Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed filmmaker Hedvika Michnova about her career, what inspired her to make her new film, and the creative process that went into It’s Bean Too Hot.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I grew up in the Czech Republic in a small town surrounded by mountains. This is where I got my first camera and started capturing nature around me. To pursue my passion, I’ve decided to move to the UK and study a very unique course – Marine and Natural History Photography at Falmouth University.
This course introduced me to many wonderful things such as underwater photography or microscopy but more importantly, it taught me how to tell a story and reflect the issues our planet is facing. Throughout my studies I worked as a barista and a baker in a vegan café and have also been volunteering with The Marine Diaries, creating a series of short films about marine ecosystems.
When did you first realise you wanted to make films?
When I first joined Falmouth University I was not very interested in films and focused on photography instead. I have watched natural history documentaries, but I never imagined it would be possible for me to make a career out of it. In my second year of studies, I have been introduced to film and I didn’t look back since.
What is your favourite thing about films?
Making films gives me an incredible power to tell the story I want and make the viewers feel what I feel. I can take the viewer on a journey to learn about a subject I’m passionate about and hopefully inspire them. But what I love most about films is their power to make an impact. Films such as Blackfish or Blue Planet II achieved this on a great scale and actually changed people’s behaviour. Films like these are a wonderful tool to educate the viewer about important issues in an engaging way and help make a difference.
What classes or research did you take to support you in your filmmaking career?
Whilst I was at Falmouth University I found great support in my lecturer Anna Roberts. She not only taught me how to tell a story in her classes but closely worked with me in every film I made and helped me develop my skills. Through every shoot I did and mistake I made I learnt a little bit more not just about technical aspects but also about what kind of filmmaker I want to be. I watched many natural history films that shaped my style of filmmaking as well.
What was your first film industry job?
In May 2021 I finished my studies and moved to Bristol to start my career in Natural History TV. I was very fortunate to get a job with Plimsoll Productions, one of the best production companies in this field and creators of Night on Earth, Tiny World or Hostile Planet. I started as a logger and am currently working on my second project with the company. I’ve loved every day and find it really inspiring to be in this environment where the programmes that I’ve looked up to for years are being made.
Tell me a favourite experience in your career. Something that stands out in your memories and makes you want to find more experiences like it.
There was a moment on the shoot in Tanzania when we were supposed to film coffee&climate giving training to farmers. We drove for three hours to a completely remote location and as Godfrey, our driver, informed us, some of the farmers out there have likely not seen a Western person before. We gathered in a small shed and coffee&climate began explaining to farmers what climate change is and how it can affect their production. I found it incredibly surreal that somewhere in such a remote location there was a group of people learning about climate change and the measures they need to take to keep their productions. Before this experience, I rarely thought of climate change this way and I am grateful that for a moment I got to see climate change from their point of view.
What is the title of your current project?
It’s Bean Too Hot. The film is about the ways climate change is affecting coffee production and the solutions farmers are implementing to adapt and save their crops.
What inspired you to make It’s Bean Too Hot?
As a filmmaker and photographer, I have always been drawn to conservation and environmental stories. During my studies, I have worked as a barista and developed a passion for coffee. When it came to creating a final project for my degree, I wanted to make a film that would be very close to my heart.
When I stumbled upon an article about coffee production being highly affected by climate change, I didn’t hesitate and knew that was the story I wanted to tell. For me, this story was an opportunity to not only explore a subject very close to me but also to hopefully make an impact on the viewer and inspire change in daily habits.
What is the main conflict of It’s Bean Too Hot?
Climate change is affecting coffee production worldwide. Wild species of coffee, as well as the cultivated Arabica coffee, are showing sensitivity to changes in temperature, rainfall, pests and disease. Experts predict that the land suitable for Arabica coffee could decrease to 50% by 2050.
This is a story told by those who are feeling climate change the most. It is estimated that there are 25 million coffee farmers around the world, all of which depend on coffee to maintain their livelihoods. The heroes responsible for our favourite drink that we often forget about are the most important part of the chain, but also the one that is struggling the most. Adapting to changing climate requires severe changes in farming and funds many of the farmers don’t have.
It’s Bean Too Hot takes you on a journey around the world, from Costa Rica and Tanzania all the way to your couch as you drink your morning coffee, unaware of the threats that it’s facing. It dives into fully carbon-neutral farms, explores climate-smart agricultural practices being used to adapt to climate change and protect biodiversity, and finds out what drives smallholder families to continue producing coffee.
The chain ends with each and every one of us; the consumers. By thinking about our coffee choices and opting for sustainable coffee brands that protect the environment and support the farmers who grow it, we can all play part in helping save coffee for the future.
How long did you spend in production?
I first started developing the idea in August 2020. I went on a spontaneous shoot in September where for three weeks I travelled around coffee farms, spoke to farmers which helped to refine the idea of my story. After returning I started planning a second shoot in Africa and got in touch with the initiative for coffee & climate that agreed to host me and my partner in February 2021. Coffee & climate helped me tremendously not only by providing access to remote farmer communities of Tanzania but also with their extensive knowledge of the subject.
How long did you spend in post production?
Post-production all together took about two months after returning from a shoot in Tanzania till May 2021 when I submitted my film for my degree. However, this film has been a real passion project of mine, so I spent the whole summer occasionally refining it until it looked the way I hoped for.
Did you work with a writer, or write It’s Bean Too Hot yourself? Would you do the same again?
Although I collaborated with many people on the way, the film itself was researched produced and edited by myself. It was a project that combined many of my interests and I wanted to keep control over all its aspects. I enjoyed every part of the process and learnt a lot, however, for my next film I would like to have a small crew around to divide the tasks and reduce the stress.
How did you find your cast and what made you choose them?
Before I travelled to Costa Rica I tried to contact as many farms as I could so that I would have some point of contact on location. I was lucky to get a response from Guillermo at Café Monteverde and Oldemar at Café La Bella Tica who agreed to be interviewed and turned out to be amazing characters. I got Enrique’s contact at a BnB in Costa Rica from a woman I spoke to about the film. She recommended him as he worked at the first carbon-neutral coffee farm in the world, so I contacted him and managed to arrange a shoot with him as well. When we travelled to Tanzania we were in the company of people from the initiative for coffee&climate. Godfrey was our guide, driver, translator and friend so naturally he ended up being one of the main characters. We have also decided to include Mwajuma because of her bubbly character and a love for coffee that I have not seen before. Overall, I consider myself very lucky that I’ve been able to stumble upon this amazing group of characters, all of which add their own part to the story.
How big was your crew? Would you choose the same size again?
For each shoot, there were only two of us. Even though this didn’t give us the advantage of having a separate person for each task (camera, sound etc.) I wouldn’t change this if I were to go through the process again. Having a small crew allowed us to be mobile with our equipment, change plans quickly if needed but most importantly to connect more with the people we were visiting. Many of the coffee farmers in Tanzania were shy and not used to having people film and interview them. Having a large crew could have been more intimidating for them and wouldn’t allow us for such close contact.
How did you find your locations?
The shoot in Costa Rica happened very spontaneously and that’s why I often found my locations just by driving past them or speaking to locals. I knew that I wanted to do my second shoot in Africa because that is where coffee comes from and with the help of coffee&climate, Tanzania was a perfect choice.
Tell me some career goals. What would you like to achieve?
A couple of months ago I started my first role in the industry and right now I am focusing on learning how the industry works and how to be good at my job. One day I would like to become a shooting producer and tell stories on a much larger scale that would reach viewers all over the world. I would like to focus on environmental or conservation stories that show the world the way it is and inspire the viewers to take action and protect it.
Tell me something you were surprised by, something you had never realised about being a filmmaker.
I think I never realised how important it is to establish really good relationships with contributors. When in Tanzania we spent two weeks with Mwajuma and Godfrey before interviewing them and that made a big difference as by then they were completely casual and comfortable in front of a camera.
What are words of advice you have for other aspiring filmmakers?
Make films – big or small, it doesn’t matter. I learnt most simply through doing and making mistakes. Tell stories that you are genuinely passionate about because those are the only stories you will happily devote all your time to and make them as good as you possibly can.