Slovakia: The Kids of Lunik IX

Filmmakers Michelle Coomber and Dana Wilson were researching their documentary Trial of a Child Denied about the sterilization of Czech Romani women, when a contact at the Roma Press Agency introduced them two years ago to the Lunik IX kindergarten.

Located on the outskirts of Kosice in eastern Slovakia, Lunik IX is Central Europe’s biggest Romani ghetto, a kilometer-square outpost of decaying high-rise panelák apartment buildings pocked with garbage and notorious for its poverty and crowding. Ethnically mixed when it opened in the early 1980s, the neighborhood is now entirely Roma as a result of policies pursued by local authorities, who moved Roma from elsewhere in Kosice and the surrounding villages here while moving “nonproblematic” families out. Built for about 2,600 inhabitants, the ghetto officially houses some 5,500; unofficial estimates put the figure closer to 8,000.

But in the middle of an urban landscape Wilson describes as “post-apocalyptic,” behind barred windows and steel doors, she and Coomber found an oasis of light, art, and laughter. Lunik IX’s preschool opened in 1997 with 16 students. Today it serves more than 150 kids ages 4 to 6, with more on a waiting list to get in, and is ranked among Kosice’s best kindergartens. The students paint, draw, write poetry, learn numbers and shapes, play games, and do calisthenics. Their artwork lines the walls and has won competitions in Tokyo, Barcelona, and Cairo. And according to headmistress Anna Klepacova, virtually all the students go on to primary school, still a rarity among Romani children.

Director Coomber, producer Wilson, and their partners in the Prague- and London-based collective Mortal Coil Media are now at work on a documentary about the kindergarten, exploring the lives of the kids of Lunik IX at school and in the larger community. The film is scheduled for release in fall 2010. This slide show features shots by Wilson, who doubles as a freelance photojournalist, and commentary drawn from an interview with TOL.

Learn more about the Lunik IX documentary project and see an early trailer for the film at Mortal Coil Media‘s website.




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