'Daniel's World' Examines Our Attitudes Toward Pedophilia
Veronika Lisková's new film explores the struggle for acceptance in a society that sees no difference between active offenders and those—like her subject—who are seeking help to never act on their desires.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
If a sexual fantasy is never acted on, never indulged in through pornography, understood to be impossible and rightfully illegal, is it still harmful? This is the question raised by Veronika Liskova's documentary, Daniel's World.
The film (you can watch a trailer here) is an intimate portrait of Daniel, a long-haired Czech man in his mid-20s who loves and is sexually attracted to boys, particularly boys aged between eight and ten years old. He does not believe that the Czech age of consent should be lowered from 15. He seeks help from a sexologist. He has accepted that he will never be able to have a relationship or sex with someone he loves. He has come out to his family and seeks support from others like him. And yet to watch him, and others, standing at the fence of a playground and commenting on small children as they play, is one of the most uncomfortable experiences you can have as a viewer.
In becoming the subject of such a documentary, Daniel is publicly admitting to possibly the greatest taboo we have in our society. He is laying himself open to an international shitstorm of abuse and threats. But according to the World Health Organization's definition of pedophilia, he is also admitting to a mental illness, an illness he believes he was born with, and for which he understands there is no cure.
We spoke to director Veronika Lisková about making the film and how it changed her attitude toward pedophilia.
VICE: Hi, Veronika. I read that to find a subject for the film you actually set up your own profile on a pedophile-support website. Were you worried about the implications of doing that?
Veronika Lisková: Yes, it was very weird. The website is open to the public, though, so not everyone who has a profile is part of the community. As soon as I agreed to make the film I knew I needed to dive deep into the topic. But yes, when I joined I was asked to write what age I was attracted to, and other things like that so I just wrote "adult men."
When making a documentary you can either have an opinion you want to put forward, or you can use the making of that film as a way to form an opinion. Which did you do with Daniel's World?
My idea from the beginning was to make a one-person portrait that opened up the subject. To try to bring it into the light. I was full of stereotypes, of course. I saw all pedophiles as child abusers, but in making this film I educated myself. I realized I had a complete lack of knowledge.
Do you have children?
Yes, I have a one-year-old son.
That's interesting. Do you think you could have made this film if you'd had a child during the time of shooting?
I think it would have been harder. It probably would have taken longer to convince myself that I should do it. However, during my research I came across a study that showed the majority of cases of child abuse are not perpetrated by pedophiles. It was a piece of research done by sexologists in the Czech Republic but similar findings have come out of Germany through an organization called Don't Offend. As a society, we have simply chosen not to see this; and that means we don't know how to approach it.
As a mother, would you let your children spend time with someone like Daniel?
For me, it's impossible to imagine that I would ask Daniel to come over to my place to spend some time with my son. But if it occurred naturally—if we met him in the street, for example—then yes. The most important thing is that now, if someone I had known for many years told me that they were a pedophile, I wouldn't stop seeing them. That is the journey I have been on.
The film is a very intimate portrait of Daniel—a lot of the voiceover we hear in the film are recordings he made on a dictaphone you'd given him. Why did you do that?
I was worried that Daniel wasn't very comfortable in front of the camera—I could see sometimes that he was overacting. But by keeping an audio diary, if he was alone and something came into his mind, he could record it. He sent me maybe 200 recordings like that. So I tried to build up a narrative arc from that, to combine situations from his daily life with what was happening in his head.
There were a couple of time where, as a viewer, I think we were encouraged to compare Daniel's sexuality to other sexual orientations. For instance, when he meets the organizer of Prague Pride. But homosexuality and pedophilia are unequivocally separate things.
I didn't want to compare the two. But the thing they have in common is how people talk about just being born like that. Pedophiles have no chance of ever having a normal relationship. It will never reach the same status as homosexuality, for example, because it will never be possible to legalize a relationship with children. And people in the pedophile community don't want to change that; all they want is to remove the stigma.
There's a scene in the film where Daniel and other pedophiles are in fancy dress; as devils and a bishop. Visually, it's incredibly arresting, but what's actually going on?
In the Czech Republic we have Saint Nicholas Day where people dress up and go out in the evening. There is a bishop, an angel, and a devil.
So Daniel is actually dressed up as a devil?
Yes. The devil is there to scare the children, but the angel and Saint Nicholas are there to save them. I knew it would be very interesting in the film because this event is very much related to children, but it is also very visually striking.
There are several times in the film, in fact, where you go to places closely associated with children—a playground, an ice rink, the Saint Nicholas Day celebration. Did you feel uncomfortable being there with people you knew were sexually attracted to children?
Yes. But I didn't want to avoid it. That is the reality of the community. They choose to have their meetings in places where they can talk, but at the same time watch children. I was uncomfortable with the way they commented on children, but on the other hand I didn't want to hide it. I think it's important that the audience feel some discomfort while watching.
It's interesting, because up to that point I actually felt quite sorry for Daniel—his flat is very bare, his life seems very sad. So to then see him in that setting is really uncomfortable.
The child that Daniel says he is in love with is called Misha in the film. Is that his real name? And are those pictures of him on Daniel's wall?
Oh, no. Some of the pictures on the wall are of Daniel and others are photos we found on international websites. To be honest, we had to change some of the pictures because we were worried people might recognize the children he actually has on his wall. We didn't want to expose Misha to any danger—we have to protect his privacy and that of his family.
After making the film, do you believe we have to change the way we treat pedophiles?
For sure. The main thing is lack of information, which means you can't assess the dangers properly. A lot of the pedophiles I spoke to told me that they consider themselves to be more dangerous when they are frustrated. When they feel unable to talk openly or have to hide their orientation and suppress their affections, it makes them more of a threat. In Germany, through the Don't Offend program every major city has a center where pedophiles can go to see sexologists and get psychotherapy. They have a campaign arguing that to be a pedophile doesn't mean you are a child molester.
If people are able to think about the issue frankly, and pedophiles know they can be more open about their feelings, then I believe that is the best way to prevent abuse.
The UK premiere of Daniel's World screens at 6 PM, Saturday, June 20, Bertha Dochouse, Curzon Bloomsbury as part of Open City Documentary Festival.
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