knowledge that every word is a magical incantation by which we can change the world. We can see it in the streets, we can read newspaper, we can hear in the kitchen at home. Each word constitutes the culture that surrounds us and forms what remains after us. And those of us who write, we should first of all read what we have created, knowing that the words and stories they assemble will be still there when we will not, and stay here as a message about us and our time. What hunter and gatherers we were. What we dealt with, loved, hated, escaped from and what we followed? Perhaps our progeny will find something left from us which is timeless, which will bear the grandeur and power of inspiration of charismatic Cyrano. He mastered words and was full of understanding, generosity and love. Let us be the same. And let us think about the words we send out to the world. Because we cannot catch the wing of a word that slips out and flies away. That is what Martin Luther once said, and he was right.
screenwriter and director