CONTENTS Polish Cine Art, or the Cinematographic Turn in Polish Contemporary Art . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Jakub Majmurek, Łukasz Ronduda
CONTEXT 1. 2. 3.
Łukasz Ronduda, Piotr Uklański’s Summer Love . . . . . . . 26 The Eighth Cinema . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Józef Robakowski in conversation with Łukasz Ronduda Every Artist Is an Encounter With a New World . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 Wojciech Marczewski in conversation with Łukasz Ronduda
CINE ART P a r a s i t e | It L o o k s P re t t y f ro m a D i s t a n c e 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4
We Are Content with a Marginal Position . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63 Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal in conversation with Jakub Majmurek and Łukasz Ronduda Anna Sasnal, It Looks Pretty from a Distance . . . . . . . . . . . 88 Beata Walentowska, Confessions of a Film Editor. . . . . . . . 92 Jakub Majmurek, The Realism of Intensity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98
Wa l s e r 2.1 2.2 2.3
Cinema Is an Exhaustion Fight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113 Zbigniew Libera in conversation with Jakub Majmurek Artists Bring in an Entirely Different Vision. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130 Adam Sikora in conversation with Jakub Majmurek The Pleasure of Working with a Filmmaker. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136 with a Vision Is Irreplaceable Agata Szymańska in conversation with Jakub Majmurek
T h e Pe r f o r m e r 3.1 3.2 3.3
The Cinema of Avant-garde Disquiet. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 Oskar Dawicki and Łukasz Ronduda in conversation with Jakub Majmurek The Form Developed in an Organic Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160 Łukasz Gutt in conversation with Jakub Majmurek Łukasz Ronduda, Exhibition as Film . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169
Photon 4.1 4.2 4.3
The Human Being Is a Cluster of Particles for Me. . . . . . . . . 189 Norman Leto in conversation with Łukasz Ronduda Norman Leto, Sailor (excerpt from the novel) . . . . . . . . . 204 Photon – storyboards (selection) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 210
WORK IN PROGRESS 1. There Is a Chasm between Correctness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220 and what I Want to Do Anna Molska in conversation with Jakub Majmurek and Łukasz Ronduda 2. Artists’ Cinema like Beekeepers’ Cinema. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233 Agnieszka Polska in conversation with Jakub Majmurek and Łukasz Ronduda 3. Everything Is a Matter of Synchronising Imagination . . . . . 245 Jakub Kijowski in conversation with Łukasz Ronduda 4. I’m not Interested in Film as a Craft . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 252 Katarzyna Kozyra in conversation with Jakub Majmurek and Łukasz Ronduda 5. Artist as a Film Producer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 259 Janek Simon in conversation with Jakub Majmurek
Bio Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 268
POLISH CINE ART or the Cinematographic Turn in Polish Contemporary Art Jakub Majmurek Łukasz Ronduda
This book makes an attempt to describe a new artistic phenomenon that occurs on a territory shared by Polish cinema and contemporary art. What does this phenomenon consist in? In a nutshell, it consists in a transformation that changes contemporary artists into directors of feature films. The artists engage in work on narrative films that operate with emotions and feature actors – films aimed at cinema audiences, and not only at art crowd. The films belong to the institution of “auteur cinema”, a field that definitely forms part of the history of cinema, and not only of experimental film. We propose to adopt the terms that are used to describe this phenomenon in the English speaking world: Cine Art or Cinema Art. This book describes the momentum that this tendency has gained in the recent years – which makes it legitimate to talk about the use of the term “cinematographic turn in Polish contemporary art.” DOCUMENTARY, ANIMATION, FICTION Polish visual artists harnessed film for their practice already a long time ago. A privileged position of film among other media in their strategies has been manifest especially since the time of the 1970s avant-garde. Many of the most important and groundbreaking works of Polish art of the last fifty years were films, such as works by the Workshop of the Film Form from the 1970s, Zbigniew Libera’s projects from the 1980s, works by Artur Żmijewski and Katarzyna Kozyra from the turn of the 21st century. However, we need to emphasise that visual artists preferred documentary films and maintained an almost ostentatious distance from creative devices that would allow them to develop cinematographic fiction. It is the in the field of a documentary (including creative documentary or documentary based on provocation) that has witnessed the most original film productions made by artists. A very interesting exchange could be observed between projects by Artur Żmijewski, Anna Baumgart, Karol Radziszewski, Jacek
Malinowski, Józef Robakowski from the turn of the 21st century and the practice of progressive and experimental documentary filmmakers (such as Marcin Koszałka, Grzegorz Pacek). Those films were often showed and awarded at documentary film festivals. It was artists who confronted topics that professional documentary filmmakers failed to undertake, such as the Smolensk Catastrophe and its aftermath in the Polish public sphere. When on the 10th April, the Polish presidential aircraft crashed in Russia, it was the visual artist Artur Żmijewski, and not one of professional documentary filmmakers that took to the streets with his camera in order to document the situation. Beside documentary film, another field of serious exchange with the cinematographic environment was that of animated video works made by Polish artists. Those works were often showcased at animation festivals; they also refreshed the genre of animated film to a considerable degree. Examples include projects by Wojciech Bąkowski and Agnieszka Polska. So far, documentary and animated films were the two most significant fields of artistic and institutional encounter between contemporary art and cinema. Now, the time has come for the cinematographic turn, described in this book, a tendency that makes artists gravitate towards feature filmmaking. FEATURE FILM AS A MEDIUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART Insofar as in other spheres of culture (literature, film, theatre) the new wave period was followed by a return to the proper media of a given discipline, in contemporary art painting and sculpture lost their privileged status after the era of the avant-garde. Currently, Post-Conceptual art has given artists freedom to use any kind of media whatsoever. Yet, feature film was something that artists avoided – a situation caused by a particular aversion, if not hatred, of the avant-garde towards this medium. It was strong especially in Poland after World War II, where Pop Art never existed and Socialist Realism prevailed, a tendency that gave rise to a strong imperative of autonomy in the field of art. For modern art, feature film represented everything that should be rejected or, at best, laid bare: the manipulation of emotions and the pursuit of the viewer’s entertainment, the lack of complete creative independence and autonomy (or rather entanglement in the network of immense
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financial, ideological and other kinds of dependencies). Polish artists, who mastered the art of small-scale activities for a narrow group of the initiated, did not even make attempts to become active in the field of feature film. In turn, the basic problem of the post-war avant-garde iconoclasts (apart from the financial barrier, of course) was the necessity to work with the human being – an actor, and with the fiction. For the basic medium of feature film is the human being and the narrative, followed by figurativeness, representation, emotional identification, empathy, and often human existential dramas of the most basic kind. The situation was completely different in visual arts after the avant-garde left its imprint on the field – the protagonists were often not human beings, but concepts (such as, for instance, the concept of Art), and reflection on reality was pursued trough the prism of various kinds of avant-garde discourses. Those two perspectives were not compatible with one another, and the conflict that occurred between them was best expressed in the question: “where is the human being?” – a question that feature and documentary filmmakers wanted avant-garde filmmakers to answer in the 1970s. The best illustration of this conflict is offered by the unique short feature film Apnoea (Bezdech) by Wojciech Bruszewski, made with professional actors and a film crew. The plot revolves around a dramatic story, set in a hospital casualty department, that concerns death or rather a confrontation of the protagonists with ultimate matters. While constructing the storyline of his film, Bruszewski, who was a member of the Workshop of the Film Form, chose to subordinate editing to generative procedures, matching all shots with each other and generating meaningful dialogues between all characters. Such operations on the film plot were in line with the artist’s strategy that was based on his attempt to go beyond our linguistic limitations and served to “confirm the real existence of such reality which we never experience, and whose presence we can only guess”. Bruszewski’s project was unique in terms of an artistic use of the storyline. Before Apnoea only KwieKulik invited an actress, Ewa Lemańska, to participate in the making in their Game on an Actress’ Face (Gra na twarzy aktorki). Lemańska, who played the famous character of Maryna in the popular TV series Janosik, tried to respond with her acting to the formal procedures that the artists carried out on her face as part of their visual game. Importantly, the film featured no
storyline whatsoever. Apart from those examples, Polish artists would sometimes flirt in a deliberately clumsy way with the storyline, mainly by recording quasi-theatrical performances, often with ironic undertones (for instance, works by Ewa Zarzycka, Zdzisław Sosnowski, Łódź Kaliska, Józef Robakowski, Zygmunt Rytka, Jerzy Truszkowski). The tension between contemporary art and cinema soon went beyond the sphere of artistic ideologies and transmogrified into an open conflict that concerned the condition of the Film School in Łódź in the 1970s and in the early 1980s. A praiseworthy exception were films by Grzegorz Królikiewicz, who was the only director that managed to prove that the world of cinema and the world of art could find a common ground. His productions from the 1970s featured thoroughbred protagonists and storylines, while tapping into very innovative and formally original ways of storytelling, as well as relied on close collaborations with such avant-garde artists as Zbigniew Warpechowski and Zbigniew Rybczyński. In the 1990s, the Polish critical art movement did open to “the human being”, but understood the human being in a very discursive way. The works mostly featured victims of various kinds of exclusion and socio-cultural disenfranchisement. However, we need to emphasise that the primary medium of critical art was documentary film – a genre that typically rejects storyline and fiction, and aims rather to deconstruct these qualities. THE FIRST POLISH WESTERN It is only at the turn of the 21st century, after critical art has been abandoned, that artists start to reveal a bigger interest in the category of imagination and building fictional worlds. That is the time when Katarzyna Kozyra makes her feature video films from the cycle In Art Dreams Come True (W sztuce marzenia stają się rzeczywistością), Zbigniew Libera starts to work with staged feature photography, Robert Kuśmirowski introduces extraordinary characters and scenographically elaborate fantastic worlds, Oskar Dawicki increasingly blurs in his video works the border between performance and acting, Wilhelm Sasnal becomes more and more ready to show his films at galleries and considers them as something that complements his paintings. Paweł Althamer develops his performative project Real Time Movie, whose subsequent editions “feature” outstanding Polish actors: Agnieszka
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Grochowska and Mirosław Baka, as well as some of the most prominent Hollywood stars: Jude Law and Peter Fonda. This is the context for the production in 2006 of Piotr Uklański’s film Summer Love – the first Polish western, a work that can definitely be considered as groundbreaking. It was the first feature film by a visual artist. The first example of Cine Art. It resonated strongly with the Polish cinematographic circles, impressed by the fact that the motion picture premiered at the festival in Venice as well as sensational reports from the film set that concerned an exorbitant fee of the Hollywood actor Val Kilmer and Katarzyna Figura’s shaven head. The film was featured in the competition of the Festival of Polish Feature Film in Gdynia, where it met with criticism of the film milieu. Unfortunately, Uklański’s bold experiment that aimed to accommodate the factors that distinguished the two different environments: the cinematographic and the artistic, did not screen at cinemas and was mostly presented in high-profile art institutions (for instance the Whitney Museum in New York). In line with the logic of his art, in Summer Love Uklański treated both love and beauty as well as the film genre of western as empty signifiers. He counted on viewers to fill those signifiers with real emotions. However, they did not. A response to the lack of context for Uklański’s film in the Polish cinematographic environment came with the project (a film programme and a book) Polish New Wave, The History of a Phenomenon that Never Existed (Polska nowa fala. Historia zjawiska, którego nie było, curated by Barbara Piwowarska and Łukasz Ronduda), which attempted to situate Summer Love in the history of the new wave works of Polish cinema – in the context of works by Grzegorz Królikiewicz, Jerzy Skolimowski, Andrzej Żuławski, films that found various ways to transgress the traditionally dominant modes of building film narrative and form. Summer Love and the project Polish New Wave sparked a debate about the condition of Polish cinema among Polish film critics, or rather a debate that concerned its formal underdevelopment. The project Polish New Wave can also be regarded as one of the series of attempts to research a third formation of the Polish cinema that existed beside the Polish school and the cinema of moral anxiety. That analysis was continued by researchers affiliated with the group The Restart of Polish Cinema, which was established afterwards. Piotr Marecki brought back the memory of such filmmakers as
Andrzej Barański, Grzegorz Królikiewicz, and Piotr Szulkin. The contributors to the book A Story of Sin: Surrealism in Polish Cinema (Dzieje grzechu. Surrealizm w kinie polskim, ed. by Kuba Mikurda, Kamila Wielebska) made an attempt to define that third formation through the prism of Surrealism. Uklański’s film invigorates imagination, it raises courage and proves that something that seemed unattainable is indeed possible. The years 2007–2010 are a time when those Polish artists who have already had ideas for feature films begin to develop those ideas in a more intensive way. Wilhelm Sasnal makes his first nearly feature-length film Swineherd (Świniopas) from 2009. Later, the artist begins his collaboration in directing and screenwriting with his wife Anka, who hails from the literary environment. Together, they create the film Fallout (Opad) in 2010. Zbigniew Libera writes a script of a feature film with Darek Foks. Katarzyna Kozyra submits an unsuccessful application for funding to the Polish Film Institute (PISF) with the aim of producing an autobiographical feature. In turn, Piotr Uklański receives funding from PISF for the development of his second feature film Laluś – The Last Partisan (however, the artist will abandon the idea of this motion picture after a few years). Norman Leto’s Sailor (2010) is created and begins its festival life – a feature-length film essay based on the artist’s novel. Plans emerge for a film production team that would comprise only visual artists. Oskar Dawicki and Łukasz Ronduda begin a course in directing at the Wajda School with a view to adapting the novel W połowie puste [Half Empty] from 2010 to a feature-length film about Oskar Dawicki to screen at movie theatres. An idea emerges to establish the Film Award of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, the Polish Film Institute and the Wajda School. A context for those activities is set by the ever more active Festival New Horizons, which promotes art-house cinema and productions from the frontier of art and cinematography. Equally important is the awareness of the cinematographic turn that occurs worldwide, and the cinematographic success of such visual artists as Shirin Neshat, Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor Wood, Julian Schnabel, Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Apart from the above enumerated developments in the field of visual arts, we should also mention a group of critics, theorists and artists from various fields who gathered under the umbrella of the “quasi-institution” The Restart of Polish Cinema. In its
Wojciech Bruszewski, Apnoea, 1972
A Ewa Lemańska in Game on an Actress’ Face by Zofia Kulik, Przemysław Kwiek, Jan Stanisław Wojciechowski and Paweł Kwiek, 1971 B Mirosław Baka in Real Time Movie by Paweł Althamer, 2005 C Leon Niemczyk in Sonnets by Wojciech Bruszewski, 2000 D Jan Nowicki in Budget Story by Oskar Dawicki, 2007 E Charlotte Rampling in Cutaways by Agnieszka Kurant, 2013 F Jacek Poniedziałek in Portrait by Wojciech Tubaja, 2014
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manifesto (announced in February 2011 at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw), the group called for an opening of Polish cinema to experimentation, avant-garde, visuality and the field of art. The authors of the manifesto wrote: Literature, visual arts, theatre, art theory have outdistanced Polish cinema in the recent decades … cinema should get back to form. Thinking in terms of a “vessel for content” needs to be abandoned. Form is the essence of film, it is primarily in form that film expresses itself and form is what it cannot exist without. Cinema does not exist beyond its visible and sensual forms. Every form is a way of thinking, grasping the world, and therefore it is motivated by political, ethical and other stakes (Godard: “tracking shots are the matter of morality”). Every cinema that thinks needs to think through form. In order to convey content that is interesting to us, the viewers, Polish cinema needs to begin with the form.1 IT LOOKS PRETTY FROM A DISTANCE The year 2011 can be considered to mark a breakthrough in the formation of the phenomenon of Cine Art. In April, the Polish Film Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the Wajda School jointly establish the Film Award. The aim of the competition is to provide visual artists with funding for the production of feature films to screen at movie theatres. Agnieszka Odorowicz, the director of the PISF, Joanna Mytkowska, the director of the Museum, and Wojciech Marczewski, the director of the Wajda School postulated: The purpose of the Award is to promote experimental artistic cinema, which radically rejects conventional narrative solutions and common methods of constructing the cinematic form. The intention is to promote formal innovation which harmonises with radical artistic imagination and intelligence. The Award is based on the belief that through the support of production of radically new artistic forms of expression in film, Polish cinema may undergo an important aesthetic revival and make an original appearance in the global cinematography. … 1. “Manifest Restartu”, Dwutygodnik, 48 (2011), http://www.dwutygodnik.com/ artykul/1807-manifest-restartu.html. All subsequent quotations from the same source.
The Film Award of the PISF, MSN, and the Wajda School responds to the current debate on the institutional mechanisms that are to inspire the development of auteur cinema in Poland. Our idea marks an attempt to make this field even more varied, innovative and open to invigorating and refreshing impulses from areas of culture other than those purely cinematic. We believe that openness to creativity and sensitivity that emerges from the crossroads of contemporary art and cinematography offers a chance to enrich Polish auteur cinema with a unique component.2 The first prizewinner was Zbigniew Libera with his film project Afternoon at the Ozon Bar (Popołudnie w barze Ozon; the title was later changed to Walser). In October 2011, the artist began a course in directing at the Wajda School. Slightly earlier, in July 2011, the festival Era (currently TMobile) New Horizons in Wrocław hosted a premiere of the film It Looks Pretty from a Distance (Z daleka widok jest piękny) by Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal. The film screened in the Polish competition and garnered the award. It was also shown at prestigious festivals, for instance in Rotterdam. At the beginning of 2012, the film started to screen at movie theatres. It marked a breakthrough for Cine Art. The Sasnals were the first to offer the audience a chance to encounter artists’ moving image in regular theatrical distribution. This moment marks the beginning of the actual history of the phenomenon that we are describing in this book. The Sasnals’ film and the Film Award were responsible for the fact that the tension that had existed since the 1970s between cinema and art, between the filmmaking and the artistic circles, was replaced by mutual curiosity. The prizewinners of the Film Award were Anna Molska in 2012, Agnieszka Polska in 2013, and Katarzyna Kozyra in 2014. THE CINEMATOGRAPHIC TURN NOW Apart from the production of feature films, the rise of the Cine Art tendency is accompanied by an increasing professionalisation of the production of artists’ films that are to screen at galleries. These films are more and more often made with professional 2. The Film Award, http://artmuseum.pl/pl/filmoteka/nagroda-filmowa.
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cinematographers, sound mixers, and rely on professional equipment, etc. The quality of gallery screenings approaches that of cinema screenings. Bearing witness to this phenomenon are such works as Magic Hour by Wojciech Puś (2014), Festin by Wojciech Doroszuk (2013), The Sixth Continent (Szósty kontynent) by Anna Molska (2012), or Future Days by Agnieszka Polska, produced in cooperation with the cinematographer Kuba Kijowski, renowned for his collaboration with film directors Przemysław Wojcieszek and Tomek Wasilewski. In her projects such as Hair (Włosy, 2012), Agnieszka Polska taps into essentially narrative devices. In a similar vein, Karolina Breguła combines professional production with more and more interesting use of the storyline in her project Offence (Obraza, 2013). Professionalisation occurs alongside a focus on interdisciplinarity in the field of visual arts. The recent years have been characterised by an expansion into new fields – not into the field of social life (as it was the case with critical art), but other spheres of artistic activity. Apart from the cinematographic turn, we are also witnessing other tendencies in art: the performative turn and the turn to sound. An interesting context for the cinematographic turn consists also in resigning from the reduction characteristic of the avant-garde, a tendency that can be observed in the practice of many artists, among them Aleksandra Waliszewska, Jakub Julian Ziółkowski, and Maciej Sieńczyk, who borrow inspiration from the art of the past, referring to its figurative, narrative character. The focus is on the protagonist, his or her story and drama. These points of reference are akin to those adopted by filmmakers. Therefore, it does not come as a surprise that Waliszewska’s art inspires more and more films, among them The Capsule, directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari (the most prominent representative of the Greek new wave), commissioned by the collector Dakis Joannou, as well as Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s The Disco Daughters (Córki dancingu, 2015), or the 30-minute motion picture The Creature (Stwór) by Aleksandra Gowin and Ireneusz Grzyb (2015). These works reveal an unexpected aspect of the cinematographic turn in Polish art – the turn is often related to The Capsule, film by Athina Rachel Tsangari shot in collaboration with the painter Aleksandra Waliszewska, poster
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the artists’ return to artistic categories that were relevant before the avant-garde. That is why, when observed from the perspective of visual arts, this phenomenon seems to be transgressive on the one hand, while it is also regressive on the other hand. Films produced by artists have changed the exhibition discourse and enriched it. Many artists develop their exhibitions in the form of feature films. For instance, in his 30-minute feature Portrait (Portret), Wojciech Tubaja showcased his major projects from the recent years. Michał Woliński organised an exhibition of the artistic group Luxus within a found footage film Soap Operation (Mydlana Operacja), which was based on the footage shot when his own gallery space was rented out as a TV series shooting location. Similar exhibitions are created by Norman Leto. There is an interesting link to be observed here with the film The Performer (Performer) and Katarzyna Kozyra’s project X, which is somewhat of the artist’s retrospective exhibition in the form of a feature film. Another interesting phenomenon are also the exhibition-screenings Midnight Show organised by Stach Szabłowski and Katarzyna Roj within the festival New Horizons. The films within Cine Art generate an entirely new kind of works of art that occupy a structural position at the crossroads of cinema and art. For instance, Film Sculpture (Rzeźba filmu) by Anna Molska, works by Oskar Dawicki made on the film set of The Performer or during the preparations for production, Lifeshapes (Bryły życiorysu) by Normal Leto, Katarzyna Kozyra’s videos shot during the making of her project Casting. Those works were presented at various exhibitions before the actual films were made. The year 2015 marks a breakthrough for the cinematographic turn in Polish art. It is a year of three premieres: Walser by Zbigniew Libera, The Performer by Łukasz Ronduda and Maciej Sobieszczański, starring Oskar Dawicki, and Photon by Norman Leto. As we have already stated, Cine Art (or Cinema Art) is not an unprecedented phenomenon in the world cinematography. Suffice it to mention Steve McQueen, familiar to all cinemagoers, the director of 12 Years a Slave, awarded with the Academy Award for Best Picture. Before his productions catapulted him to cinematographic mainstream, McQueen was active as a recognised visual artist, winner of the prestigious Turner Prize, among other distinctions. However, nowhere is this phenomenon as regular
and broad as in Poland. It may still be in its formative period but we can be sure that this tendency will not be stylistically uniform. Formal and ideological diversity is its greatest strength. Writing a book about this phenomenon at the current stage of its development, we can embrace it as an exchange between two fields: film and art. BETWEEN THE FIELDS What do we mean when we write about “the field of art” and “the field of film”. The term “field” is understood here in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense – as a distinguishable sphere of social interactions with individual agents, their positions and the rules of occupying positions and forming relations. Each field is a “milieu in the Newtonian sense … a field of possible forces exercised on all bodies entering it … a field of struggle.”3 The field of film and the field of art can be regarded in the same way; in turn, these fields form part of the field of cultural production. A field where symbolic production occurs. As Bourdieu writes, reflection on this field often falls into the trap of the substantialist mode of thought, which “leads to privileging the different social realities, considered in themselves and for themselves, to the detriment of the objective relations, often invisible, which bind them.”4 In writings devoted to the field of cultural production this phenomenon usually manifests itself in approaches that focus on “great makers” or “timeless works,” treated as phenomena that are isolated from the field in which they were created, from the relations of forces and power games that shaped those works. In writings devoted to film such substantialist mode of thought privileges the director as the “auteur” of the moving image, above all within the scope of “the auteur’s policy.” Given the team-based nature of film production, the amount of funds needed to launch production, and consequently – a high degree of dependence of the field on the centres of economic power, such approach is often criticised in film studies. Yet, the field of film and the field of art are complex settings, constructed not only by artists and directors. They are also formed by other creative professionals (in film: cinematographers, 3. Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. by Susan Emanuel (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), pp. 9-10. 4. Ibid., p. 181.
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producers, editors, screenwriters and cultural animators), technical staff, exhibiting institutions, networks of distribution, institutions responsible for funding production, audiences, curators, critics, cultural animators, the press, the academy, bloggers and other entities that have an impact on the mechanisms and distribution of recognition within the field. We, ourselves occupy different positions in both these fields (researcher, critic, curator, director), we are also part of them, our perspective is not one from outside, we are entangled in the object of our observations. Even though both these fields pursue the goal of autonomy (above all with regard to establishing the mechanisms of glorification, the distribution of symbolic and economic capital), they are conditioned by the centres of political and economic power. In the Cine Art project, we are not interested in a narrative that investigates the approach of artists from the field of art to the field of film understood in terms of “the artist’s next step on his or her creative path.” We are rather interested in examining the relations between these two fields, their separate logic and dynamics, stakes (understood primarily in the categories of symbolic, cultural and relational capital) that can be gained (or lost) for both fields within such transfer. We discuss not only ideas and images, types of aesthetics and problems, but also money, institutions, models of production and collaboration, autonomy and subordination that are inherent in these two fields. ABOUT THE METHOD In order to develop such project we required an appropriate method. We chose to privilege the interview mode. We conduct interviews with various agents from the two fields, not only artists who are transforming into filmmakers. We also talk to professionals from the field of film whose work is often under-recognised: an editor, cinematographers, a producer. As a result, the book can be divided into two parts. In the first one, we present the historical and institutional context of the current cinematographic turn in Polish art. The second part comprises conversations with artists active in the field of cinema, with film professionals who collaborate with those artists, as well as texts that analyse the already existing fruits of such collaborations. Apart from Norman Leto and the duo of Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal, all other in are prizewinners
of the Film Award of the Polish Film Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the Wajda School. THE NATURES OF FIELDS Our interviewees reveal a number of common experiences related to the exchange between the fields. The field of art appears to them as more “fast-paced” than the field of film. The amount of time necessary for an artistic concept to materialise is definitely shorter in these area. In turn, the field of film is characterised by a certain “inertia”. Once thrown into this field, an artistic concept is stuck in the labyrinth of procedures, stages of production, and therefore the time that is needed for a concept to materialise is definitely longer. Artists consider the field of film to have a much broader reach and potential of getting your message across to a mass audience. As date shows, it’s not always actually a case. The most popular exhibitions by some of our protagonists (Wilhelm Sasnal, Katarzyna Kozyra) attracted a greater number of visitors than artistic films that enjoyed a considerable success. The field of film appears as more prestigious and more financially rewarding. In turn, filmmakers seem to be impressed by the “fast pace” and freedom of the field of art, its relative autonomy from the centres of economic and political power. In each of the fields, these two types of centres operate in a slightly different way. In both spheres we can observe a certain weakness of private actors and a strong position of state agents (Polish Film Institute, Polish Television, film studios on the one hand, museums on the other hand). The centres of economic power are often also the centres of political power at the same time, however, they are independent from political power in the strict sense of the term. In the field of film, the power of the main political-economic centre, the Polish Film Institute, is based on the fact that the costs of film production are still high and alternative sources of funding are scarce. Nevertheless, we need to add that the Cine Art tendency is related to the emergence of new models of feature film production in Poland. Funding comes from sources that are new for movie industry. New producers, or rather co-producers emerge: art collectors, private galleries, public art institutions. In the case of the Sasnals’ film, the sources of funding include a gallery based outside Poland and an artist who acquires funds from selling his
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
paintings. In order to secure funding for a film, exhibitions are often organised that present fragments of a given film – such fragments are produced with funding that comes from the budgets of those exhibitions. Auctions are organised with a view to raising funds for film production. Feature films made by artists are also related to new models of promoting films in Polish movie industry. Such models rely on the infrastructure and potential of art institutions and the art world. Special exhibitions and artistic events are organised for this purpose. There is a number of advanteges that can be enumerated in order to answer a more general question: what can the encounter with art offer to Polish movies? Cinema made by artists open Polish cinematography to European art-house. Screened in 2011 in Wrocław, the film It Looks Pretty from a Distance by Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal was the first Polish motion picture to respond to the type of cinema that prevails at the festival New Horizons in Wrocław. This type of cinema develops the heritage of European Modernism, rejects the projection-identification model, it abandons dramaturgy and confronts the viewer with void, boredom, stillness. Cinema made by artists brings the questions of form and visuality to the fore – the questions that are often neglected by filmmakers, who graduate from film schools educated in “storytelling,” Finally, this type of cinema questions the model of cinema as “a universal story about the human being,” situated somewhere between the cinema of moral anxiety and the TV soap opera genre. In 2012, Agnieszka Wiśniewska reported from the film festival in Gdynia: Every year, when I watch films at the festival in Gdynia, and when I listen to conversations about those films, I feel like writing a universal fake interview with a Polish director. A fragment of the interview would go as follows: Journalist: What is this film about? Director: It is a universal story about the human being. Journalist: Timeless. Director: What interests me the most in cinema is the human being and his or her struggle with reality, but this reality does
not have to be determined, it does not have to be here and now. A film is not a press article. Reality is changing, and people stay the same, they have the same dilemmas, they ask the same questions. I’m interested in the human dimension of the stories I tell... “Universal stories about the human being” fill the programme of the festival, they fill the minds of filmmakers and journalists. Festival chronicles abound with interviews with directors who reply in unison that they have made “films about human beings.”5 Cinema made by artists gives Polish cinematography an alternative, it offers a chance to saturate it with discourse, with imagery that is not subordinated to the narrative. For now, it occupies a marginal position. But it is the margins that often witnessed phenomena that defined given fields of culture.
5. Agnieszka Wiśniewska, ‘Uniwersalna historia o człowieku’, Krytyka Polityczna, 12th May 2012, http://www.krytykapolityczna.pl/en/AgnieszkaWisniewska/ Uniwersalnahistoriaoczlowieku/menuid-222.html
POLISH CINE ART
PIOTR UKLAŃSKI, SUMMER LOVE Łukasz Ronduda
Piotr Uklański, in his Summer Love (2006) making a statement relating simultaneously to the fields of contemporary art and movie-making, assumed a strategically paradoxical and highly original position. The artist’s intention was to create a western functioning in a parallel manner in both spheres and initiating a discussion in various milieus and institutional circles (with a particular emphasis on the cinema). The first Polish western ever, Summer Love, came to be through an attempt to reconcile contradictions and to create an allegoric realization in which two streams of meanings come together. The work was to be a part of a discourse on contemporary art and at the same time should be comprehensible to many potential moviegoers, on the condition that they are familiar with the tradition of new wave cinema. Uklański proposed the original formula of breaching the restrictions of the hermetic discourse of contemporary art, and crushing its isolation through a feature film which in an original manner writes itself into the history of Polish feature film, particularly in its new wave variant1. 1. In the context of making films on the interface of two worlds (cinema and contemporary art), the Themersons and their film The Adventures of a Good Citizen (Żywot człowieka poczciwego) 1937, were the first in Poland. In the 1950’s, the film became a prototype for Two Men and a Wardrobe by Polański. The Themersons, rejecting the characteristic modernist queries about the nature or social and political role of painting, and three-dimensional space, experimented with mass media, fully aware of a totally different institutional distribution of film to which different notions and different language of reviewers were applicable. They were aware of the great difficulty (much bigger than in the world of graphic art) multiplied by the new type of imagination, different visual sensitivity shaped by the reality of Polish cinema of the Inter-War Period (the model permeated with trashy and purely commercial productions). The trick of reaching for commonly understood codes and conventions (treated as a pretext only, though consistently applied) makes this film a consecutive attempt by the Themersons to better situate their art in the surrounding reality (‘the human dimension’ of the film is further emphasized by inviting friends and acquaintances to assume the roles of actors). The Themersons never desired to design a laboratory-like artistic reality, isolated from the laws of a common human imagination. In spite of their anti-utopian declarations, they nevertheless attempted to transform reality on the basis of coparticipation. This was done through constant interaction and through attempts to subject the apparatus and institution of mainstream cinema to their own imagination, as well as to find a niche within it for a different kind of sensitivity.
In the spirit of Żuławski, Uklański decides to develop his own poetics within this highly conventional film genre. In turn, in the spirit of Skolimowski and Królikiewicz, he decides to radically expose the cultural processes in which the film is entangled. A western by this Polish artist, present on the international artistic scene for years, becomes then an auto-biographical movie and a treatise on his own status, his own place between his American base (he lives and works in New York) and his Polish roots – a deliberation on his own identity in the package of a Hollywood product. The contextualization of Uklański’s western is explained by the artist himself: ‘I think that Summer Love should not be interpreted exclusively as a western, but rather as an allegory employing the language of westerns. I believe that only the usage of this most codified film genre allows to effectively draw attention to the matters of ethnic identity and cultural authenticity’2. The first Polish western serves for Uklański as a method of exposing an important element of Polish culture and allows him to illustrate the ever-present desire and aspiration of the Polish identity to ‘have it here as good as in the West’. This desire springs from the Polish complex of dreaming to become different (or possibly better), and the longing typical of provinciality motivating a certain version of modernization, which in the last 20 years has resulted in Poland joining the EU, NATO, accepting the neoliberal economy, etc. In the field of culture, this longing bore the fruit of multiple borrowings, imitations, calques of Hollywood, or dreams fueled by big Western corporation and art institutions. In Polish cinema of the 1990’s, deconstructed by Uklański, those processes brought a wave of remakes of American gangster movies (and every one of these films could easily sport the sub-heading “the first Polish gangster movie”) as well as numerous (spectacular, in the Polish sense) epic and historical pictures. In 1974, Jan Świdziński, in his manifesto Art as Contextual Art (Sztuka jako Sztuka Kontekstualna)3, analyzed the dependence of Polish culture 2. Piotr Uklański, Explication (Eksplikacja), http://www.summerlovefilm.com/ polski.php. 3. Świdziński attempted to expose new contexts of Polish art in the 1970s springing from the fact of being a part of the system of connected vessels of the Euro-American world of art. The key question in the birth of ‘contextualism’ was what Polish art looks like in the context of the art world and, analogically, how the art world is perceived from the Polish perspective (and how these two different
on that created in American centers. ‘The novelty was usually second-hand. Whoever was first in our country, though in reality was always second, was the best.’ In turn, when commenting on the blind pursuit of Western patterns, he said, ‘Do we really have to keep up? After all, we live in a very broad context. We are not even able to say that we have our own context. Aren’t we living, perhaps, in the context of American culture, as stereotypes created there simultaneously become a pattern to follow in our country?’4. Uklański references this situation, or rather purposefully over-identifies with the mechanism of the ‘creolization’ of Polish culture, pressured by American culture, as described by Świdziński. The cunning of Uklański’s idea was to incorporate the afore-mentioned cultural aspirations and produce a high quality Hollywood product in Poland, within the framework of the Polish film industry, with a Polish crew, a Polish cinematographer, and above all with Polish stars who dreamt about international careers at one time. Uklański simulates and exposes the mechanisms determining Polish film-making and culture at the time of globalization. His film-making, in the spirit of Žižek, ‘allows one not only to recognize cinema fiction as reality but also to notice contexts influence each other). He maintained that artistic creations born in Poland – in a peripheral country from the point of view of world centers – in spite of their original and pioneering character when compared to the achievements of ‘better born peers’ (like those closer to New York) may not be noticed or appreciated at all. He was referring here to the achievements of the neo-avant-garde artists of the 1970’s (for example Marek Konieczny, who taught Uklański, see: Piktogram 2007, no. 8). He claimed we were sentenced to idle imitation of current trends prevailing in Western art, and perceived it as evidence of new cultural colonialism. ‘Western artists consider that context of theirs as a whole phenomenon. But restricting themselves only to it, they are prone to make the mistake of generalization. We see the world as if from the other end since, after all, the situation is different here (...). Both contexts overlap. This allows us to compare their good and bad sides. (...) A comparison of different mechanisms functioning in various contexts allows for a relativization of certain phenomena and forces one to reflect upon them. Then the contact is beneficial. (…) Such an arrangement allows for dialogue. However, that requires broader horizons’. Świdziński postulated a rejection of seemingly objective and universal conceptual art, imposed by the ‘empire’ that follows the logic of globalization, uniformization, and cultural colonization of the vassal provinces. He wanted to replace the dominant language of art ‘entirely’ with ‘the eruption of a thousand artistic voices and dialects unknown till now’, coming from various geographical, cultural, and economic contexts. He dreamt of decentralization and equality. ‘Contextual art’ was to be a subversive proposal in the relations between the center and the peripheries. See: Łukasz Ronduda, ‘Flexibility Allows Us to Exist (Elastyczność pozwala nam istnieć)’, Piktogram 2006, no. 3. 4. Jan Świdziński, Excerpts from Art (Wypisy ze sztuki), vol. 2, Lublin 1977, p. 9.
the fictional dimension of reality itself, disclosing its mechanisms and the manner in which it happens. (...) It is not about a reality beyond fiction (guises, illusion), but a reality within fiction itself’5. Uklański shows how certain dreams determine this peculiar shape of Polish reality, and vice versa, how a certain Polish reality (‘Polish misery’) peeps out from even the most sophisticated places, produced here in fantasy, illusion, and fresco, trying to hush up its own roots. The visually beautiful western by Piotr Uklański talks about disintegration, consequent downfall and the disappearance of communication, and the characters played by Linda and Barbasiewicz at the end of the film simply wheeze and cough to each other instead of talking. The appealing western movie is usually populated by strong individuals while this one is marked with impotence, including the inability of a character to deal with their own life, and the constant acts of self-destruction (the sheriff tries to hang himself, someone cuts off his finger, a self-inflicted gun-shot wound, a pursuit of a stranger changes into a hunt of the pursuers, etc). It is just a more colorful and filtered by the language of Western culture version The Depot of the Dead (Baza ludzi umarłych) (Uklański stressed his inspiration to be like Hłasko already at the level of script writing). In addition, Uklański’s special, contextual sense of humor is evidenced by the fact that the stranger intruding into a small town populated by characters played by Polish actors is played by a Czech actor (Karel Roden). Uklański also engages in a perverse game with the conventional mechanisms of ‘sewing’ the viewer into the structure of film action. A special parody of suture is provided in the scene where the eye of the subject (Linda) looks at the object (a gun), and then the gun (in the next take) not only reciprocates the look but also becomes the main subject of action (in the scene with the song I Am a Gun). The director often resorts to this perverse mechanism, allowing the gaze of the viewer to identify with an object, while the story is often told from the point of view of the corpse, the dead head of Val Kilmer. According to Žižek, the act of offering the viewer a look in a situation where ‘nobody is looking’ is one 5. Kuba Mikurda, Movie Žižek, in: Slavoj Žižek, Lacrimae rerum, Warszawa 2007, pp. 13-14.
of the most perverse tricks in movie-making, mastered in particular by Hitchcock. According to Žižek, ‘what is truly frightening and from which the subject tries to escape by all means is not the prospect of a panopticon (a prison which allows for observing inmates all the time and in every situation) but a situation in which nobody is looking. If nobody is looking, symbolic identity loses all guarantees, all points of attachment to the great other, and discloses its arbitrary, fictional character. In other words, a look of the great other is necessary to be a subject of the social and symbolic network and thus to function within reality’6. On the other hand, the director places a series of incredibly beautiful pictures in Summer Love, as if from outside of the diegetic sphere (reminding one of the photograph cycle by Uklański Joy of Photography), which portray the sunset, trees swaying in the wind, etc. The viewer stops watching the adventures of the characters and becomes disassociated from the action; he contemplates reality, which is metaphysical and shamelessly focused on providing the eye with maximum pleasure. Uklański is excellent in entwining his film with these two contradictory visual perspectives: the fully impotent look of objects and the truly powerful look (the eye) of the viewer. A look from the perspective of a thing, i.e. the dead cowboy (a precious commodity), corresponds with the overall rendering of emotion in the film. Uklański treats the emotional dimension of his film (a love story) as a purely formal element or a structural challenge without any reference to any direct experience. It is just a ‘distancing’ operation in a Brechtian style, though of a new type. We enter the world of the characters’ emotions and everything is structured the way it is supposed to be, following the conventions of telling a story in a film. However, we feel a certain distance towards them, typical of contemporary art and its attitude towards feelings and direct communication. Uklański does not really make his characters psychologically profound. He simply puts labels on them (the sheriff, the wanted one, the whore) and categorizes them in a purely aesthetic way. He sur6. ‘The important thing is that a look is not an abstract concept but a very concrete matter – looks materialize things ‘of this world’ (Lacan said that it is sufficient to have a dark window and a conviction that someone is ‘actually there’ in order for the window to become a look or to personify a look)’. Kuba Mikurda, op. cit., p. 19.
rounds them with drawings and murals, paints their faces, dresses them in bloody horse hides and immerses them in colored dust. It is particularly the final scene, with colorful clouds of dust, that reminds one of Zabriskie Point by Antonioni and his lack of belief (similar to Uklański’s) in the possibility of communicating anything whatsoever (any greater sense) through film, which offers the viewer an aesthetically perfect, beautiful, clip-like picture for contemplation. Uklański also deconstructs the most characteristic icons of a male and female character in Polish cinema. Bogusław Linda and Katarzyna Figura, the embodiments of ‘macho man’ and ‘sex bomb’, respectively, in Summer Love become caricatures of themselves – actors determining the identity of Polish cinema of the last two decades. Figura and Linda once again play their past roles and in a manifold manner exaggerate the likenesses they represent, which clearly stifle them. A similar fate awaits other stars. The Polish western starts with a scene depicting the death of all attractive Hollywood actors, led by the American celebrity Val Kilmer, and then the void is filled with Polish actors. Spending half of his budget to hire a star and casting Kilmer in the role of a corpse (an actor who is present in the film only symbolically), Uklański made an ironic statement about his attitude towards ‘the star system’ which helps films gain visibility. ‘The appearance of the American star (Val Kilmer as the wanted man), who plays a precious commodity as there is a reward for his head, emphasizes the cultural mechanisms of how such films are made as well as the general reality of the film-making industry’7.
7. Piotr Uklański, Explication, http://www.summerlovefilm.com/polski.php.
THE EIGHTH CINEMA
Józef Robakowski in conversation with Łukasz Ronduda Łukasz Ronduda: Mr Józef, I’d like to talk about the history of the relationship between artists from the field of visual arts and professional cinematography. Let us begin with Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, because the Themersons seem to be a mutual point of departure – both for professional cinematography and avant-garde artists. Especially The Adventure of a Good Citizen (Przygoda człowieka poczciwego), a film that was stored in the archive of the Film School in Łódź... Józef Robakowski: We’re in the 1930s, witnessing the formation of the Warsaw-based START – Film Authors’ Cooperative (Spółdzielnia Autorów Filmowych). A group of ambitious filmmakers. Themerson collaborates with them. At the same time, together with Franciszka, he produces the artistic film Europe (Europa) and other experimental shorts. The only film that has been preserved is The Adventure of a Good Citizen from 1938 in the archive of the film school. The productions of START are films oriented to innovation. The Themersons deal with theorypractice. They organise reviews of films by foreign filmmakers and publish the brochure titled f.a. [Polish abbreviation of “artistic film” – transl. note]. They are very active as propagators of new cinema. The model they created was implemented after the war. When the former members of START arrive in Poland with the Kościuszko Division, they build Polish post-war cinematography according to their postulates – cinema should have an artistic and engaged character. However, at the time, Stefan Themerson, the avant-garde member of START, is staying with his wife in London. Thinking about whether to come back... There’s a document in the Themerson Archive, a letter from Aleksander Ford, who invites Themerson to come back and get involved in the development of cinematography. He was also keen to stay in contact with his friends who were in Warsaw at that time. I exchanged letters with him, and in one of them he asked me for the address of Professor Jerzy Toeplitz, our rector.
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But he represented that more formal branch of the avant-garde, a branch that could have it hard during the Socialist Realist period... If he had come back, he would certainly have been among those super-intellectuals, whom the film school, then in its formative period, was rather lacking. With Antoni Bohdziewicz and Jerzy Toeplitz they could have formed an outstanding team of leaders of the Film School in Łódź. It’s a pity he didn’t choose to come back. However, he would probably have been dismissed from Polish cinematography during the anti-Semitic purge of 1968, alongside other members of START: Ford and Toeplitz. He didn’t choose to come back, and that’s strange, because at the time in London his situation was not that good at all; he was actually a person of little renown. He was popular only with a small circle; they exchanged correspondence with each other there. Interestingly, those last two war films were made by the Themersons together with members of START. At that time, the head of the film department of the London government [The Polish government in exile – transl. note] was Eugeniusz Cękalski, also a member of START. It’s very interesting that the development of the formula of expanded artistic film continued in London. The Themersons make their films in a professional environment; on 35 mm; everything is done very well from the technological point of view. These are not amateur films, but professional productions. For instance, Calling Mr Smith was meant to be a mass propaganda film. But it never played its persuasive and mass function because English censors didn’t allow it to screen at cinemas. At the end of the day, it ended as a curiosity for a handful of artistic film enthusiasts. In turn, in The Eye and the Ear (Oko i ucho), everything is good from the musical point of view, it’s a brilliant and revealing animation. This means they had not only a refined conceptual consciousness, but also impeccable knowledge and practical skills. I think that at that time the Themersons were among the most conscious European artists. The London government loses the war, and for this reason it stops making it possible for Themerson to make films. Themerson does not come back to Poland to build new Polish cinematography. His adventure with film comes to an end.
As you’ve said, there is their film – The Adventure of a Good Citizen from 1938 – in the archive of the Film School in Łódź; a work that has a very strong impact on students. Roman Polański produces an experimental film etude Two Men and a Wardrobe (Dwaj ludzie z szafą), which clearly refers to the Themersons’ Dadaist cinema. He never publically admits that he snatched the idea for the storyline from the earlier work by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson. This is the period of the political thaw in Poland, an era of incredible exchange between visual arts and cinema. It may not happen at the level of feature-length productions, but everything that happens around. Above all, there is the Polish school of film and poster design, avant-garde theatre, experimental music, subjective photography. World-class animated films are produced by visual artists: Jan Lenica, Walerian Borowczyk. Makarczyński’s Life Is Beautiful (Życie jest piękne) is made – the first Polish found footage film; or the surrealist film Roundabout (Rondo) by Janusz Majewski on the basis of Sławomir Mrożek’s literature. It was the harbinger of new cinema oriented towards innovation. Those films had a public presence at the time as supplements to feature films and they could all be seen at cinemas. It was the same with foreign productions, experimental animations, for example by Norman McLaren, who visited Poland. Those films were not mothballed. Generally, it was a period of extraordinary interdisciplinary exchange and the emergence of a multimedia tendency. A period of experimental music that accompanied the films. The Polish Radio Experimental Studio was established by Józef Patkowski, where young composers produced film scores: Krzysztof Penderecki, Andrzej Dobrowolski, Włodzimierz Kotoński, and many others. It was already a conscious confrontation between the avant-garde and the mass media. Those experiments were both functional and autonomous at the same time. The first production of the Studio was a film score. Indeed. That close link between film as well as visual and musical experimentation continues through the 1960s. In 1964, after a short break when Władysław Gomułka was in power, an extraordinary film is produced that plays a very important role for us, young enthusiasts at the time. It was Jerzy Skolimowski’s Identification Marks: None (Rysopis). The film is a sensation in every
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respect. Already the sheer fact that Skolimowski created it as a collage that comprised the film etudes he had made during the studies – it was an avant-garde gesture. Besides, given the context of those times, the film has incredibly innovative and risky sequences. For example, there’s a subjective shot of an extremely long descent down the stairs... Elżbieta Czyżewska reminisced that when Skolimowski chose to make that shot, he simply decided that he wanted to create the longest shot in the history of cinema. But there are an awful lot of such avant-garde gestures in the film; not only at the visual level, but also in terms of sound. At the time, the film school begins to emanate the atmosphere of creative investigations. Skolimowski makes his following films, already outside the school. Majewski makes Tenant (Sublokator) from 1966. Krzysztof Zanussi, Witold Leszczyńsski and Marek Piwowski make their first works. That was the so-called “third cinema”. After the “first cinema”, created by the former members of START with a Socialist Realist flavour, and after the “second cinema”, which was the Polish school. That “third cinema” was characterised by a strong inclination for the matters of art, for the autonomy of art in the field of cinema. A new director figure emerges – a director faithful above all to their artistic sensitivity, and not to a certain social or historical cause. Yes, and that was very interesting for the avant-garde from the field of visual arts: at last, there’s a chance of a more advanced exchange between art and cinema, in which the matters of art would achieve the highest priority. We begin to think seriously about it. And “we” means Wojciech Bruszewski, Paweł Kwiek, Tadeusz Junak, Andrzej Różycki. The future co-founders of the Workshop of the Film Form. We all have already begun studies at the Film School. At the same time, many of us are active in the field of metaphorical photography, in the group Zero-61, but also in the field of film in “Pętla” in Toruń. I make about ten films there. You’re at the forefront of the students’ revolt at the Film School in Łódź in 1966. It was a protest of students of the departments of cinematography and directing against the inertia of the school. That’s right. We hardly had any classes. The teachers would avoid us, or even hide from us. Lectures were held only
A B C D
Franciszka and Stefan Themerson, The Eye and the Ear, 1944/45 Jerzy Skolimowski, Identification Marks: None, 1964 Wojciech Zamecznik, poster of the film Train, 1959 Franciszek Starowieyski, poster of the film Illumination, 1973
by Professor Bolesław Lewicki and Professor Kazimierz Karabasz; it was as if the rest of them had evaporated. We realised that we were being tricked. Then, we started a revolution at the School – we summoned a school parliament and invited professors, deans, pro-rectors and the rector Jerzy Toeplitz. We asked all of them a single question: what do they want to teach us? It turned out that they had little to say. That was a critical moment. There were still outstanding individuals who acted as a driving force. Zanussi, Piwowski, Grzegorz Królikiewicz were on the point of graduating. They managed brilliantly, because that’s how outstanding individuals always manage. But we came across nothing but huge chaos in terms of teaching methods. Some teachers were interested above all in international contacts, some stopped learning and developing, others were simply burnt out. The staff started to appear exhausted and latent. The war-related problems that the Polish school dealt with – unknown and dated to my generation – had already passed. Discussions started about a different kind of cinema, but it took new and active individuals to create it. Those who were holding the fate of the School in their hands were no longer able to live up to that challenge. That’s why my year rebelled in 1966. The crisis of the School was aggravated in 1968, when Professor Jerzy Toeplitz was dismissed as the rector during the purge after the March events. At that point, the entire community, both lecturers and students activated their instinct of self-preservation. Incredible integration occurred between people who counted on that school. Through stinging debates, meetings, and self-education activities, they were forging their own perspective on what an artistic school was actually supposed to be like. At the time, we were convinced that it was necessary to get rid of all pressure and influence from the Party authorities and the Polish Filmmakers Association in order to secure a genuine exchange and autonomy, independence. In turn, that situation would allow people with various innovative views who were active in the field of culture to enter the stagnating professional cinematographic milieu. We believed that was the goal of tertiary education. It must educate not only craftsmen, but also wise people whose independent views and approaches would burst the dated and ossified structures of understanding
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the language of film. Let me remind you that the first postulate of that period was self-education, because it turned out that both the lecturers and the students found themselves in a void. It was the first time that the notorious “karabaszówki” [documentary film etudes named after Professor Kazimierz Karabasz of the Film School – transl. note] and masters of feature film had met with criticism. We had already stopped observing the master – disciple relation, our ambition was to develop a face of new Polish artistic cinema. As a result, the Workshop of the Film Form is established in 1970 as a self-education group set up by professional cinematographers and directors. You were dealing mainly with active criticism of Polish cinematography through actions, manifestos, interventions. Your activity would appear as a continuation of the school rebellion from 1966, but it embraced entire cinematography. We collectively tried to “deflate” the flamboyant events that celebrated the illusionary successes of Polish cinema; events that were actually supposed to create those successes through excessive production of awards and recognitions for mediocre filmmakers and their works, the use of anodyne and schematic discourse, which gave those films undeserved appreciation. We wanted to discredit with insolence those mystifications, those empty gestures of the world of cinematography that were driven by its “complexes”, that provincial flavour of the pomp, discussions and festivals, whose tacky spectacularity was to serve as a cover-up of the intellectual void and mediocrity of official Polish cinematography. In Paszkwil na polską kinematografię [Lampoon of Polish Cinematography] you wrote: “Complacency about ‘fruitful work’ is fuelled every year by manifold reviews and festivals; there are so many of them that it is hard to keep track. Sumptuous fetes everywhere, full pageantry, delegations, premium hotels, and a myriad of awards – for anything. These never-ending celebrations are also an opportunity to show off and earn extra cash for our stiff and stagnant theorists, visionaries and critics (from Jackiewicz’s circle, the editorial board of Kino, and so on), who keep saying the same things, preferably about history, penchant for heroism and romantic deeds. This situation leaves no other choice but to enter a heroic path, but this time a
reasonable and constructive one – to call for disbanding all that “film society”, jaded, sick, unproductive, isolated, manneristic, and worse than that – leading us towards parochialism.” First of all, the Workshop of the Film Form had an ambition to propose a new formula of expanded cinema. We were trying to make cinema that would focus on the form, such neo-Positivist cinema, as opposed to Polish cinema that was romantic and based on literature. An intellectual cinema that would dialogue with the most advanced philosophical concepts of the time, and with the Polish avant-garde art tradition. We were supported by the Film School on the one hand, and by the Muzeum Sztuki (Museum of Art) in Łódź on the other hand. The Workshop was a straddle, so to speak, between official cinematography and the current analytical-conceptual art that was more open to the contemporary era. That put you in a very interesting position, but it also exposed you to the risk of “double exclusion.” It was necessary to find a different language of film, a totally different language, on the basis of our own and global conceptual experiences. Polish filmmakers were completely unable to understand that. There is not a single important conceptual film in Polish cinematography of that time. Andrzej Barański with his school etudes from around 1970 is the first really conscious filmmaker of his period, in my opinion. In the 1970s I wrote: “The weakness of our cinematography consisted, among other factors, in the fact that we raised an entire mass of unproductive pseudo-directors who have nothing to say and have been waiting for many years for an ‘outstanding’ script. In the meantime, asleep in a blissful unproductive lethargy, these people have forgotten how to make films, and they have already become unaware of the fact that their filmmaking and artistic means are completely obsolete nowadays. ... So who was there to count on at a time when ambitious cinema worldwide is able to resign from the script, the storyline, the anecdote? Many outstanding contemporary filmmakers have proved that one’s own intellectual statement is the only thing that matters today.” This conviction applies also to the present day. We wanted to find a new form of cinema that would incorporate new media.
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But without the human being... We completely didn’t need the image of the human being as such. You simply had to invent a dry analytical form, get closer to current reality, choose to treat things in a mechanical-biological way, so to speak. The human being, as the maker, still does determine the intellectual level of every work. Yes, because films are made by humans. Not only because humans make films, but because they are able to use film to analyse insightfully the problems that are close to people. Human perception, the body... Perception, and so on. Everything was taken into account. Now, that was something fantastic – to approach reality at such close distance. The cinema of the Workshop transformed our mentality. We opened up to different possibilities, to the entire richness of modern art. So you simply defined the human being in a different way. In a more iconoclastic way. You didn’t dismiss the human being altogether. Yes, our human being was beyond the frame. Those films provoked very lively reactions at the Film School. When a film, even a short two-minute work, was made, we went to the screening hall and said that we had something new, and even actors would come to see those screenings. A large screening hall is completely full, for example when we, as the Workshop of the Film Form, reveal the Themersons’ film The Adventure of a Good Citizen from 1971, hitherto hidden in the School’s archive, and we screen it for the first time together with Polański’s Two Men and a Wardrobe, within a state-wide event The Eighth Cinema. Where did the name come from? The point was that if there was the “third cinema”, then we were probably the “eighth cinema.” We used to joke that with our awareness, we were several cinemas ahead of the Polish cinema of the time. Maybe that’s the way we should call the films that are produced within the Film Award competition – the eighth cinema. It does make a lot of sense... Let us emphasise that the initial years of the Workshop are one of the best periods in Polish cinematography. A period of formal ferment in
Polish cinema. Extraordinary films from the point of view of the form are produced by Królikiewicz – Through and Through (Na Wylot) from 1972; Andrzej Kostenko and Witold Leszczyński – Personal Search (Rewizja osobista) from 1972; Krzysztof Zanussi – The Illumination (Iluminacja) from 1973; Andrzej Żuławski – The Devil (Diabeł) from 1972. Their first innovative etudes are made by Andrzej Barański – Winding Paths (Kręte ścieżki), A Working Day (Dzień pracy); Zbigniew Rybczyński – The Square (Kwadrat). Also Bogdan Dziworski and Wojciech Wiszniewski are active – Heart Attack (Zawał serca), The Primer (Elementarz); the careers of Krzysztof Kieślowski, Marek Piwowski, Andrzej and Janusz Kondratiuk are gaining momentum. Akin to the Workshop of the Film Form, those directors experimented with the film form, they rejected ready structural and narrative solutions adopted from the past. Both the activity of the members of the Workshop and the above enumerated directors was a common front of innovative new-wave tendencies in Polish cinema. However, we didn’t build a common front... One of the differences between us was that we were happy to hear boos and hisses during the screenings of our films instead of applause. And when there was applause, we were anxious that the films may not be radical enough. Our aim was the most extreme opposition and independence. Independence from the socialist state cinematography and decision-makers, who were able to disarm every film that the ruthless authorities were uncomfortable with. What about Królikiewicz? He was in-between those two groups. It seemed that he belonged to both of them. Królikiewicz does some scheming in a way. But he also stood in your defence. He did, but he was remote from modern art, he didn’t get our intentions. He’s a lawyer, and agitator, a political tribune with little sensitivity to contemporary art. It’s true that his films are made by excellent cinematographers and a set designer (Zbigniew Warpechowski), it seems to me that they took care of the interesting visual layer of his films. But he’s also a cinema theorist. Yes, indeed. He reads all of that, he analyses, and so on, but frankly speaking that new language in his work is as if borrowed
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from somewhere else. He has too much in common with outstanding Wojtek Wiszniewski, who’s younger than him. But it’s important that he chose to collaborate with such radical artists: with Warpechowski, with Dziworski, with Rybczyński; and, all in all, he’s the only Polish filmmaker to consequently and radically experiment with the film form... Still, I find it difficult to accept his etude Bath (Kąpiel) or the documentary film I’ve Seen Lenin (Widziałam Lenina), and the later theatre spectacles made for TV in the nationalist spirit... He defended you though, he wrote reviews. Yes, he was an adherent of our group. He appreciated our engagement and devotion to new art. We had a certain understanding for instance with Janusz Kijowski, but that was completely not the case with Krzysztof Kieślowski or Filip Bajon, for example. And your partisans? There were such people who passed through the Foksal Gallery, for example Feliks Falk. Andrzej Barański was such a person; he even co-created some of our common events. At the School we’re on the same wavelength with Marek Koterski, Władysław Wasilewski and Piotr Szulkin. Another very important thing: cinematography in our etudes was done by almost the greatest Polish cinematographers today: Ryszard Lenczewski, Zbigniew Wichłacz, Jerzy Zieliński. And, for instance, Paweł Kwiek chose to flee from cinema. In 1975, you also sent to Minister Józef Tejchma your resignation from collaboration with Polish cinematography. It’s very interesting that some of the colleagues choose such lifestyle, without cinematography: Antoni Mikołajczyk, Kazimierz Bendkowski, Wojciech Bruszewski, Paweł Kwiek, Ryszard Waśko, Andrzej Różycki, Robakowski... It’s very interesting that we’re professionals, we graduated from the Film School, the most prestigious school in this country, some of us with two diplomas, and we’ve decided to become such kind of people – artists. Today, in a very mercatnile world, there are almost no such people. Those were several people in one place who created a situation of a frontal strike. We consciously resigned from the privileges offered by working in cinematography, from commercial activity
Wojciech Bruszewski, Postulates, 1973
Poster of Action Workshop, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, 1973
and entanglement in politics; instead, we completely engaged in the current transformations in the world of contemporary art. It gave us the independence of artistic investigations, it gave us a sense of absolute freedom, which we needed so much. So it was a choice of a life path. And another thing – there was no tradition! The 1950s had already been extremely distant, nobody referred to that period. The Workshop and its ideas – it was a completely new situation. After that stagnant, artistically empty period with Władysław Gomułka in power, something new appeared, as if out of the blue. Because that risky enterprise had nothing in common with the West, not even with the East. Event though we borrowed certain ideas from Dziga Vertov. On the basis of the analytical art of Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński an exceptional phenomenon emerged, which was extremely significant for the rise of Polish analytical-conceptual art. We need to emphasise that apart from our own projects, almost all of us made modern films about art: about Strzemiński and Kobro, about Constructivism, about the historical avant-garde: Witkacy, Leon Chwistek, Wacław Szpakowski, Tytus Czyżewski, Henryk Stażewski. We turn towards the traditions of visual art, and not cinematography. Our masters are the Themersons and Karol Irzykowski – a theorist who brought the essence of cinema as a disinterested luminosity closer to us... Mr Józef, so you weren’t interested in professional cinematography in the sense of feature filmmaking, but you made films in professional conditions at the Educational Film Studio (WFO). Was that professional cinema for you? For us, professional cinema were films about art produced at the WFO and TV programmes. There was one more studio – Sema-for – were Zbyszek Rybczyński held sway, he was allowed to do everything there. For example, that was the place where I made the first film about Katarzyna Kobro in 1971. That was the place where their first experiments were carried out by Janusz Połom, Kazimierz Bendkowski, Krzysztof Krauze and Andrzej Różycki. The Workshop is closed in 1975. Yes, there was a Party meeting at school organised by the rector Stanisław Kuszewski – a very “complicated” apparatchik,
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who had completely no interest in art. The Workshop’s films were screened without our consent. And that was the end of the Workshop. After that striking screening a final decision was made that our “student research club” would no longer be financed because the films didn’t match the profile of the School. Given that situation, we carried out our further projects at our own expense. The last common presentations were held in 1979 in Amsterdam and London. You make one more attempt at a reactivation within the Committee for the Renewal of the Film School (Ruch Odbudowy Uczelni) at the Film School in Łódź. Insofar as at the beginning, in the 1970s, the conflict between filmmakers and artists had a more ideological background, here it transforms into a specific argument about the shape of the Film School. Yes, about a curriculum of the Film School that would stay up-to-date with the contemporary times. It seemed to us that at the end of the 1970s the School was in complete lethargy. Actually, the rector Stanisław Kuszewski led to that situation. Students stopped attending classes, in masses. He himself, the rector, would sometimes sign the credit books because nobody attended the classes run by his fellow lecturers. There was actually no interesting beak oriented to current affairs. The school was becoming more and more provincial. Political influences were rife. That was odd. In 1981, we establish the Committee for the Renewal of the Film School, we develop a curriculum for a modern multimedia artistic school. We want to fix the school; it’s supposed to be an interdisciplinary school, and not a school driven only by film. We wanted to depart from a strictly artisanal understanding of “film art” in favour of broadly understood audiovisuality; in favour of experimentation. We also postulated a departure from the master – disciple relationship in favour of a more partnership-based relationship. All the master-related situations had been exhausted. There were already few masters left at the academy. We’re convinced that a different curriculum can save the School, so we open it up to contemporary art, multimedia, photography, new sound-editing studios; we focus on the use of electronic equipment in feature and documentary filmmaking as well as in modern animation. Now we already have all this, but we’ve wasted many years.
Interestingly, you’re also organising the exhibition Construction in Process, the largest and the most significant exhibition of international art in Poland under Communism. Yes, and all those things within a film school, and not an artistic institution. Not only were the state authorities anxious about the fact that the Committee has taken control of the School, but also the filmmakers from the Polish Filmmakers Association. The cinema of moral anxiety is the dominant tendency of the time. According to our calculations, it was the fifth cinema after Socialist Realism, the Polish school, the third cinema, and the new wave. This kind of cinema is characterised by a departure from formal investigations and a strong focus on social and political problems. The Polish Filmmakers Association is trying to impose the rector Janusz Kijowski, a leading director of the cinema of moral anxiety. But we couldn’t accept the form of those films. Professor Jerzy Toeplitz is getting ready to become the rector again, he wants to come back, but he talks to me in Cracow, where we are in the jury of a festival in 1981. He invites me for lunch and says that he’s received an offer to return to the School but someone called Królikiewicz is running rampant there. So he won’t compete with Królikiewicz. He doesn’t know that the name “Królikiewicz” was written on the walls of the School as part of the plan to discourage similar returns. Because the Committee has an entirely different candidate. We’re talking to Jerzy Skolimowski, who’s in London, but comes to Warsaw. I myself am delegated to visit him at his home, he agrees and we simply have a new trustworthy figure, an outstanding artist of the cinema. The Polish Filmmakers Association was seriously concerned about losing the Film School. It was a conflict between filmmakers and artists about the future shape of the academy. Andrzej Wajda, the head of the Association, wrote a letter to you: “We need to speak the words of truth in this matter. The Polish Filmmakers Association supports the Committee for the Renewal of the Film School only insofar as the Committee intends to restore the academy to the milieu of filmmakers as a school that will educate professionals for the Polish film industry. ... Dear Colleagues! As a group that operates in the name of the Renewal of the School, you have assumed a very important duty. What it requires is above all modesty, because you can build something
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that lasts only on the basis of authorities, you need to respect them yourselves. Nay, you need to believe that you can find authorities both at the school and among active filmmakers. This is where you should look for a real Renewal of the Film School. You must not look for authorities, whom the School needs so much, beyond the milieu of people who make films and strive to make them well and honestly. What is more, such quest weakens the faith of the film milieu and Association in the honesty of intentions of the Renewal of the Film School. We were helpless when the spirit of destruction was coming from above. When top-down decision-making closed the gates of the Academy to any independent thought, anything bolder and more modern. But now, when there is so much to repair and so much at stake, the Polish filmmakers Association cannot allow itself to lose the Film School in Łódź. And it cannot allow grassroots destruction to bury all our hopes.” That period gives rise to the cinematographic milieu’s strong distrust of contemporary art. There is something akin to a trauma of that “grassroots destruction of Polish cinematography,” which Wajda mentions. There is fear that as soon as they’re given some funds, visual artists will burst Polish cinematography from within. If Skolimowski had become the rector, the School would have come back into shape, it would have become a modern international academic institution despite martial law. During the proceedings of the Senate of the Film School, we were betrayed by our colleagues who were representatives of the Independent Student’s Union, which was our tragedy. We were short of 2, 3 votes. And the relations between cinematography and visual artists lose their intensity in the 1980s and 1990s. There is a clear distance to be observed. In 2006, Piotr Uklański’s Summer Love is rejected by the cinematographic environment. Did you observe the situation afterwards in any way? Yes, I was very interested indeed that something like that was happening. But for me the most interesting film is PolishRussian War (Wojna polsko-ruska) by Xawery Żuławski – in the sense of a new language, it’s the greatest source of discoveries... Masłowska’s verbal language is revolutionary, and it’s her language that drives that change. I’ve recently talked to her about it in Gdańsk. I felt an extreme lack of a new literary language in cinema, and because our cinema was always literature-related, a change
in language was an important gesture for me. But I cannot see and special revelations in the current visuality of Polish cinema. Mr Józef, what about Lech Majewski? Lech Majewski liked the Workshop very much. I remember when that private film of mine From my Window (Z mojego okna) screened at the festival in Cracow. He rushed to me and shook my hand. I respect his work, he’s a very bold cinema and multimedia artist. Even though I can sometimes spot elements that are not far-removed from talentless writing in some of his works, he’s a very interesting artist on the lookout for innovation. That conflict-based relation between visual arts and cinema, related to the activity of the Workshop in the 1970s, has been changing recently. For example, thanks to the films by Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal, which are very good and broadly debated in the filmmakers’ circles. Do you know any of their films? I’ve seen the first two. I haven’t seen the latest one. What do you think about them? Yes, by all means, I accept it. I have absolutely no problem with those films but they also don’t enrich my life. I such case, I have a terribly tolerant attitude towards the Sasnals, absolutely nothing should prevent those interesting artists from developing. Let them work further. Their films are a good example of a creative escape from cinematography. At the moment, the institution of cinematography is in a very difficult situation because, contrary to appearances, the contemporary cinematographic authorities are similar to that leadership from the 1970s. Our “favourite”, Zanussi, is still there and keeps haunting cinematography. Cinema has currently lost its edge. Today, it’s the time of risk-taking actionists and performers, who take part in intense socio-political interventions. In turn, I’m interested mainly in intimate artistic operations on human mentality – the behaviour and stories of ordinary people. Mr Józef, if the cinema of moral anxiety was our “fifth cinema,” then maybe after the cinema of the 1980s and 1990s the time has come for the “eighth cinema” that you postulated in 1971 – the time of films by Sasnal, Libera and other films from the Film Award competition. The time of “the cinematographic turn in Polish art” – based, as opposed to the 1970s, on collaboration and mutual curiosity between the field of cinematography and the field of contemporary art.
EVERY ARTIST IS AN ENCOUNTER WITH A NEW WORLD
Wojciech Marczewski in conversation with Łukasz Ronduda
Łukasz Ronduda: What is the difference between the Wajda School and other film schools? Wojciech Marczewski: The Wajda School is a place for discussions. I think we offer our students a chance to do something more than just try to develop one project. The school is a serious attempt at sparking a debate: “why are we doing this at all?”, “what things are worth doing?”, “why?” Of course, keeping a professional approach and discussing the language, style, dramaturgy, acting, mise-en-scène, editing, and so on are a major part of it. But we believe that all those factors stem from the personalities of the people who make films, let’s call them artists. Not everyone is an artist, but there are people who deserve the name, even though they may not have proven themselves enough on the screen, with their previous films, or have developed careers in other areas, possibly without a chance to show what they can really bring into this field. In a nutshell: we don’t teach students how to become a director in the professional sense, we don’t teach the basics of dramaturgy, editing, mise-en-scène, and so on. These elements are obviously important if someone wants to work in film. But they can be quite easily learned, observed, consulted in books. However, the most important and the most difficult thing – something that probably few schools are able to give – is to help a young artist understand who they are and to capture the kind of uniqueness that they can offer to the world – to the audience. When I say “uniqueness,” I mean imbuing your film project with your own sensibility, intelligence, weaknesses and obsessions. In a nutshell: we want to convince artists that the majority of them carry important topics, important matters within themselves, but those matters have to harmonise with their personality. Filmmaking is an artistic work, creative work, it’s difficult and painful. The most important thing is to explore yourself,
know who you are, and know what you are able to tell other people, and why. It’s not a toy. It’s not a game, it’s not hydraulics. Let the artist break the rules, let their work appear mediocre or even clumsy in professional terms, but if the artist’s personality shines through, then a viewer, an ordinary viewer – I’m not talking about a sophisticated group of people with knowledge in the field – will watch it with a sense that they are engaging with something important. It’s a bit like a conversation. We meet someone and talk for ten minutes. That’s nothing big, nothing fundamental for the story of our life, but we have a feeling that we’ve been talking to someone who understands the world, who understands people, someone who can have distance to themselves, and that’s why that conversation becomes important, we remember it for years. I think that the majority of schools put too much emphasis on technological issues and neglect the most important thing in my opinion: what? how? why do I want to tell this to people? I think that this core usually stays untouched. It’s usually enough to be deft. They say: “He’s deft, he can cope, the films holds water, there’s pace and dynamic action.” What does dynamic action mean? What is it? Is it that cars are crashing and people are running around? No! Action can be dynamic in psychological terms. The trick is to develop an individual perspective on things that are ultimately the same, things that have been repeated many times and are familiar. After all, there are many themes in Greek tragedies that have stayed current until the present day. Was it this approach that made it possible to open cinema to visual artists? I truly believe that in everyday life we are unconsciously stuck in certain clichés: social, political, artistic. We don’t realise it. The film environment and the film world are also stuck in such clichés. They succumb to fashions and borrow little from outside the industry. Many people from this field are not very open, they know too little not only about other areas of art, but also about many other areas of life. You have collaborated with artists before, for instance with Zbigniew Warpechowski, you knew his performances. When Zbyszek was working on the set design for my debut, Nightmares (Zmory), I spent a lot of time with him during
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the documentation, the shooting, and after the shooting. The producer looked at my decision to commission set design from Warpechowski with considerable suspicion, because he was not a professional set designer. But for me, he was extremely inspiring. For example, the way he painted the walls in the school in Nightmares. The way we talked was mostly like: what does that school mean to me in general? There were a lot of scenes and I wanted that world to be cruel, harsh, painful for the main character. And Zbyszek embraced that in a fantastic way through colours, the way things are patinated. It affects the unconsciousness and tells us about the kind of world we are in. I’ve been interested in visual arts since I was a child. I used to make graphic work, feature as an amateur in exhibitions in Łódź, some of my things were published in the press. This is something that bears testimony to a certain curiosity and sensitivity to visual arts, to image, including moving image. Your films tell the story of the birth of an artist, a man with a very aesthetic personality. Different ideologies are clashing, for example the left-wing and the right-wing, but your protagonist chooses art. That was something very original given the tradition of the Polish “cinema of moral disquiet.” I think that art offers people a chance to become independent and free. Both in my private life and in art I’ve always tried to stay in-between, so to speak. To understand both sides, and I’ve always feared joining one of the opposed groups, adopting their ideology, their way of thinking. My first feature film is clearly about the birth of a young artist, the way he struggles for his independence, the way art creates a kind of world where you can stay independent throughout your life. It’s actually said in one of the dialogues: how can you save yourself from confusion? Every political group, church, family, school develops a certain model and says: “Be like us, comply with the rules we believe in, this is what you have to do.” And the artist’s task is to rescue themselves from all those things, to try to understand, to avoid rejecting the worthy elements, but also to stay independent. That’s why as soon as the Wajda School became more established, I became a bit concerned that we were following only the moving image avenue. I think that the collaboration with the field of visual arts marks the beginning of a broader process. I have a feeling that
we don’t make sufficient use of the sound experience in film; for us, sound is just a supplement to image. This is the next environment that I’d like to introduce to the School. Of course, it’s an experiment and I don’t know what it will bring; just like I didn’t know what our union of visual arts and cinematography would bring. I think the difference between us and other schools is that
we can take risks and make experiments. And, curiously enough, the students who join us very soon get a sense of the importance of what I’m talking about, the importance of a different vision, a vision from a different perspective. Thus, the potential of penetrating the world is expanded. The Wajda School successfully created an education programme for artists from the field of visual arts, and the production studio Wajda Studio successfully produced the film The Performer (Performer), which is one of the first examples of such collaboration. This is the task of the Wajda School, and that’s why there are two institutions: the Wajda School and the Wajda Studio; the latter operates as a production studio. We want people who are working on a script and developing ideas for their film to be able to see them on the screen. Concerning the script of The Performer, which was developed at the School, it seemed to me
Every Artist Is an Encounter With a New World
that we wouldn’t be able to find a producer in Poland who would want to work on it. I thought the producer would say: “It’s either one thing or another. Either we’re making a gallery film, or we’re making a film that the viewer can actually watch.” We decided to become producers of that film because for me it’s an attempt to bring those two tendencies and fields closer to one another. I found it very natural and in line with the general rule promoted at the School. We organise the yearly Film Award of the Polish Film Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the Wajda School. The artist who wins joins a course and develops a project for a year. What is the most difficult thing for artists who arrive at the School? I’ll tell you a short anecdote. I witnessed a conversation between a young poet and an established author of novels. They were saying that a draft of a poem can be jotted down on a paper scrap in a café and it’s already an idea, which of course needs polishing; whereas if you’re writing a novel you need to get down to it and work regularly, you need to write for several hours every day. Filmmaking is a collective effort, it’s costly and difficult to organise. In this kind of environment you still need to preserve your artistic sensibility when you arrive on the film set every day at eight in the morning and you have to be an artist until six in the evening, at least for the time of shooting the film. In other areas you can say: “It’s not going well today, let’s drop it,” or “I’m not mentally prepared for this.” But here you have a regime, you simply have to do it. So the biggest problem for artists is the regime? The regime is a problem because they live according to a different time, a different rhythm. They enjoy much more freedom than people in the film environment. In cinema you’re free when you’re writing, planning, during the preparation period. You regain much of that freedom only when editing begins. But there’s an exact amount of time for shooting; the hours of required artistic open-mindedness are precisely determined. It’s simply difficult for them. Several visual artists have already appeared at our School, the winners of the Film Award. And each of them required, or sometimes compelled a different treatment. Zbyszek Libera started with great zeal and every month, for the five days of classes, he actively participated, was very active and creative,
and curious, but at some point he dropped out and followed his own path. I think it’s good. It’s not our task and idea to impose the same regime on everyone. If someone wants to work in purely professional cinematography, they will have to accept the regime. I think it’s OK if this kind of artist says “no” halfway through the course. But as for other students who want to become professional directors, I tell them: “It’s a crisis that you have to go through. A crisis you’ll have to go through on the film set of each of your films.” Directors often dream that shooting will be cancelled the next day, because they’re in a bad shape, suffer a breakdown, but they can never surrender. I would like this training to open up certain new possibilities for visual artists. But the way and the extent to which they might want to use them is up to them. So artists receive a special treatment at the School? Yes, just as it happens now with Katarzyna Kozyra. We’ve talked and decided that if she’s finishing a different project right now, it makes no sense for her to drop it. I know that Katarzyna Kozyra, Zbyszek Libera and Oskar Dawicki will not change the scope of their activities, but perhaps they will add something to their world and the language they use. Perhaps they’ll try out new possibilities to expand their artistic statements. For me, art is always a conversation with the viewer, with Somebody. Somebody is there on the other side. There’s performance – there’s the viewer, there’s cinema – there’s the viewer, and we want to seduce the viewer somehow, we want to rouse the viewer or shake them out of their self-confidence, depending on our intention. As for the ways to do it – everybody will decide individually, and perhaps the artists will incorporate their experience from the School into the language that they use to talk with the viewer. The rules of artists’ presence at the School have changed a bit. Previously, since 2010, I, Oskar, Libera and Anna Molska had to complete the entire course, and now it’s a more individual collaboration between artists and selected supervisors. For example, Agnieszka Polska collaborated with Paweł Pawlikowski; you will supervise Kozyra. Besides, she’ll be able to take part in different classes of her choice. She’s free to participate in all the classes, and she’ll probably shoot test scenes. So far, we’ve had one long conversation, but we’ll have more opportunities to talk. You asked me at the beginning about the difference between our School and other schools.
Every Artist Is an Encounter With a New World
The difference is that our School is a place where everybody is treated individually. There’s no single scheme that applies to everyone, a single plan. It’s a small school, a place where we can have one-to-one meetings, and everybody is free to come over and say: “Something went wrong. I need a month, I’ll try to pick up the threads.” And that’s respected, by all means. There are no grades. It’s for mature people. We started with a programme that you mentioned, but we’ve changed it because it wasn’t working that well. And we’ll see how it will work now. And I liked it a lot that when I attended the course with Oskar we were immediately thrown into the group on an equal basis. We had to defend our idea, confront it with others, some interesting relations began. I think it’s an important experience to suddenly find yourself in a totally different environment. And we’re not resigning from this aspect: confrontation, evaluation, talking about the project, the intentions. So far, this has applied to everyone. Every person who joins us has to go through this kind of confrontation. I think this is actually very important. It introduces the aspect of discussion, or even evaluation of an idea viewed from a perspective that is different from the artist’s point of view; evaluation by people who focus rather only on film, as the majority of our students do. It will also apply to Kozyra. The individual curriculum that Agnieszka Polska followed clearly worked well for her because the test scene that she shot is excellent. She managed to capture the atmosphere of the television theatre of the 1980s and decided to preserve that aesthetic appeal in her film. We need to remember that she didn’t shoot it with everyone else, she postponed it. The main goal is to make them look at themselves when they look at the screen. Who are “them”? I’m talking about the winners of the competition. To make them see if they want to choose this kind of aesthetics for their film or another. What elements work well? What elements correspond to the intention? What fails to correspond? It was a huge success in Polska’s case. The scene she shot is amazing, it has a distinctive character, it follows a single convention, a very particular one, and it’s very
consistent in terms of rhythm, acting, the visual side. I’d like to see such film. I hope it’ll be possible soon. We’ve talked about Libera, now we’re talking about Polska, and what about Ania Molska? I remember that you liked her project Mutants (Mutantki) very much. It’s beautiful. Ania Molska plays with totally different elements. The way she uses rhythm, certain repetitions, is interesting. In musical terms, I’d say that the composition is close to a rondo. Like in Ravel’s compositions that revolve around a single motif while they develop in terms of dramaturgy until they finally explode. Every time a winner of the competition joins the School is an encounter with a different world for us. Each of them left a visible imprint on their work. If I didn’t know the films and based my judgment only on the fact that I know these people, I know their work, I wouldn’t need credits with their names – I’d be able to tell you who made which film. For me, it’s the highest level of understanding. A proof of respect for the viewer – I’m telling you what I feel, what I think, what is mine, I’m telling you something intimate. When you were teaching in Copenhagen, you contributed to the foundation of Dogma. With the Film Award, you contributed to the emergence of a new tendency in film – feature films made by visual artists. In Copenhagen, the group of students that I supervised at the film school established or actively participated in Dogma. I arrived there and got a fantastic studio at my disposal, together with students, the best devices, something I could only dream of in Poland. Not only cameras, but also huge amounts of good quality tape, and equipment – dolly carts and set design that was built specifically for us. I was doing a workshop with them and after two days I realised the mistake I was making. That equipment, that technology, the technological potential occupy their imagination to such an extent that the most important aspect disappears: the artist’s personality disappears, the problem disappears, the protagonist disappears. Correct light on every face becomes more important. I went to the rector and I said that we were doing it wrong, that it was a mistake and I’d like to ask for two VHS cameras and casual interiors. We continued
Every Artist Is an Encounter With a New World
the workshop but in a completely different way. We used handheld camera, and that was even supposed to be a kind of draft, but a kind of draft where technology and the beauty of the image that results from technology would not dominate – we would focus on the problem, the main character, the question that we confront. And the students got it in a fantastic way; they suddenly felt free and we shot one, two, and later three workshops, and we never
Wojciech Marczewski, Zmory, 1978
got back to the studio again. Later, after I left, a fantastic artist, but also an organisational genius – Lars von Trier – gathered that group of students and they established rules that were exactly the same: casual interiors, hand-held camera, natural lighting, contemporary film, focus on the main character. I still keep in touch with those people. For example, Thomas Vinterberg... he realises what happened back then. But my idea was not a pedagogical idea. It was an idea of an artist who suddenly felt the unnecessarily constraints of excessive technology and certain clichés that were around. Was it the same when the Wajda School opened to visual artists, a decision that resulted in a series of films? I hope we will continue. The greatest threat to pedagogy is boredom and the feeling that you already know everything and
pass the same thing on to others. The way of working with those people, young artists, partly accomplished or very accomplished, or potentially ready to become accomplished, is a fascinating mission and a fascinating adventure. But it requires individual meetings. I’m not talking only about individual conversations, but also individual treatment. Everyone carries something different within. We have classes, and then I have ten minutes to talk one-to-one. That’s why we don’t want to expand the School. And we had such offers: to turn it into a large state-run school. We won’t do that. I would feel very bad in such configuration. The idea of the School was different from the very beginning. The point was to be able to talk. My real film school was in my own film crews – not the Film School in Łódź, an institution I never liked. I can say that I valued a few people there, they even fascinated me. I’m talking about colleagues and lecturers, but those were just a few people. That’s why I didn’t want to repeat at the Wajda School something I don’t like. In Łódź, I had a sense that I’d fallen into the cogs of a machine. If I don’t manage to keep up, the cogs will grind me and spit me out. And Andrzej Wajda? What’s his reaction to the artists’ presence at the School? Initially, Andrzej was rather sceptical. He looked at it maybe not with suspicion but with a certain distance. But now he sees that the way we collaborate is completely different. I can understand him, he probably feared that people from the field of visual arts were used to a different rhythm of work, and it would clash with the rhythm of the School. Now, when we’ve started to treat everyone more individually, the artists’ presence does not influence our core activity in any way. Andrzej Wajda is all for it. He also reacted very positively to the fact that Katarzyna Kozyra has won the Film Award this year. I can definitely say that both the artists’ strong personalities and the fact that they join us and want to try something new is something that shows them in a very good light.
POLISH CINE ART
CINE ART Parasite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 8 –1 33 It Looks Pretty from a Distance Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal Walser . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 34 –1 63 Zbigniew Libera The Performer ............ . 16 4–207 Łukasz Ronduda, Maciej Sobieszczański Photon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 0 8 – 23 8 Norman Leto
Anna i Wilhelm Sasnal
It Looks Pretty from a Distance
WE ARE CONTENT WITH A MARGINAL POSITION Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal in conversation with Jakub Majmurek and Łukasz Ronduda
Łukasz Ronduda: You were the first to follow Piotr Uklański and make a move from visual arts to cinema. Was it a successful move? Anna Sasnal: I think the problem with that move was largely about the fact that it should have taken place in the opposite direction. It’s cinema that should open up to art, and not the reverse. To make good films, you need to expand your field of experience to cover not only what you can see at the gallery but also, for instance, literature. ŁR: In 2012, you did not agree to show It Looks Pretty from a Distance (Z daleka widok jest piękny) at the festival in Gdynia. Why? You didn’t consider yourselves to be part of Polish cinema? AS: We thought it was not a good place to show that film. We showed it at the festival New Horizons. The festival in Gdynia is largely about the film industry. When we received the award for It Looks Pretty... some people said it was an “on-the-job accident” because “we are not part of the industry”. If we’re not, then we won’t be forcing our way in. If a mussel doesn’t open, don’t eat it. Jakub Majmurek: And later, during the recent years, have you had any more opportunities to meet the industry? Did any filmmaker come to you and say: “I don’t entirely like this but I can see some interesting things here”? AS: Apart from Joanna Kos-Krauze, none of the filmmakers told us anything good. She was the only person we talked to about it. Ula Antoniak invited me to an expert committee at the Polish Film Institute (PISF). Before that, I had been reading texts submitted to Ha!art and I think I managed to come across a few interesting things. I thought I’d find something interesting there too, some potentially interesting cinema that is currently kept from growing. JM: Was there anything? AS: I’ve read quite a lot of scripts – but nothing.
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
A. i W. Sasnal
Wilhelm Sasnal: After meetings with filmmakers I have the impression that they know much less about culture than people from the art world. Quentin Tarantino is the pinnacle of avant-garde. AS: That translates into the fact that their greatest dream is to tell a story. If a story comes together well, it’s already a success. Filmmakers are interested in making films, and they care less about cinema. Count the filmmakers who come to New Horizons and see what’s happening in world cinema. We also had a meeting in Łódz with students of film editing. We watched to analysed Parasite (Huba) with them. I was astounded by the resistance that the film provoked. One of the guys said with malicious satisfaction that we’re free to show such a film at a gallery. For him it’s not a film at all, it doesn’t live up to what he expects from a film, it does not stick to the rules that they teach him at the Film School. JM: What rules? AS: There is no “transformation of the protagonist”! WS: Those young filmmakers should watch the film Essential Killing by Jerzy Skolimowski, who is already an older director. He also breaks all those rules. And that’s a film! You can criticise it but it really stands out among films produced in Poland. It makes a certain bold step. AS: But Skolimowski is also a poet and a painter. ŁR: The film school teaches them a certain machismo, a confrontational attitude. The further they go in their careers, the worse it gets. WS: I have to tell you that I can’t stand that machismo of the film industry. I couldn’t work on a film set ruled by a bunch of testosterone-pumped guys rule. AS: If we were to accept their criteria, then books could be written only by graduates of Polish studies. JM: Polish cinema did not recognise you as a part of it? WS: No, but I guess we don’t want to be recognised as a part of it. JM: For you, Wilhelm, it might be a peculiar experience because you hold a major position in the field of art. When you move to cinema, your position becomes marginal. WS: And I appreciate that position a lot. These two worlds are completely incongruent. Painting is very intimate. A director
We Are Content with a Marginal Position
is expected to be a public figure. The film industry is a “who has a bigger dick” competition – if you’ll pardon the expression. We don’t want to take part in that competition. I need to tell you one more thing, for me shooting a film that costs twenty, thirty million to make is something immoral in a country like Poland. I feel sympathy for directors who work with such budgets. What is a director supposed to do when he’s not happy with what he’s made? He cannot mothball a film for twenty million. We’re free to do that. JM: Are you happy with the reactions that It Looks Pretty... got from the audience. AS: Yes. We had a number of good meetings, discussions of a rather publicistic kind, but the meetings were small and mostly attracted those who had already been enthusiastic about the film. Although it also happened that some people sassed us. WS: I was very positively surprised by what happened, for example, at the New Horizons. By the conversations that were held there. We’re still groping our way through the world of cinema. We don’t have any illusions that these films will sell well enough to give us income. That’s why we’re happy that the film screened at cinemas at all. When we were shooting it, we completely didn’t think about “what’s next”. Our film editor, Beata Walentynowska, told us “send it to New Horizons.” And that’s how it began, a little bit by chance. JM: What’s your opinion about the reactions of critics? WS: I have to admit that I was astounded by the indolence of many critics who didn’t understand at all what the film is about. JM: Parasite is your second feature-length film that screens at cinemas. What has changed since your debut in terms of production? Are you becoming more professional? AS: I guess not (laughter). WS: We shot some more films. The first bigger production was Swineherd (Świniopas). Then we made The Fallout (Opad). We shot it with a big professional crew. It was our most professional production. We weren’t satisfied with the outcome. But it has some potential, so maybe we’ll return to that film one day. I even had an idea to get those actors together, several years older, to shoot some extra scenes with them and mix these scene with the older footage.
A Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal on the film set of It Looks Pretty from a Distance B Untitled (from the film The Manhunter), 2010, oil on canvas, 55x70 cm C Anka, 2010, acrylic paint on canvas, 102.5x122.7 cm
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
A. i W. Sasnal
AS: And I have the impression that for us It Looks Pretty... was an escape from The Fallout, we wanted to make a completely different film. Parasite is a bit of a return to what we wanted to do when we were shooting The Fallout but we didn’t manage to achieve. WS: Yes, but the film set in Parasite was smaller. I don’t feel well when the set is big. Especially that I am the cinematographer and need to wait with the camera until everybody else is ready. ŁR: I met two film professionals who worked on your film set. Not only they didn’t complain that you were not professional enough, but they even absorbed your way of working. For example Kuba Czekaj – I attended a course at the Wajda School with him and he was telling me all the time about how he had been working on It Looks Pretty... He was impressed by the freedom on the film set; by the fact that there was no rigid division of duties, no rigid schedule of the day. He told me that when Wilhelm happened to see birds that were flying away, he was following that view, shooting it on camera, while the entire work stopped for a while. WS: Yes, that’s true, that’s how it looked like. AS: But we’re also very focussed when we work on the film set. So there is a schedule, but it’s open enough to leave room for situations when Willi can go away somewhere with his camera. In Parasite our working method was that we were shooting a number of scenes with Mr Jerzy and then locking ourselves for a few hours with the sound mixers – Igor Kłaczyński and Janek Rey – and the entire crew was waiting for us. Our work often has a very homely character. It’s like outworking. Especially with our film editor, Beata Walentynowska. She would edit both films in her little studio, then she would come to us for two or three days and we would work at our place. We would cover the windows with blankets, after all we don’t have a darkroom. JM: The three of you edit your films? WS: Anka’s presence in editing is much stronger than mine. I completely lose the tension, the dynamics. What I like most is the beginning of the film and the time when it’s ready. After working on the film set I have no power to do work. Anka loves editing. She’s also the one to write down the initial ideas for a film. AS: For me, the first day of editing is a holiday. That’s when I begin to feel that I’m actually making a film. I suppose that’s the way you start writing a book.
We Are Content with a Marginal Position
ŁR: Wilhelm, you are a director-cinematographer. In what ways are you different from a director-screenwriter, a typical figure in Polish cinema? How does your profile influence the process of directing? WS: For sure, I don’t lose interest in the question of acting. If as a cinematorapher I can see that something is fake, then it happens sometimes that I move the camera away from an actor’s face, take the head out of the frame. That’s when I focus on a certain detail to cover it. Cinematography is very important for me. The fact that I carry the camera, a heavy object on my arm. As a viewer, I have always enjoyed shots when the camera follows the actor. In such situations I always imagine a man who carries that burden and follows the person. In turn, I hate cinematographic styling. For example when the camera trembles in an artificial way. Because the protagonist is nervous. I totally don’t buy it. ŁR: What is the relationship between your painting and your cinematography? WS: In this respect I often think about new realism in the painting of the 1970s and overwrought film shots from cinema. For example in Man of Marble [Człowiek z marmuru – film by Andrzej Wajda from 1976 – transl. note]. The wide-angle shot when Krystyna Janda places her leg in Jan Łomnicki’s car to block the door from closing. AS: I think that the fact you’re the kind of painter you are has a great impact on the way you work with the camera. But it totally doesn’t work that way the other way round. WS: Yes, there’s rarely any influence. From painting to film, but not from film to painting. After all, painting and film are two separate kinds of practice. The question of time is of key importance. It doesn’t exist in painting, you can stop viewing a painting at any time. You can’t leave the cinema all that easily. ŁR: Cinematography is often described as a continuation of classic painting. Cinematographers themselves see it that way. When I started working with my cinematographer while making The Performer (Performer), I needed to recall the categories that I learnt about as an art history student but I wasn’t using as a person who deals with contemporary art: composition, chiaroscuro, and so on. WS: Nobody among my fellow painters talks about composition. Cinematographers haven’t trashed the image in their field and keep thinking in such categories. I don’t.
Swineherd, film stills
The Fallout, poster of an unfinished film
The Fallout, photos from the film set
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
A. i W. Sasnal
JM: Is there any connection for you between Parasite and It Looks Pretty...? Or are you treading on a completely different territory? AS: In It Looks Pretty... there is a character of a pregnant woman, a clerk in a shop. This actress is Joanna Drozda, who plays the main role in Parasite. This thread was way more developed but we dropped it during the editing. WS: There was supposed to be a scene where the woman is looking after her baby, does the ironing and watches TV. The baby starts to cry and the woman turns the tap on and turns the volume up on the TV to mute the crying. In the next shot, we see her shaving her intimate areas, and the sounds of the TV and the water from the tap mute the crying baby. AS: So the main thread from Parasite was taken from It Looks Pretty... At the premiere of It Looks Pretty... we met Joanna and told her that we wanted to make a film with her about a single mother. To strike a balance we also needed another thread, another protagonist. Hence the character of the elderly man. JM: In It Looks Pretty... your work on the film began with Anka’s poem that is said to have been one page long. Did everything begin with your text in this film too? AS: The first text for It Look Pretty... was slightly longer than one page, we used it to begin our work with actors, then I divided it into scenes. It was the same with Parasite, although the first version seemed too enigmatic even to Willi. But the first sentence of this text, “Only a fragment”, left an imprint on the entire film both in formal and content-related terms. When I write, I look for such concepts, words, sometimes single sentences that will make it possible to build scenes or images around them. ŁR: What did your work on the film set look like? WS: It was a massacre, afterwards we were totally exhausted. After both our work on the film set and editing. We gathered tons of footage, it had a quasi-documentary character – so whenever something interesting happened on the set, I immediately turned my camera on. Some scenes from the film hadn’t been in the script at all. AS: It was hard work. A small set, fifteen people. Everybody performed a few functions at the same time.
We Are Content with a Marginal Position
JM: Are you satisfied with this film? WS: I simply don’t like this film. But now, when already after Berlin we made some final touches, I watched it again and I have to admit that it drew me in. I can feel that after Parasite I have reached a limit. You cannot go any deeper, at least I can’t. For a long time I was poisoned with the vitriol and sadness that the film left in me. ŁR: You don’t enjoy the protection that a professional film set offers, you don’t have units in charge of production. Because of this you are exposed to all kinds of emotions that accompany shooting a film. And it brings you closer to a documentary form. WS: It also causes conflicts on the film set. For example between me as a cinematographer and Igor, the sound mixer. JM: How long did the editing take? AS: Almost a year. When we were finishing the editing we came back to the initial text. To the first sentence. ŁR: Even though you’re very close to your protagonists, the film doesn’t empathise with them, the viewer observes them from a distance. AS: This was our premise. We didn’t want the viewers to feel mercy or sympathy. We’re very close to our protagonists, but it’s always only for a short while. We see a fragment of their reality, their world, their bodies. WS: These protagonists also love themselves in the same way that the camera that sees them. They see themselves like in a mirror. Looking in the mirror, she cannot like herself. She has an ambivalent attitude to her child. ŁR: Polish cinema would immediately look for something for the viewer to hang on to. JM: Cinema based on the mechanisms of projection-identification gravitates towards empathy by its very nature. ŁR: The lack of empathy is what brings you close to structural cinema. But the same things that happened in structural films happen through the medium of the human being in your film . That impossibility of coming to like the protagonists is also based on social class. You look at them from beyond the class that they belong to, a class that you cannot get to like and believe that this class can get to like itself. WS: We feel part of that world. We didn’t have the feeling that we were creeping into an environment.
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
A. i W. Sasnal
I’ll tell you even more, I think we could pick such an observation point and I wouldn’t call it class-based for the very reason that we come from there. It was a bit different than in It Looks Pretty... We went to the countryside, we worked with local people, they acted as extras, but the countryside provided a setting for our story. It was important for us to show what was happening in the past. But also to extract the cruelty that remains within each and everyone of us, without adopting a “we’re above it” position. ŁR: The shooting stage, when you are very close to the protagonists, is something different from making a composition for the viewer, a composition that is, after all, very unempathic. There’s deep honesty in the fact that you show Parasite on such occasions as the hipster festival New Horizons and you tell the viewers: no, don’t pretend that you have something in common with this world. This is not a film that will ease your conscience. The chasm between your world and the world that we show in this film is so huge that you’ll never be able to really understand it. It’s very cruel but at the same time very honest. AS: The title It Look Pretty from a Distance is exactly about this. And besides, it’s very tempting to scratch a scab. Especially a dried one. WS: In Parasite, we expose the viewer to an emotional clash. The vision of an illness, a baby, a breast-feeding mother does not trigger the feelings that you expect it would. Instead of tender emotions there’s disgust. It’s not a comfortable position for the human being, for the viewer. AS: During New Horizons I had workshops with female teachers and I noticed that they had a strong need to look for moments to identify themselves with. When they were looking at an image of a mother with a child on her breasts – the origin of the title Parasite – nearly all of them said it was an image of closeness, tenderness in the film. And that’s not the way it is. WS: We wanted to show maternity in an ambivalent way. AS: And for them, certain emotional schemes connected with maternity are unquestionable. A baby stands for goodness, innocence, calm. It’s an instilled image. They wouldn’t admit, even though most of them are mothers, that the experience of maternity is inherently ambivalent. It’s a great challenge: to stir a discussion with images that haven’t yet been digested by the audience.
We Are Content with a Marginal Position
JM: Such images of maternity are heavily instilled in culture, also visual culture: the Polish mother, Stanisław Wyspiański’s pastel paintings, and so on. Was it one of your inspirations? WS: Actually not Wyspiański. But when we were preparing to work on the film, we were viewing museum collections and taking photos of the Madonnas. Interestingly, until the Renaissance, babies in the paintings of Madonnas were presented in an unlikable way. I don’t know the reason, maybe it was a matter of the religious context, the necessity to preserve the distance to a saint... AS: ...also from the position of the child in those times. WS: Later, during our work on the film we made little use of the results of that research, on the film set we already didn’t pay attention to the entire painting iconography of the mother and the child. We paid attention to the way maternity is regarded nowadays. ŁR: The image of maternity has also changed a little bit recently. The case of “Madzia’s mother” [famous case of a Polish woman who committed infanticide – transl. note] encouraged people to revisit the figure of the mother in the Polish collective imagination. I guess the case hit the headlines when you were shooting Parasite? AS: More or less. I don’t know if that story actually unleashed something. “Madzia’s mother” became a figure of the “pathological mother”, which only strengthened the figure of the “holy mother”, whose sacrifice knows no limits. WS: I get terribly pissed off, and I often talk about it with Anka, that in Poland the questions of maternity are defined by a priest, who is a man, and who doesn’t have a clue about maternity by definition, he does not have children himself... JM: ...some of them do... WS: ...some of them do. But they don’t take care of them. And the situation when the church has so much influence was also something that we talked about a lot when we were working on Parasite. AS: That’s right, we were even saying that we’re shooting a portrait of a holy family à rebours. We were also referring to the image of the holy family. WS: Many directors who were not affiliated with the church had also referred to that image before, for example Pier Paolo Passolini in The Gospel According to St. Matthew.
It Looks Pretty from a Distance, poster
On the film set of It Looks Pretty from a Distance
Parasite, film stills
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
A. i W. Sasnal
ŁR: It’s just that in your film that rather unholy family does not have any connection with any kind of metaphysics. AS: For sure there’s no metaphysics in Parasite. JM: There is no church and church rituals either. A fact that is rather striking because the film is firmly set in Poland, a country that we would instinctively associate with a strong presence of religion in the public space. AS: Church was there, but we dropped it in the course of editing. WS: In Mościce there’s a very beautiful church. We shot it from the outside, we never brought any of the characters inside. There was a scene where a character is walking, the camera follows him, it moves off the frame, abandons the character and slides onto an altar in front of the church. Interestingly, the largest figure in the altar is the Holy Mother. She towers above kings and saints. It is a huge statue, and it comes from the 1960s, like the entire altar. AS: That was too literal. WS: Just like another scene that we finally decided not to use: Mr Jerzy approaches the mother with a child and together they form a picture that looks exactly like a 15th century portrait of the Holy Family. AS: We didn’t want to be so straightforward about the relations between them. JM: At the visual level, the film refers to many images known from Wilhelm’s earlier works. It is opened by a panoramic vista of the chemical plant in Mościce, which you had painted and filmed before. In turn, the images of pregnant women bring to mind the portraits of pregnant Anka from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. WS: I did two exhibitions, one about maternity, the other about fatherhood. Generally, about the visions of parenthood. But the kind of parenthood that is horrible, that drains the human being. There was an image of a hunchbacked man, and so on. ŁR: It’s interesting how the representation of family changes in your creative practice. Because you, Wilhelm, started from short movies about your love, daily life, happiness. Now, you make Parasite and you show something completely different. You stop talking about yourselves. At least directly because Parasite is also a result of your own experiences.
We Are Content with a Marginal Position
WS: I was telling Anka about this! ŁR: Didn’t you feel like making something lighter, something more about yourselves? AS: A film about a happy couple with two kids?! WS: There was such an idea, I even wanted to do that. AS: I’m totally against. We actually used our parenthood experience in Parasite. Sleepless nights, baby’s screaming that you cannot escape, playgrounds I hate. WS: And besides, Łukasz, I keep making such films. We haven’t abandoned it at all. Right now, I’m finishing one such film for a gallery, a short one, shot on 16 mm. There’s my father and my son, I spent a lot of time recording them on camera. I’m very surprised by the way my father acts in front of the camera: he recognises that I might be right in this respect and he should help me in some way, he surrenders. AS: And on the other hand, Willi has become a “family painter” in a way. We are less and less part of your films, but we appear more and more often in your paintings. JM: It Looks Pretty... and Parasite clearly continue the vision of the provinces from your short films. WS: I’ve recently seen a photo from the 1970s, I can’t remember who made it, it showed a badly ploughed field. There was a field with stripes on it, and some of them were crooked. I’ve always been interested in such Polish lethargy. I was considering going back to Zielona, where we shot It Looks Pretty... and doing something with them once again. AS: From the short films to Parasite we making a single journey with the camera. And this is a provincial journey, which makes it necessary to domesticate a place, choose a language in order to describe it, but we can always leave. ŁR: This language of film, the narrative constructs also give you some kind of a buffer between you and the world that you show. WS: Interestingly enough, even though Anka hails from the field of literature, a field connected with the narrative, and I hail from painting, a field connected with the image, she has a stronger need of abstraction, moving away from a literal narrative than me. I guess I need a framework of the storyline in order to build abstract images around it.
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
A. i W. Sasnal
ŁR: It’s obvious, you lack in film what you don’t have in painting. WS: A bit, I guess, but Anka also has been saying for a few years that she’s tired with the classic narrative. JM: When we were talking a few years ago in Cracow, you mentioned films that inspired you when you were working on It Looks Pretty... The cinema of Bruno Dumont, but also Polish cinema, for example The Manhunter (Naganiacz) by Ewa and Czesław Petelski. In the case of Parasite it might be harder to pinpoint your sources of inspiration, especially as far as Polish cinema is concerned. AS: When I think about inspirations for our films, including formal ones and those related to language, what comes to my mind is Herta Müller or the marvellous Romanian-Swiss playwright Aglaja Veteranyj; so poetic prose that displays a rigid formal discipline. JM: It Looks Pretty... was a film that concerned painful contemporary history. In Parasite, apart from the theme of maternity, there is also a thread related to Polish socio-economic transformation. At least I see it this way. An elderly man loses his job, he cannot find himself in the new situation, there’s an image of provincial Poland, cinder racing, a second-hand shop. What do you think about such interpretations? WS: We talked about it after your review of the film. For sure we didn’t have it on our minds from the beginning. For us, Mościce was a natural place. This is what average Poland is like for us. AS: The things that you’re talking about were very natural for us. We lived in Mościce for six years. This is the way you circulate there. Cinder racing is free entertainment. I myself used to go to that second-hand shop, our mothers too. To be honest, I cannot recall any other second-hand shop in Polish cinema. JM: In Andrzej Żuławski’s The Shaman (Szamanka). AS: That’s right, in Żuławski’s film. Anyhow, in Parasite we didn’t want to diagnose things, unlike in It Looks Pretty..., a film with a clear publicistic intention. WS: This social context makes itself manifest also in different reviews and discussions. This reminds my of a certain biographical context of mine. I was raised with a work ethos, convinced that work is something noble. My grandfather, who is an archetype of Jerzy in a way, would frequently work in a factory without a personal advantage. After his death, he was
We Are Content with a Marginal Position
remembered in Mościce as a person of legendary labouriousness, which was a source of pride for me. AS: Małgosia Sadowska was right to write that Parasite could be titled Death of a Man of Labour. In Mościce, we have a neighbour who is like Mr Jerzy. He goes out to the shop a number of times to kill time, he tries to fill his days when there’s no work to organise his days any longer. WS: Because the problem of Mościce is not material poverty. Or at least not only. It’s a different kind of void. People don’t work and social bonds, based above all on the working environment, dissolve completely. I was raised at my grandmother’s who lived right near the nitrogen plant. I’m brimful with her stories about how people were building – literally – the plant in the 1950s. The plant was the centre of social life. Next to where my grandmother lived there was a hall where dance parties were held every Friday and Saturday. Now, it’s a fenced private area. JM: And because of all the things you’re talking about, for me Parasite is a film about transformation. Or even a broader phenomenon that transformation formed part of: the decline of a form of socialisation that was based on the social tissue that developed around heavy industry. I saw it myself in my hometown, Jaworzno, a town built around two branches of industry: coal mining and coal-based energy production. Jerzy Buzek [Polish Prime Minister between 1997 and 2001 – transl. note] closed down the coal mining industry; for more than a decade, a thicket of bushes took over the place in the centre of the town where the mine used to stand, and now a shopping mall is being built there. The entire social world that developed around the factory is gone. WS: Yes, this is often forgotten in discussions about unemployment. Unemployment is not only about the lack of income. Work has also an ethical, organisational dimension. It keeps our world from unravelling. I was still able to profit from that world created around the factory. It was a safe world, I could go outside with no problems. I could attend a model making club, extra English lessons. As a teenager, I was very proud that I was living in a self-sufficient part of the city, organised around a factory, where there was a stadium, a community centre and everything else you needed. And if someone wants to leave, there is the Tarnów Mościce station.
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
A. i W. Sasnal
AS: In our film, losing his job ruins Mr Jerzy to the same extent that his ill-health ruins him. Work gives meaning to his life. The girl doesn’t have a job, she has no one to leave the baby with, she has no chance of getting a job. The fact that she can’t work makes her very lonely. JM: What is your next project? AS: It will be an adaptation of three literary texts. The Stranger by Albert Camus, the fairy tale The Shadow by Hans Christian Andersen, and Ukryty w słońcu by Ireneusz Iredyński, which is a brilliantly constructed piece, and to which I’d like to refer above all at the formal level. We have built an initial story. So far we have agreed that the sun will be the protagonist of the film. ŁR: After the gloomy atmosphere of the first two feature films you had to turn to the light (laughter). WS: The most inspiring text for me in this project is Andersen’s The Shadow. It is a very well written, very contemporary tale about a man whose shadow begins to live its own life. JM: A quite frequent motif of a doppelgänger in Romantic prose, from The Nose by Nikolai Gogol to William Wilson by Edgar Allan Poe. It also often appears in film. The Student of Prague with Paul Wegener is a story of a young man who sells his mirror reflection to a mysterious sorcerer. The reflection becomes autonomous and starts to persecute the man. AS: It is going to be a gloomy film about the sun. “The sun witnesses everything” – the sentence taken from the script of It Looks Pretty... is a good beginning of that new story.
IT LOOKS PRETTY FROM A DISTANCE Anna Sasnal
IN T RODUC T ION RIVER AND FOREST There is a paved road leading to the village but it is worn and narrow. It looks pretty from a distance. Meadows, fields. The village is secluded, cut off by a river and a forest. It’s been this way for years. The river and forest cut off the village. There is no bridge on the river and people cross it pulling a boat along a cable. The river is clean, a bit overgrown by the banks, muddy in places, but you can bathe in the summer. Children in the river. Two women and three children drowned in the river. First the women Threw the children into the river and then jumped Out of fear. The people waited. Crowding on the bank. Pitchforks stones and knives. Pitchforks stones and knives. The women were alone. There are dens and hollows in the forest in which a person could hide. People can burrow like animals. When the elders of the village were young, they dug up the forest. Scooped out the hollows. Even today you can still find something if you dig deep enough. But nothing of value. After all these years. Greed’s still there. Pitchforks stones and knives. People are searching elsewhere. HOUSE The mother is old and she often disappears
It Looks Pretty From a Distance Even for a few days. She runs away to the forest Neighbours bring her back because the Son doesn’t look for her. The Son would prefer that Mother stayed in the forest To rot and moulder there. Because the Mother lost her mind. She can’t remember words She pees in the bed. The reek of the Mother in the whole house. And he wants to have the whole house for himself – without the Mother and her reek He wants to drink with mates and doesn’t want the Mother to stare that way. It’s shameful to have a stupid mother. Paweł wants the Girl to be there in his house all the time To live with him. Because he wants it and she wants it, but she says she minds the reek of the Mother. The Girl will come anyway. He wants to walk around the house naked, the way he saw it in a film. But the Mother. GIRL The Girl lives with her father, mother and brother And she knows she won’t get anything The father will leave everything to her brother If he wants to, if he has to. The Girl doesn’t want to be a daughter anymore, she wants a new bed She imagines lying in bed with Paweł And she doesn’t want to leave the village because here at least she knows what to fear. The Girl is waiting. Waiting for the old woman to disappear for real She doesn’t die and she doesn’t live any more and reeks like a corpse. The Girl finds the old woman disgusting she imagines that the reek will get to her it will stay in her hair, under the nails, in the clothes.
She’s waiting for a new house. She imagines carrying arranging putting in order throwing away sniffing washing ventilating scrubbing MIREK AND GRANDPA BOILERMAKER They work together with Paweł. They cut vehicles and then sell them for scrap To the trains. They load them onto train cars. Mirek’s father helps them The father is old but still strong. Mirek laughs that when his father stops working he’ll sell him for scrap and his father will take a train ride At least once. Mirek likes to count train cars even numbers bring good luck, odd numbers bring bad luck. The old boilermaker wants the same thing as his son To sell cars for scrap and drink. The shop owner wants a man but She doesn’t want a child Old Jachym wants to be strong Because otherwise the son will take everything Posłańcowa wants to have new clothes Even dirty and stinky ones. The Son takes the mother away And then disappears himself. Nobody is looking for him. The Girl is waiting. At his house. Waiting for the new to come Scrubbing dirt with a cloth. And waiting. The bed is empty And it still reeks in the house. She cannot be alone The village is waiting for it. The Girl leaves the house. The house is waiting The village is waiting. He’s not coming back The village is waiting. The neighbour wants to have new clothes Even dirty and stinky ones. There are clothes in the wardrobe in the Mother’s room
It Looks Pretty From a Distance And the mother is no longer there. And nobody’s looking for her now The house is waiting. Day night. The dog dies On a chain by the house. The neighbour and her husband take clothes from the wardrobe in the Mother’s room. The house is waiting. Deaf and blind. It’s alone People have pitchforks stones and knives It’s been this way for years They come because the house is deaf and blind and alone Just to snatch something. And there are few things to share They want a lot but don’t have anything It’s been this way for years When the elders of the village were young, they dug up the forest. Scooped out the hollows. They took everything that was left after death. Greed’s still there. Pitchforks stones and knives. People are searching elsewhere. The sun witnesses everything
CONFESSIONS OF A FILM EDITOR Beata Walentowska
I have made three films with Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal, or actually three and a half: the feature It Looks Pretty from a Distance (Z daleka widok jest piękny), the documentary Aleksander, Parasite (Huba), which for me is a project situated halfway between the documentary and the feature genre, as well as a feature under the working title Siparis, which was an attempt at a new version of The Fallout (Opad). However, we never finished working on that film. I hope that one day we will return to it. In It Looks Pretty from a Distance, I stepped into the project already at the editing stage – the directors wanted to collaborate with the person who had edited Piotr Dumała’s The Forest (Las). In Aleksander and Parasite, I worked with the directors already at an earlier, preparatory stage. However, I do not have any knowledge other than what I learnt from the film footage, I do not go to the film set with them. I think it is an important factor, because it allows me to preserve a distance to the footage. A POEM INSTEAD OF A SCRIPT Anka and Willi begin with writing several sentences, a kind of a poem that is the focal point of the later work. An actual script appears only much later. But I am not obliged to accept it as my guideline. In It Looks Pretty from a Distance, the poem was a text written on a single A4 page, as well as my main point of reference when I was editing the film. Interestingly, at the end we always return to the initial text and it turns out that the film concerns exactly what that one page long poem is about. We trust each other very much and we think in a similar way, which does not mean that when I am editing I do exactly what the directors would like to see. I enjoy considerable freedom. But I always begin with asking the directors what the film is supposed to be about. The answer to this question does not mean, however, that this is what the film is actually going to be about. After I receive the footage, I assemble a version that includes all the scenes that seem interesting to me. At this stage, I don’t carry out their vision of the film but my own film – on the one hand, this
Confessions of a Film Editor
is fantastic, while on the other hand it requires my own creativity. We most often begin working together when I have already prepared the first rough cut. The most important thing is to learn the entire footage and reject thinking in the categories of classic film. When we edit, we work democratically. We consider a scene to be finished when the majority is content with it. If one of us is sure about their point, they need to convince the rest. This method usually works. It is often the case that during editing Willi is in the opposition. I think this is because Anka and me – when we edit – we think in the categories that he works with already at the film set – we think in terms of images and we consider the ways to combine images in order not to simply create a story. We want the film to be perceived through impressions. In turn, Wilhelm works with the camera for the entire time on the film set, and this is what cuts him off thinking about how to put the film together; at the editing stage he tries to find a story in the film. While we are still learning the footage, he experiences it already in a new way. So it is often the case that Willi suggests that a given scene should be moved somewhere else, and we think that it will not work. And later, when we are close to finishing our work, it turns out that Willi was right. We consider the film complete when the three of us are convinced that it is so. Probably this is the reason why our work takes so long. Each of us is attached to certain shots, each of us has their favourite scene. It sometimes happens that we spend weeks looking for a place for a certain shot or scene. It is always the case that some selected beautiful scenes do not work and they are not included in the film. At such moments, the heart breaks into two halves. You need to have an open mind and you cannot say to yourself that something will surely form part of the film, because that is when you can be 100 % sure that it will not happen. An interesting phenomenon is Anka’s way of thinking in terms of film editing – she was an editor of texts. She did exactly the same thing with books as I do with films. She simply edited books. Her experience is very helpful during our work on films. FRAGMENTS FROM OUTSIDE THE FILM SET It sometimes happens on the film set that Willi takes the camera and disappears. He follows the things that seem interesting to
him at a given moment. Many of those shots later form part of the film. It is a challenge for our sound mixer Igor Kłaczyński, who needs to create the sound layer in such scenes from scratch. However, the films always profit from it. Igor’s work always takes the films to a higher level. It is difficult for me to say how many hours of footage I have when I edit, but for sure it is a dozen or so, and one third of the footage usually does not have any sound. I am free to use anything, technical deficiencies of given fragments do not exclude the possibility of incorporating them to the film. In It looks Pretty from a Distance, there are a few shots that are slightly overexposed. They could not be fixed but the shots were good enough for us to simply decide to use them. Nobody would adopt such approach to editing in large cinematographic productions. I also have a collection of footage shot by Anka and Willi during their travels around the world. Such footage can also become part of the film. During editing we often consider including something that was not created on the set of the film that we are currently editing. We did that in Parasite, where we added shots made in Tarnów during the shooting of The Fallout. Therefore, when I work on one film I am free to use more than one collection of footage and mix everything. I try to make use of the entire material but I always evaluate it. I separate the fragments that I consider suitable for the film from those that I consider unsuitable. However, I have already learnt from the lecturers at school that you should not reject the unselected footage altogether, because very often it comes back. So I try to remember about the things that I resigned from at the very beginning. The most difficult task is to find the first and the last scene. A problem with the final scene occurred for instance in It Looks Pretty from a Distance. The film ends when the guy is killed in the car and the girl leaves. We had a beautiful scene of the so-called battue: a vast field with the lying dead body of the guy and men who approach him in a row. We were thinking about finishing the film with that scene. It was totally different with Parasite. A panoramic vista of the factory that opens the film was my favourite choice. After many months, it returned to the beginning and stayed there for good.
Confessions of a Film Editor
INSPIRATIONS We do not have any kind of collection of inspirations, we do not watch films together and show to each other the kind of effect that we would like to achieve in our own production. Of course, we recommend to each other films, theatre spectacles and books that we think are must-sees or must-reads, but we are not guided by those works when we work. Anka and Wilhelm are fans of Bruno Dumontâ€™s work, and I discovered him through them. When we were working on It Looks Pretty from a Distance, we were reading academic books, mainly those written by Barbara Engelking,
Parasite, film still
which concerned the persecution of Jews in the Polish countryside during World War II. We also often talked about the fact that we have not settled the accounts with the past. It was the main thought that inspired us when we were working on the film. We also talked about situations that had happened to us and about the awareness that certain things can happen in Poland even now. It was related to our personal experiences, for example the thing that happened to my parents. In their cottage near Warsaw someone broke all the windows, tore out all the trees that grew around, threw them inside the house and set them on fire. In Parasite, inspirations came mainly from the parenthood experiences of the directors, mainly Ankaâ€™s experience of being a mother. We were also thinking about the neglected problems of maternity, which are often not talked about. This film deprives
maternity of its magical aura. The thread that focusses on the man is partly a true story of the directors’ neighbour in Tarnów. A worker who has to begin his life anew after losing his job. The stories that happen to Anka and Wilhelm later make their way into their films, they offer the reasons to shoot the films. I think it is also important that they keep returning to Tarnów, to the factory where Wilhelm’s grandfather worked. I think that place is magical for them. PARASITE In reality, Parasite comprises three different stories combined in one film. Insofar as in It Looks Pretty from a Distance we liked the same footage, we know what we wanted the film to be about and how it was supposed to look like, in Parasite our opinions differed significantly. Anka and I wanted to focus on the story of the woman with a child, Willi wanted to follow the man, and another question that remained was: what about the factory? Editing the film took a very long time. I think that Parasite is a special film not only for the three of us but also for all the people who contributed to the project. Already on the film set, after several days, it turned out that Mr Jerzy, who was a terminally ill character in the film, was ill in reality. Jerzy died two months after the end of the shooting. It had an immense impact on us and on the shape of the film. We knew that certain fragments would not become part of the film. They were two intimate. Tension emanated from the footage. I had to learn that material for a long time. I started to edit Parasite only with Anka. Willi joined us later. For a long time we could not find a common way to do it. We wanted three different films. At some point, I left them on their own. They needed to understand what the film was to be about. I do not treat Parasite as a feature film, for me it is a project that is taken in intellectually and through impressions. I think that one must not follow that story entirely, it is necessary to get into it without thinking. NEVER-ENDING EDITING Anka and Willi leave themselves such freedom on the film set that they can turn everything upside down if they only think it is worth it. Their footage can be edited in hundreds of ways. I
Confessions of a Film Editor
guess I do not want to admit it but sometimes I do not hold on to the poem at all and just do what I think is right. I think that this is what the work of the editor should consist in, especially in this kind of projects â€“ I do not believe that there is one best film into which these puzzles can be put together. Even at this moment we are changing two takes in Parasite, even though the film had its world premiere a few months ago. When there are so many possibilities of editing the footage, there is always room for improvement. You can say to yourself that the film can always be better, but there comes such a moment when you need to recognise that this is what you want and move on. We most often do not have deadlines, which is great but at the same time dangerous. In such situation, a film can be edited and improved without end. It is important for me that the Sasnals are not filmmakers â€“ Anka is an editor of texts, Wilhelm is a painter. The fact that they are not professionals turns editing a film with them into an amazing experience every time. They are not afraid of experiments. Every new film is a marvellous challenge and hard work that gives me immense satisfaction. Edited by Urszula LipiĹ„ska The text was originally published in the magazine FilmPro, no. 2(18) 2014.
THE REALISM OF INTENSITY Jakub Majmurek
Film has long been a medium that Wilhelm Sasnal used as an artist. A medium that is less “official”, more “private” and “casual” than painting. The artist reminisces: “... in 1995, I bought an 8 mm camera from my pal’s father and some old tapes. I shot on 8 mm from the beginning ... Those [were] films from Tarnów, Cracow. I guess there’s my mum in that film, Anka, some situations from home and from school... Those were such souvenir films, camera tests.”1 Sasnal will never part with his 8 mm camera, and later a 16 mm camera. Records of situations from daily life and the immediate surroundings, short scenes, often deprived of storylines, will form the majority of the artist’s growing cinematic output. FROM PERSONAL CINEMA ONTO THE CINEMA SCREEN Łukasz Ronduda situates such cinematic attempts by Sasnal in the tradition of “personal cinema,” connected with such figures as Miron Białoszewski and Józef Robakowski. Ronduda writes: “Personal cinema flourished among Polish artists living in the Communist state, it was created in the private environment as a reaction to the hampered freedom of expression in the public sphere. ... it developed close to the life of the artist, it was focussed on the record of mundane, banal events, fantasies, masquerades, etc.”2 Screened at the artist’s homes, beyond the official circulation, private cinema generated a socially dense, close and intimate community of viewers – in the artists’ practice, the role of building social bonds around the projection was as important as making the films themselves.3 Sasnal’s first cinematic attempts correspond to this model of film production. Yet, they are not limited to it. As Ronduda remarks, Sasnal’s films – apart from those that belong to the 1. “Malarskość filmem, filmowość malarstwem.” Wilhelm Sasnal in conversation with Piotr Marecki, Kuba Mikurda and Paweł Mościcki, in Sasnal. Przewodnik Krytyki Politycznej (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2008), pp. 156–157. 2. Łukasz Ronduda, “Mówisz mi coś, ale co właściwie chcesz mi przez to powiedzieć? Do czego zmierzasz? Czyli rzecz o filmach Wilhelma Sasnala”, in Sasnal. Przewodnik Krytyki Politycznej, op. cit., pp. 193–195. 3. Ibid., p. 195.
The Realism of Intensity
tradition of “personal cinema” – can be situated in two currents: music film, which investigates the relation between image and sound, and often adopts the form of “music videos,” as well as structural film.4 In his projects, Sasnal continues the investigations pursued by the structural avant-garde, a movement that examined the materiality of the medium of film and highlighted the most basic elements of that medium: the process of projection, the work of the projector, the movement of the celluloid tape, its materiality, and so on. A problem that seems to be particularly interesting for Sasnal concerns setting the frame (framing) as the basic technique in painting and cinema alike. Ronduda writes: “In his films and paintings, Sasnal seems to ‘make a fetish of’ and analyse the sheer phantasmatic potential of the ‘simple’ act of setting the frame (cinematic or painterly) that separates imagined reality from what is real. ... Sasnal seems to ask ... why the understanding of the mechanism of setting the frame ... does not destroy the illusion, the ‘effect’ that it generates, but even strengthens that illusion.”5 As we will see on the example of It Looks Pretty from a Distance (Z daleka widok jest piękny) and Parasite (Huba), Sasnal’s interests as a creator of “personal cinema” and films that function in the field of art, in the gallery space, can be found also in the cinematographic productions of the artist and his wife. A NEW VIEW The first journey of the artists into the world of cinema was It Looks Pretty from a Distance. The film tells a simple story. It is set in a village somewhere in Poland, separated from the rest of the world by railway tracks, a forest and a river. The occupation of the local people remains unclear. In the first scene, we see men who set snares and use a rickety lorry to transport a car that appears to be good only for scrap metal. The village seems to live off waste, looting, garbage; there is no work or production to be seen. The village is home to two young people, Paweł (Marcin Czarnik) and the Girl (Agnieszka Podsiadlik). Paweł lives at home with a disabled mother, whom he places in a nursing home. The 4. Ibid., p. 193. 5. Ibid., p. 197.
Girl can finally move in. One day, Paweł disappears. His house is empty. Neighbours gradually take away more and more goods. Finally, they burn down the house during a common ritual. When Paweł returns, as unexpectedly as he disappeared, the members of the community murder him, unable to forgive themselves the harm they caused him. It Looks Pretty... was shot in a way that is unprecedented in Polish cinema. The film is devoid of dramaturgy, deprived of techniques of building suspense, it is deliberately non-transparent in terms of communication with the viewers, who are subject to various processes of “strategic disorientation.” Many scenes appear to be “flawed” as far as the traditional principles of filmmaking are concerned. The camera is located in a place from which it can see only a fragment of the space where the action is set, while the rest of that space remains outside the frame. Thus, the frames appear “cropped”, they lack elements expected by the viewer who is conditioned by the dominant model of the cinematic spectacle. Dialogue, spoken word is a marginal means of communication between the characters. The score is dominated by sounds, not words. Dialogue is not the main and privileged way of delivering information. The rejection of dialogue and of images that show the characters’ faces (images that would portray their individual emotions) generates a peculiar effect of detachment from the world presented in the film and the characters that inhabit that world. The viewer is unable to identify with those characters in the way that is characteristic of the classic cinematic spectacle based on the category of psychological realism, which continues to dominate as the aesthetics of artistic cinema in Poland until the present day due to the legacy of the cinema of moral anxiety. Beyond doubt, the first film by the Sasnals offers a certain “new view”, hitherto uncommon in Polish cinema. It is possible to discern many traces of previous films by Wilhelm Sasnal, which were designed to screen in the space of the art gallery. The “cropped shots” that deliberately disorient the viewer and thus demonstrate their own “incompleteness,” their own frame and the process of constituting that frame – such shots mark a continuation of Sasnal’s previous “post-structural” investigations. Short scenes devoid of dramaturgy and dialogues, acted out by anonymous characters – a solution that makes the process of projection-identification impossible – were common in the
The Realism of Intensity
artist’s practice before. They were often set in the context of the Polish provinces, the countryside and its population. Sasnal explored that environment in his ironic Films from Central-Eastern Europe (Filmy z Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej) – a collection of short films of the anonymous Polish provinces, shot in black and white. Basically, nothing happens in those films: a character leaves a shop on a bicycle, a fly walks on a bread roll cut in half, a man recounts his hospitalisation after carbon monoxide poisoning. Yet, those films reveal the same “natural scientific” approach to reality that will be manifest in the Sasnals’ feature debut. The directors travelled to the provinces also in Swineherd (Świniopas), a film that can be considered as the first attempt to explore the field of feature filmmaking. In Swineherd, we also encounter a hermetic rural community, affected by decay, lack of communication, hopelessness, violence. A FOREIGN BODY? Yet, the basic question that needs to be asked with regard to It Looks Pretty... is: to what extent does it work “as a film”? To what extent was the transfer from the field of visual arts and the field of literature (where the co-director of the film, Anna Sasnal, used to be active) a success, and to what extent does the motion picture work as a film designed to screen at cinemas, to what extent does it fulfil the requirements of the cinematographic milieu? The film stirred considerable confusion among Polish critics, both those active in the field of film and those who write about visual arts. After the premiere, Dorota Jarecka wrote: It is difficult to watch this film simply as a film. All the time, one remembers about the context – the New York-based gallery Anton Kern is the producer of the film, and a famous Polish painter is the co-director. ... The skills of a contemporary painter are the polar opposite of the medium that is as discursive and as fond of narrative as film. Apart from the comic strip Życie codzienne w Polsce w latach 1999–2001 [Everyday Life in Poland between 1999 and 2001] from the early period of his career, Sasnal has never really told any solid story. His painting practice has always been more documentary than narrative: a factory stands, a neon sign glows, a girl smokes a cigarette, a man holds a bag with shopping. This
Jakub Majmurek film is the same. The long lasting of scenes, the monotony of images, the repetitiveness of gestures, the bucolic landscape that has something barren to it, all those dawns and dusks that anticipate boredom and fatigue, the idea that a cinematic landscape can be filmed through a dirty window of a car – all those things would be impossible without Wilhelm Sasnal’s earlier paintings. What is more, the film, even though it is feature-length and it could even be deemed, stretching it considerably, as a feature motion picture, actually contains hardly any storyline, while dialogues are so scarce that they would be just enough for captions under several paintings.6
The set of oppositions that operates in this long excerpt and serves to differentiate between the “cinematic” and the “non-cinematic” comes as a shock to anybody who has visited any film festival in the recent years. Lack of dramaturgy, monotony, repetition as an aesthetic figure, vestigial storyline, blurred boundaries between the “documentary” and the “fiction” genre, rejection of dialogues in the role of the privileged means of communication with the viewer, and rejection of psychological realism related to dialogues – these are the characteristics of contemporary “artistic” cinema (“auteur,” “festival” cinema), especially the cinema propagated by Roman Gutek’s festival, where the Sasnals’ film premiered. It Looks Pretty... can be regarded as an artistic child of the festival New Horizons. In their statements, the artists were straightforward about their inspirations with a director whose films Gutek’s festival consistently promotes – Bruno Dumont.7 His films reveal the same set of strategies that Jarecka recognises as “non-cinematic” in the Sasnals’ film: long static shots devoid of dramaturgy, vestigial dialogues, focus on the actors’ physical expression, rejection of the mechanisms of projection-identification, combination of veristic observation with an utter rejection of psychological realism. Dorota Jarecka was not the only one to express such opinion. The degree of confusion of critics who confronted (and often rejected) the Sasnals’ film resulted – we can argue – largely from the immense isolation of Polish cinema (not only filmmakers but 6. Dorota Jarecka, “Pornografia według sąsiadów”, Gazeta Wyborcza, 10 February 2012, http://wyborcza.pl/1,75248,11119782,Sasnal_Pornografia_wedlug_ sasiadow.html 7. Cf., for instance, “Przeciw kinu ze szkolnej ławki”, op. cit.
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also critics and audiences) from an extremely lively current in contemporary artistic film, as well as the domination of patterns that originate from the cinema of moral anxiety (based primarily on the figure of psychological realism). In this sense, the Sasnals’ film functioned and continues to function largely a “foreign body” – not because of its links with the field of visual arts, but because of its relations with the aesthetics of global art-house, which has not been absorbed yet in Poland. As such, It Looks Pretty... indeed opens up new horizons for the language of Polish film. Still, the work has remained unabsorbed by the field of film. Apart from the film Secret (Sekret) from 2012 – a work that was made at almost the same time as the Sasnals’ production, confronts the same topic and makes an unsuccessful attempt to establish a dialogue with the same currents of contemporary cinema – Polish cinema has not profited in the recent years from the opening that the Sasnals’ film could offer. What is more, the motion picture has not reached a broad audience. It gathered several thousand viewers at cinemas – fewer than the crowd attracted to the exhibition of Wilhelm Sasnal’s paintings at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw in 2007. AFFECTIVE REALISM There is another aspect of It Looks Pretty... that requires evaluation. After all, the film was meant to be not only an artistic statement, a new aesthetic offer for the Polish viewer, but also a political statement. Even though the motion picture is set in contemporary times and the word “Jew” is not used even once, it is a conscious statement about the relations between Poles and Jews during the Second World War and the occupation – a statement that concerns primarily the complicity of Poles in the Holocaust and their appropriation of the former Jewish property. The artists explained that the film was to respond through a different kind of medium to the academic research of Jan Tomasz Gross and Barbara Engelking. To what extent did the film achieve the goal of introducing a new configuration of the visible in Polish cinema? The right-wing, represented by Rafał A. Ziemkiewicz, who commented on the film in one of TV broadcasts, stated that the motion picture built an image of invariably wild barbarian Polish provinces, bloodthirsty to murder a stranger, while the only goal of that image
was to boost the spirits of urban audiences, who look down on the provinces (the place they often come from, if not in the first generation, then in the second or third). In this sense, if Ziemkiewicz’s allegations were valid, not only would the film fail to determine any new political configuration of visibility in Polish history, but it would also repeat the division, reproduced since the beginning of the democratic transformation, of the Polish public sphere into the “backwater” (responsible for the entire evil of the Polish community) and the enlightened, morally superior minority, which looks down on the “backwater” and delights in feeling ashamed for the surrounding majority. Ziemkiewicz is wrong. The film does not attempt to describe contemporary Polish rural areas and treat those areas into an object of ethnographic study. The Sasnals’ work rejects not only psychological realism, but also social realism in any colloquial understanding of the term: It Looks Pretty... is not a film about contemporary Polish countryside. The bygone period of the occupation and the “present” in which the film is set are connected neither through an analogy nor through a metaphor – there is nothing in the film that would signalise it; the visual language of the film (affective, veristic and anti-realistic at the same time) develops entirely beyond such figures as metaphor or allegory. If so, in what way does the film make a statement about the past, and in what way does it establish a new configuration of the present? To answer this question, let us quote one more critical opinion about It Looks Pretty... – much more serious than the one expressed by Ziemkiewicz. After the premiere, Iwona Kurz wrote in Dwutygodnik: It Looks Pretty from a Distance is perfect at satisfying the demand for a film that is “artistic” and “political” at the same time – here, “the political” does not in the least mean a new “division of sensuality,” but the task to speak about the truths that are difficult for the national community or culture. The problem is that easy and pleasant ways of speaking about those truths are increasingly common. The ambiguous relation that the directors of the film establish between reality and its generalisation – it’s not a village, but a “village”, but still a “Polish village”, and essentially “that’s the way Poland is,” it is neither history nor today – creates a self-righting
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structure against which criticism can easily crash. ... It is difficult to interpret the film as a successful account of a psycho-social process or collective mechanisms, because it does not indicate ... any sources or motivations. The gravity of the portrayed reality crushes everything that is different, people act according to the eye-for-an-eye principle (dog-fora-dog). Given the poetics of a documentary about nature, it is difficult to guess if that is simply the way they are, or if something has made them become like this.8 As a result, what is left from the film as a statement about the traumatic layer of Polish history are only “after-views” – images that “last, even though their object has already disappeared from sight. They have a two-fold nature: they confirm the possibility of representing reality and, at the same time, they contradict it, because the only thing that is left is an outline, a contour.”9 And where there is nothing left but contours, Kurz adds, the viewers fit them into existing clichés. I would defend the Sasnals’ film against those reproaches. The images that the motion picture comprises are not so much “after-views”, but affect-images. What is an affect-image? It is a cinematic image that responds to the question posed by Antonin Artaud already in 1928: in what way can the cinematic image, without transforming into pure abstraction, release itself from its purely illustrative, narrative functions? Painting has been trying to find an answer to this question at least since the times of Impressionism. According to Gilles Deleuze, it can choose between two paths, two different tactics: abstraction and affect-image.10 The contents of affect-images are Figures. The Figure is neither a representation of a given object on the surface of the canvas (as in classic figurative painting) nor a pure abstract play of painterly forms.11 The Figure is the sensible form related to a sensation, it acts immediately on the nervous system of the viewer, on the viewer’s flesh – as opposed 8. Iwona Kurz, “Ani z bliska, ani z daleka. Klisze i powidoki”, Dwutygodnik, 76 (2012), http://www.dwutygodnik.com/artykul/3205-ani-z-bliska-ani-z-dalekaklisze-i-powidoki.html 9. Ibid. 10. Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. by Daniel W. Smith, (London–New York: Continuum, 2003), p. 34. 11. Ibid., p. 36.
to figurative painting (narrative, representational) and abstract painting, which acts on the head.12 The affect-image that emerges around the Figure has two faces turned in opposite directions. One of them is turned to the subject that perceives the Figure, or rather to the subject’s centre of sensible perception. A subject inscribed in the affect-image is not – contrary to painting based on the Renaissance illusion of depth generated with linear convergent perspective – a Cartesian rational subject of pure intellectual gaze: coherent, identical to itself and separated from the perceived subject. The second face of the affect-image is turned to the object that the affect-image captures. The affect-image eliminates within itself the opposition between the perceiving subject and the perceived object, it is both at the same time; it is something that phenomenologists call “Being-in-the-World.”13 Being, or rather becoming; such images show subjects and objects in their dynamic genesis, in their becoming. According to the British expert in film studies, Martine Beugnet, this kind of image was adopted by contemporary artistic cinema, especially cinema produced in France by such filmmakers as Philippe Grandrieux (who also hails from the field of visual arts), or already mentioned Bruno Dumont.14 In the cinematic understanding, the affect-image is a counterpart of the Figure in painting – an image that constantly appears from above and from beyond its representational and narrative function, an image that acts immediately on the affective sphere of the viewer. Subject for revaluation (if not nullification) in the convention of the affectimage is the sheer problem of film realism – both at the level of the congruence of the cinematic representation with the “social reality” and with the “reality effect” that is responsible for the “credibility” of what the viewer sees on the screen. The realism of this kind of cinema is primarily the “realism of intensity” (the realism of affective tensions and the movements of the bodies that they set in motion), and not the realism of representation or realism in the psychological sense. This is where the basic political stake of the Sasnals’ film is situated – a stake that they manage to win, in my opinion. The 12. Ibid., p. 34. 13. Ibid., pp. 34–35. 14. Cf. Martine Beugnet, Cinema and Sensation. French Film and the Art of Transgression (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007).
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Sasnals do not show a realist reconstruction of events from the times of the occupation and the Holocaust. Instead, they use the medium of film to recreate the economy of desire, the map of affective tensions behind those events, traumatic for the Polish community (and largely responsible for the contemporary shape of the Polish community), following the principle of the “realism of intensity”, and not the “realism of facts.” Immersing the viewer in the world of the film, the motion picture performs a certain work on the viewer, compelling a confrontation with the sinister developments from the past that shaped the modern national entity; at the same time, it triggers a confrontation with the lasting economy of desire, of affects that are active behind it. Thus, the film forces the viewer to ask themselves: how would they be able to act in such configuration? In this sense, the Sasnals’ film escapes the allegations that it re-creates clichés; it successfully formulates the operation of the new division of the visible in the latest Polish history. Yet, on the other hand, this operation is limited by the modest reach of a motion picture that the viewer finds so demanding. I Looks Pretty... not only did not reach mass audiences, but it also did not trigger a mass debate (a debate that would unfold outside the cultural sections of newspapers) concerning the problem that it confronts. Such debate was triggered only by the conventional motion picture Aftermath (Pokłosie) by Władysław Pasikowski. MATERNITY AND TRANSFORMATION In terms of aesthetics, the second film by Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal, Parasite,15 is even more radical than their debut. There are even fewer dialogues, even more scenes where “nothing happens”, the storyline is even more vestigial. The motion picture portrays a few days in the life of a strange trio – a young woman, an infant – her baby – and a man who lives with them. The three people never talk to each other, the nature of their relationship remains unclear. The film is composed of shots that portray their daily routine and their attempts to break free from that routine. They all live in Mościce, an industrial area 15. I discuss Parasite more extensively in: Jakub Majmurek, “Lustro transformacji”, Dziennik Opinii, 4 February 2014, http://www.krytykapolityczna.pl/artykuly/film/20140205/majmurek-o-hubiesasnalow-lustro-transformacji
of Tarnów. The man works in a local factory, but has to leave his job due to health issues. At least, this is what we can actually infer from the uninformative narrative. The man does not know what to do with himself, he cannot find his place, maundering around the apartment and the area. Still, he does not help the woman who lives with him and is absorbed by looking after the baby. The relations between the characters are described through the interactions of their bodies. The camera remains close to the body all the time – the ill man undergoing tomography scanning, the woman breastfeeding her baby, the baby’s face contorted in a grimace of the pre-linguistic development phase. Therefore, we are dealing again with a motion picture that operates in the categories of affect-images and the “realism of intensity”, rather than in the categories of psychological realism. Insofar as the first film by the Sasnals referred to the cinema of Bruno Dumont, this motion picture brings to mind above all the minimalism that hails from Latin America, especially the productions of the Argentine filmmaker Lisandro Alonso – a director who portrays characters by showing and repeating their routine and mundane activities through vestigial storylines. Parasite betrays a strong connection especially to Alonso’s debut – La Libertad from 2001. The film depicts (virtually without dialogues) a day in the life of a lumberjack, portrayed merely through his professional routine. A REFRESHING MARGIN Will Parasite manage to secure a stronger presence in Polish cinema than the filmmakers’ debut? I doubt it. It is even more difficult than the debut and it does not have a catchy publicistic issue in the background. Nevertheless, the transfer that Wilhelm Sasnal has made to cinema alongside Anna Sasnal should be recognised as beneficial for Polish cinema. The filmmakers have opened Polish cinema to the most interesting currents in global filmmaking, currents hitherto ignored by our cinematography; they revived the language of film, harnessing it for political action beyond the obvious (and hackneyed) categories of “social cinema” and “engaged cinema.” Even if nowadays their cinema does not have its own audience and Parasite, poster
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occupies a marginal position, Polish cinematography desperately needs such refreshing margin. In the future, in an unexpected way and in unexpected places, it can pay dividends in a completely non-marginal sphere. Contrary to Oscar-chasing Steve McQueen, Wilhelm Sasnal has moved from a hegemonic position in the art world to a marginal position in cinematography, but it seems that his move was one worth making. The text is an abridged and modified version of an essay published originally in Obieg in March 2014.
Parasite, film stills
CINEMA IS AN EXHAUSTION FIGHT Zbigniew Libera in conversation with Jakub Majmurek
Jakub Majmurek: You are the first prizewinner of the Film Award of the Polish Film Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the Wajda School. Would you have tried to make a feature film if you hadn’t received the award? Zbigniew Libera: Of course I wouldn’t. It’s very difficult to become part of the cinema world. It is a very prestigious medium, you receive and spend lots of money there, the bar is set high. There is a large group of filmmakers who want to make a film but never get a chance. We actually educate quite a lot of filmmakers; there are two film schools in Poland. There are more. The two state schools plus the private ones. Those two are already too many. The stream of money that trickles down to cinematography is very thin. If I hadn’t got the award and hadn’t been accepted to the Wajda School, I wouldn’t even have tried. It’s not worth the efforts, it’s not worth the time – making a film is very time-consuming. Would you consider yourself a cinephile? I guess not. In the past, when cinema was art, it interested me a lot. Now I’m much less interested. When did cinema stop being art? I cannot point at a precise moment. In the 1960s, 1970s films you watched films like works of art. Each film by Godard was a work of art. Godard still makes films. Recently in 3D, the title is Goodbye to Language. To the language of cinema, I guess. Aren’t you interested in contemporary cinema? There may be some things that I’m interested in. But the last film that really grabbed my interest was Man Bites Dog. From the mid-1990s. Getting back to your project – you started going to the Wajda School. How do you feel there?
Zbigniew Libera: A with a camera, 1980s B on the set of Walser, 2013
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I know that many artists complain about the School, but I’m satisfied. If you know what you’re looking for, how to make use of what that place offers, being there is a very valuable experience. Andrzej Wajda himself became interested in my project, he supported it a lot. I gave him the treatment, he read it very carefully and covered it with his notes. I can now have it framed (laughter). Wasn’t it difficult for you – a very recognised artist – to become a student? No, it was even amusing. I don’t know if I’m a recognised artist or not, but for sure I’m aged! My colleagues at the School were even 25 years younger than me. But I accepted the fact that if you go to school, you need to adjust. You need to do what the teachers tell you. I had never directed a film in my life, I had never worked with the actor. I staged different situations for photographs, but I was working with models and not actors, and that’s something completely different. The School gave me basic knowledge of working with the actor. Udayan Prasad, my professor at the School, has really mastered it. He’s an Indian from London who has made twelve films, he’s famous for working with actors. Lessons with him were an incredible experience. To learn how you get the actor going, how to make him or her do what you want. Didn’t you have the feeling that the School is formatting your project? Insisting on a “transformation of the protagonist”, a three-act structure, and so on? Such remarks are not all that stupid if you know what to do with them. There must be a transformation of the protagonist in a film. But it can also not be there. But then you need to build around the fact that something the viewer has been waiting for never happens. As Maciej Wojtyszko would say, there is no collective protagonist in cinema. Many tried to create one but with no success. I guess Eisenstein succeeded in Battleship Potemkin. Well, no, it’s also not the kind of film that would grab us by the throat today. We watch it as part of the heritage of cinema, but it doesn’t blow us away. And besides, there are also some leading characters there, like Vakulinchuk. You can experiment with the protagonist or the lack of a protagonist. But you also need to be aware of some principles of film. There may not necessarily be three acts, but such structure helps.
Your film will be structured according to these suggestions? Yes, but in our own way. I don’t rebel against them, but I play it my way. We didn’t want to experiment with the structure too much. Our story and our characters are already strange enough. We don’t need to experiment with the narrative. Your art was not narrative before. That’s not completely true. The staged photographs introduced some kind of a narrative. Even if the only thing the viewers could do with them was to guess what happened before and what would happen next. How was the treatment transforming into a script at the School? At some point of working on the treatment, I realised that it couldn’t be developed into a film. Maybe a theatre performance. Nothing was happening there, it was too static. That lack of action was also meaningful, but I couldn’t develop it into a film. The School recommended different screenwriters to me but our cooperation wasn’t successful at all. Even though they were really good and successful. Big names, one of them collaborated with Wajda, for example. I was considering what to do with it. The producer rushed me to start spending money, do the financial settlement of the project, and begin serious work. Finally, I realised that I didn’t necessarily need someone who knows a lot about dramaturgy in order to write the script. I’d somehow managed to learn about dramaturgy at the School myself, I’d written about eight scripts there. I needed someone who would be a philosophical partner for me, someone who would give me a background in terms of thinking. I was wondering who might the right person be. Then Grzegorz Jankowicz came to my mind, editor of “Tygodnik Powszechny”, literature historian, translator. We had known each other before, and were both interested in the thought of Giorgio Agamben. Years ago, he approached me with an idea to make a cinematic adaptation of Agamben’s book State of Exception. What was it supposed to look like? There was supposed to be Agamben’s voice-over commentary and my animation. It never happened. My project was also inspired by the thought of Agamben. Maybe less with State of Exception and more with The Coming Community. I wanted to
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preserve the initial idea of the project from the treatment, but I had to write it anew. And I approached Jankowicz. You were writing together? Yes. It was difficult to get down to it, because we’re both very busy. In order to detach ourselves and be able to focus on the project, we went to a city where neither of us knew anyone – to Katowice. We holed up in a strange little hotel outside the city, totally out of the way. You couldn’t even reach the place from a road, you needed to go through a gas station. And there, in the course of several sessions – which also took quite a lot of time – we wrote the script in the hotel lobby. If you were to say in a few sentences what the film will be about? It’s a tricky question. The film is not about the story it tells. It is set in the future, we don’t say how distant a future, but I guess it’s not that distant. The main character is a man whose name is Andrzej Walser. A railwayman, he closes down railway stations that are out of service. He gets lost in the forest in mysterious circumstances and gets hurt. He is found by a group of strange people. They don’t act and think the way we do. They speak a language that has nothing in common with the Indo-European languages. Actually, we had a considerable problem with inventing that language. How to create a language that would be different from our own but would still have some grammatical structures, and wouldn’t just be inarticulate gibberish? Makers of films about the prehistoric times also faced the same problem. For example, in Quest for Fire. The language that was used there was invented by Anthony Burgess. Grzegorz had the idea to invite Robert Stiller to collaborate. The translator of Burgess. He has invented a number of languages. For the needs of the film he created a language based on Malay. We called it kontehli. Getting back to the project. Wounded in the forest, Walser finds it difficult to communicate with those people. But he begins to learn their language. Are there subtitles with translation of that language in the film? They start to appear as Walser begins to understand it. Slowly, we – the viewers – find out that there is some civilisation
A B C
The Exodus of People from the Cities, 2010 African Tales by Shakespeare, 2011, poster The Messenger Girl, book published in collaboration with Darek Foks, 2005
catastrophe going on in the world where the film is set. An unspecified cataclysm has stopped children from coming to the world. The catastrophe was most probably triggered by genetic experiments. The world is barren, it’s dying. But not in that “tribe”, children are still born there. Walser wants to convince those people to come with him to the city. Those children, their health, can come to the world’s rescue. But to explain the situation to them he needs to create a myth that they will understand. He formulates it in his mutilated kontehli. That new myth triggers profound divisions within the community. And that’s were a real conflict begins, but I don’t want to reveal anything more about that conflict – let the viewers discover it for themselves. The film was co-produced by Magdalena Kamińska and Agata Szymańska, who had worked with the Sasnals before. How did you meet? Through the School, if I remember well. The Wajda School also ran a course in production, I was meeting different producers and thinking about the person I could potentially work with. I found Agata the most convincing candidate. Was the fact that Agata had worked with the Sasnals a reason for you to choose her? I think so. I expected that after the Sasnals it would be easier for her to bear cooperation with someone like me (laughter). And you chose Adam Sikora as the cinematographer, a very recognised figure. When Andrzej Wajda read my treatment, he said: “But you need to find an outstanding cinematographer for this project”. When later I started to think about it myself, I realised that I needed a cinematographer who had an eye I could rely on. It would be too much, especially in a debut, to control everything: both cinematography and working with actors, and also when you shoot it in the forest, in the wilderness, with a crew that’s considerably sized after all. I had known Adam before, he lives in Mikołów, a place I’d visit at least once year when the Mikołów Institute invited me; that’s actually where I met Adam for the first time. Later, at the School, we had an opportunity to work together. One of our lecturers was making a very low-budget film. Adam was the cinematographer in that project. A part of the course was
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that we went to the film set and were given a task: you are now the director’s assistants and here is what you’ve got to do. I saw how Adam worked, and I thought that’s what I wanted. Weren’t you afraid that such an experienced cinematographer would dominate your film visually? I never had this thought. I knew what was supposed to happen; Adam knew how to show it. Not only him, there are also camera operators, videographers, their talent and efforts also influence what we see on the screen. So you simply trusted him? I knew the way Adam sees, I’d watched most of his films. He is experienced in shooting films that have a link with art, he made documentaries about artists. He’s actually a painter himself. And I’m fine with his way of seeing. Before we went to the film set, we were talking about the concept of cinematography and from the beginning we knew that it was not a film that would leave room for cinematographic acrobatics. It was not supposed to be a moving image counterpart of a flamenco concert, where a guitarist enters the stage and the audience listens to his tremolo rather than to the music itself. We wanted to make a film that is simply good to watch, a film that tells a story. And we succeeded, the images respond to the needs of the story. And cinematography is beautiful two. How did you select the actors? There is only one professional actor in the film – Krzysztof Stroiński. He is Walser. From the beginning, when we were already writing the script with Jankowicz, we knew that nobody else could play the role of Walser. And he did it in an amazing way. It’s an entirely different Stroiński from the one in Far from the Road (Daleko od szosy). Maybe he’s closer to Pitbull. The people from the forest are non-professional actors or people from a bit different world. Some of them are actors of a street theatre that originated from puppet theatre. I’m friends with the theatre Klinika Lalek. That was were I was looking for collaborators. Did you do rehearse with actors before you started working on the set? The rehearsals were essential. For six weeks, we worked with Krzysztof Stroiński on the text in the course of 6–8 hour long marathons. Without taking a break. We were reading, we
Walser A photos from the film set B stills from the film C Krzysztof StroiĹ„ski
were building the character, I was helping him to become the character. It was an extraordinary, trance-like experience, he worked very hard with me. I owe him great recognition. We found it easy to work together also because as an actor he hails from the Konstantin Stanislavsky school. And the kind of directing I was learning at the Wajda School may not exactly follow Stanislavsky, but it’s very close to it. When we were working on the role with Stroiński, I’d drop an English term I’d learnt at the School, he’d think for a moment in silence and drop the Russian counterpart. There was an extraordinary moment when he changed into Walser in front of me. We were sitting together being Krzysztof and Zbyszek, and the next moment the man sitting next to me was Walser. When his role was ready, I could leave him and start rehearsals with other actors. As I’ve said, those actors come from street theatre and have entirely different gestures, more exaggerated. I had a lot of work to do with them. They also had to learn the kontehli language. The rehearsals with them took two and a half months. You’d already done a lot of work when you entered the film set? Yes, because working on the set was the home straight. Everybody knew what they were supposed to do. We didn’t have many shooting days – twenty five. There wasn’t much room for improvisation. But improvisation also happened, of course. Obviously I don’t direct actors by telling them: “and now, scratch your head.” I tell them what it is about, I give them a task, and stir specific kind of emotions in them. And they should find a detailed way to do it. We’ve talked about the images, but what is the role of sound in the film? The music is very important. It was created by Robert Piotrowicz. A very interesting composer, who performs around the world, but is almost unknown in Poland. He wrote five pieces for the film, but they did not consist of sounds but gestures. Our characters play a lot of music. It doesn’t resemble any kind of music that we know. But their music wasn’t supposed to sound in a “primitive” way – on the contrary, it was supposed to be even more “advanced” than our contemporary music. The characters play instruments invented by me and Robert, more by Robert. Instruments that do not exist. That’s why Robert first wrote a score
Cinema Is an Exhaustion Fight
of gestures that the actors were to perform when they played those instruments in order to match sounds later. He only creates sounds in a synthetic way, he clusters a few different sounds together. That music will be played on the set, there’ll be no illustrative music? There’ll be no music to tell the viewer how to feel. Right now, we’re providing the film with a soundtrack. There’s a bit of a problem with that because there are no sound directors in Poland. There are amazing and competent sound technicians who will clean a track perfectly, but there is nobody who could direct the sound from the set. The Sasnals work with the only such person (laughter). Were you also working with the editor of films by the Sasnals? Yes, with Beata Walentowska. Did the film take a long time to edit? Terribly long. We made six versions. We were very happy with the first one, but then it turned out we needed to make another five (laughter). When we were editing the film, Robert was writing the music, subsequent scenes with music were ready, the film was taking its final shape. Do you like working in the editing studio? I’m not a fan of editing. But I realise how important that stage is. If you don’t trust the editor and you don’t have a concept, you can’t make a film. Was the film edited according to the script, or does the edited version differ from the one from the script? It differs. The final version is shorter than the script. The further into the film, the more abbreviations. How much did the film cost? A bit more than a million zloty (around 300 000 usd). Actually, I shouldn’t say this because it’s a dumping price to pay. Nobody should think that it’s possible to shoot such a film for a million. It’s impossible, only we succeeded (laughter). What’s next? Where would you like to show the film? For sure I want it to screen at cinemas. Roman Gutek’s festival would also be a good place. Last year, I showed three scenes there within the Polish Days section. I was very happy about the
reactions. I also don’t want the film to be associated with art-house so much. It’s a genre film. But it’s also completely different from the films that are currently shot in Poland. Realistic films about well-known figures: Wałęsa, Religa. It’s not the same sector. What genre does this film represent? Science-fiction combined with thriller. A post-apocalyptic film. We don’t dazzle the viewers with fantastic gadgets. There are a few of them, but they don’t stand out. We also don’t get to see the apocalypse, the ruins of the world. We find out about it, it is suggested. Those are very political genres, which investigate the borders of our imagination, the possibility of utopia. Your works are also often quite political, frequently in a very straightforward way, such as, for example, the video about the “Economic Nuremberg”. How would you define the political stakes of the film about Walser? There is no heavy focus on this. But there are some little hints. For example, we are not straightforward about the fact that the company Monsanto caused the catastrophe. But you can figure that out. For example, the kontehli word for “fuck” is “randap”, which is a bit of a hint. But the general sense is that our civilisation destroys any other civilisation that it encounters. The consciousness that we represent is deadly for everything that’s different. We wanted to show an encounter between our Western civilisation and people who seem less advanced than us, but in fact they’re more advanced than us. The motif of a civilisation where children are not born anymore appears also in Alfonso Cuarón’s film Children of Men. Did you know that film? Yes, I’d heard about it when I was preparing the project, I’ve seen it. I even quite liked it. The end was what I liked the least. But it’s a cool film, even just because Michael Caine is there. My project is totally different, but I also kept those shoals in mind when I was working on it.
An Afternoon at the Ozone Bar the title page of the script with remarks by Andrzej Wajda
Zbigniew Libera, poster of African Tales by Shakespeare, Krzysztof Warlikowski, Nowy Teatr, Warsaw, 2011
Cinema Is an Exhaustion Fight
Is cinema a one-off adventure for you? Frankly speaking, I’m waiting for the rights to a certain novel. When I know that I have the rights, I’ll start working on a script. Will you apply to the Polish Film Institute? I guess I won’t have any other choice (laughter). Nobody else will give me money. Although I’d prefer not to, I know how it looks like from within. After making a film you have a certain picture of the industry. How would you compare it to the art world? What are these two fields like for an artist who works there? They are both equally mean (laughter). In film at least the money is bigger and prestige is bigger. But that’s what makes cinema an exhaustion fight. Art is actually also like that. But the money in art is smaller and there are fewer people ready to fight.
ARTISTS BRING IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT VISION Adam Sikora in conversation with Jakub Majmurek
Jakub Majmurek:Did you know Zbigniew Libera before you started working together on Walser? Adam Sikora: We had mutual friends, we didn’t know each other that much in person. Of course, I knew his work. What did you think about it? For sure Zbigniew Libera is one of the most interesting visual artists in Poland. He appeals to me also because we have similar past and similar experiences in our biographies. I’ve known his works since he made his first videos, those that portrayed him looking after his grandmother. Then came the famed Lego concentration camp, and later I got to know his photographic work. I will admit that the space where he operates is rather remote for me, but I respect it. You are a painter yourself; you’ve made documentary films about artists. Would you consider yourself as someone who is close to contemporary art? I studied painting; I had a course in art history at the studies, including contemporary art. At that time I got to Viennese Actionists. Chronologically, it was the latest manifestation of contemporary art that made a great impression on me. I have to admit that I was getting further and further away from contemporary art afterwards. I think it’s become terribly hermetic, you need to be a member of an exclusive clan to understand the meanings that it generates. My interests are shifting to the past. I’m currently interested above all in the painting of the 19th century: Romanticism, Symbolism. Contemplating Caspar David Friedrich is more attractive for me than attending contemporary exhibition openings. Does your fascination with 19th century painting translate into your work as a cinematographer? No, not directly, I guess. But it has an influence on my thinking about the meaning that an image has, about the fact that it can constitute meanings. In cinema, the image is the carrier of
Artists Bring in an Entirely Different Vision
content, moods. It has to perform narrative functions, it is an element of the film narrative. Don’t you have the impression that in Polish cinema the image is losing its autonomy and becoming entirely subordinated to the narrative? You think so? My impression is exactly the opposite. Form dominates content in cinema; form that is pompous, artificial; form that originates from the language of contemporary advertising and design. For me, Polish cinema lacks a profound insight into the reality of photography and film. Like the insight in the films from the 1950s and 1960s made by Jerzy Wójcik, or Witold Sobociński with Wojciech Jerzy Has. Nowadays, there is completely no such vision in cinema. Polish cinema is a cinema of designers? Rather advertisers. Back to Libera, how did you react to the offer of collaboration with him? I wasn’t surprised. I had known from our mutual friend, poet Krzysztof Siwczyk, that I was one of the candidates. I was very glad to accept it. The idea behind the Film Award: let’s allow visual artists to make films for theatrical distribution – doesn’t it make you feel sceptical as a professional filmmaker? Do you think it’s a good idea? I think it’s a very good idea. It offers a chance to broaden the language of cinema, broaden its space and perspectives. Artists bring in an entirely different vision. I actually had the pleasure of working with Lech Majewski, who is also a cinema artist; he broadens the language of film, operates on the border of cinema and art. So I had already had experience in such projects. It’s good that the language of film is being broadened; newcomers to the field include not only artists but also contemporary playwriters. You shot two films with the playwright Ingmar Villqist. What did your collaboration look like? It began with a film adaptation of his spectacle Helmucik. That experience encouraged us to continue working together. We started writing the script of the film Ewa, it was a project that dealt with the social aspects of transformation in Silesia. The film met with positive reactions, we received many awards.
We’re currently working on the film Love in the City of Gardens (Miłość w mieście ogrodów), devoted to a difficult relation between the main characters and set in the modern landscape of contemporary Katowice.
Essential Killing, cinematography: Adam Sikora
How would you compare your work with Zbigniew Libera to working with professional filmmakers? Is there any clear difference? There’s no difference. Zbyszek was ready to work on the set. He studied at the Wajda School to prepare himself. I don’t know whether it’s that the school is so good, or Zbyszek was such a good student, but I didn’t feel any difference between his skills and those of professional directors. I was impressed by his skills in staging different situations, in working with the actor. And his task was far from easy because the only professional actor in the project was Krzysztof Stroiński. Others were amateurs. It’s very hard to work with amateurs. Their main asset is a certain natural predisposition, although it can kill you in certain situations. The professional actor has the trained skills and if something goes wrong, he or she can always resort to those skills. Zbyszek took the risk of working with amateurs. That risk paid off, the effect on the film set was great; the truth that those people bring into the project is a major asset of the film.
Artists Bring in an Entirely Different Vision
You previously worked with filmmakers that are considered to be “artists” or “poets” of cinema. For example with Jerzy Skolimowski. Was that experience similar to working with Libera? Essential Killing and Walser are very similar films in terms of the narrative. In both of them there’s a protagonist from the outside, who is thrown into a certain reality and has to confront the force of nature. In both films, nature and forest are very important. Nature is both a rescue and a threat to the protagonist, a labyrinth that he roams.
A work by Adam Sikora
What was the division of work on cinematography in Walser? Relations between the director and the cinematographer can adopt different models. In the Polish film tradition, the cinematographer participates actively in the creative process, but there are also many directors who argue that the cinematographer’s role I basically limited to arranging the lighting on the set. At first, Zbyszek told me that he trusted me completely, that he was leaving the entire visual layer to me. That was his initial declaration. Then, we spent many hours talking about the way the film should look like, about its visual form. Zbyszek suggested that it should resemble an ethnographic documentary. That gave me a vision of the film. A group of researchers and reporters force their way through the jungle, they come across and observe a tribe that had never been seen before.
Did you do any screen test? Yes, we had two or three days of screen tests in the area of Jelenia Góra, where Zbyszek was practising with the non-professional actors, they were based there. Later, we went to a film set in Slovenia, and it was only on the set that the film really acquired its form in terms of cinematography. Each scene was a challenge and we were looking for the best way to respond to it. And does it really resemble an ethnographic film? Rather not. That would presuppose a distance towards the characters, watching them furtively from afar. We wanted to be close to the characters. On the one hand, we do peek – the camera observes the action from behind trees. On the other hand, we were very close to the characters, the camera focused on them. So on the one hand, the camera is very dynamic, often hand-held, and follows the characters, but on the other hand, there are also more contemplative shots that focus on nature. What carrier was the film shot on? On digital, the Alexa camera. It’s such a good digital device that on the screen it’s impossible to tell the difference between 35 mm tape. Why digital, and not tape? For many reasons. Tape is becoming less and less in use. Digital is cheaper, the question of budget was important for us. The digital carrier suited our working method perfectly: watching the characters furtively in anticipation of what would happen between them. Working with digital devices allows you to shoot freely without worrying about the limitations related to the availability of the material carrier, the negative. What was the idea like for colour in film? We knew that it would be almost entirely set in one space: a forest. So obviously green is the colour that dominates. Before we started shooting, we didn’t have any particular vision of the colour. Such practice is more and more common. The post-production process is so perfect that the colour scheme is created during colour correction. Most laboratories don’t even want interventions in colour at the shooting stage on the film set. That was also the way we worked in Walser. The only intervention on the set was the use of colour filters that slightly altered the image – they
Artists Bring in an Entirely Different Vision
softened a bit the “verismo” of the digital camera and gave a more “painterly” appeal to the environment. When the film was edited, we sat down with Zbyszek and started working on the colour. We toned it down a bit. The green is more faded, slightly saturated with azure. It was not a considerable intervention. How does it work in Polish cinema today, do directors often “leave” the image to you? It all depends on the person you work with. If you work with Lech Majewski or Jerzy Skolimowski, then it’s obvious: they have a very specific vision and your only task is to help them implement that vision. If you work with a director who finds dramaturgy, narrative and work with the actor more important than colour, then it’s clear that I’m in charge of the image. This is also the case when you work with debutants. Colour correction has been finished, are you satisfied? Is it going to be something new in Polish cinema? I wouldn’t like to jinx it. And I’ve actually seen a version without sound, while sound is extremely important for the final form of the film. Sound will broaden the image and give it a new meaning. What I’ve seen is something completely new; I haven’t seen anything like that not only in Polish cinema but also in world cinema. What will the reactions be like – I don’t know, we’ll see. But I hope that the film will find its devoted fans.
THE PLEASURE OF WORKING WITH A FILMMAKER WITH A VISION IS IRREPLACEABLE Agata Szymańska in conversation with Jakub Majmurek
Jakub Majmurek: You’ve produced films by Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal as well as the cinematographic debut of Zbigniew Libera. What inspired you to work with visual artists who make films? Agata Szymańska: After my experience with working on a TV series, I found myself on the set of a film by Lech Majewski, a director, but also an artist. I thought it was much more interesting. What was more interesting about it? Being in contact with the creative process. An encounter with a director who has an artistic vision of the entire project and the way they implement that vision. And what exactly did you do before that happened? When I was still studying film production in Katowice, I started working for the television channel TVN on one of their TV series. When I saw how that world worked, I set up my own production company. I was trying to make films myself. Those were short films at the Munk Studio, I also made one independent film (with Sławek Pstrąg, financed by the director and his partner). I didn’t apprentice for a long time in a large company, which is what many producers do. I started working on my own account very early. How did you find yourself on the set of It Looks Pretty from a Distance (Z daleka widok jest piękny)? It started in a rather banal way: I met the Sasnals through our mutual friends in Cracow. Then I was told that Anka and Wilhelm wanted to make a film. I got an offer from them. We soon grew to like each other and started to trust each other, we began the project. The preparation process was quick, much quicker than it is usually the case in film. It can happen in different projects that the initial momentum slows down when you’re looking for funding and deal with all the formalities related to financing the project.
The Pleasure of Working with a Filmmake...
What differences have you noticed between working with the Sasnals and your previous experiences? I think it wouldn’t be fair to say that artists work in a somewhat different way compared to “normal” directors. Zbyszek Libera was working on the set in a very classic way. If there’s something that makes professional filmmakers different from visual artists who make films, it’s the question of the script. Filmmakers work a lot on the script; it’s the foundation of their films. I takes years to develop the script. When they feel that the script is ready, they begin to work. I have the impression that for artists the script is just a point of departure. Were you taught at the film school that a completed script is the basis of production? I wouldn’t say that I was taught anything at the film school at all. Well, for sure dealing with the schedule. At the studies, the script was used to plan the schedule of shooting days and draw up the budget. We were learning how to do it on the example of very classic Polish scripts. Nothing interesting; unfortunately, that’s the way it was at that time. What were the differences between working on the film set with Libera and with the Sasnals? Zbyszek elaborated the script in a very detailed way. When he was writing a scene, he examined it thoroughly, for example he wanted to have designs of the props that would be used in a given scene. He arrived on the film set very well prepared. He knew what he wanted to do. We had a brilliant working plan, we knew what we were doing every day, even despite the non-existent language that the naked characters use. And the Sasnals? The most interesting thing about the Sasnals is that they find it terribly easy to make films. With them, it simply works. The two of them perform most of the functions: directing, cinematography, they write the script themselves, of course. That’s why a lot of creative space on the set extends between the two of them, the script is often arbitrary. The film production process is an intimate journey for them, so to speak. There’s something true in what they say that they make films for themselves. That’s why when I watch the first cut of Libera’s film, it doesn’t come as such a surprise as the Sasnals’ film.
How did these artists work with actors? Zbyszek devoted a lot of time to working with Krzysztof Stroiński. Before he started working on the set, he’d already had a ready role. The Sasnals had also been meeting the actors from It Looks Pretty... and Joanna Drozda from Parasite (Huba) long before they started shooting. On the set, new situations happened, and Joanna had to react to them.
In what way does their approach to film editing differ?
Agata Szymańska and Zbigniew Libera
In what way does their approach to film editing differ? They work with the same editor, Beata Walentowska. When she works with the Sasnals, she receives the footage and proposes the first version, then the directors join her. In turn, Zbyszek precisely explained to Beata how it was supposed to look like, gave her the script and told her about the deviations that occurred, what went well and what didn’t. The first version of Zbyszek’s film was edited by strictly following the script. Then we made the film shorter, some dramaturgic devices were enhanced, we turned it into a genre film. We hope that the outcome is a science-fiction thriller (laughter). What did your role as a producer look like in those projects? Did you take part in creative work or was your role more about the “logistics” of it? With the Sasnals, the creative part belonged to them. I didn’t participate in editing. They were sharing the subsequent versions with me but I didn’t intervene in those versions. I joined the
The Pleasure of Working with a Filmmake...
process after editing came to an end. The festival and distribution life of both those films was proposed by me in a certain sense. I think that we managed to succeed in this respect. In the case of It Looks Pretty... the Sasnals decided to show the film at festivals only after they finished editing; they weren’t thinking about it before. When Joasia Łapińska from the festival New Horizons liked the film and decided to show it in Wrocław, it convinced them that it’s worth showing it and set the machine going. The film won the main prize in the Polish competition of the festival. Then, it was invited to Rotterdam and to other festivals as well. There was also a modest theatrical distribution. Parasite was invited to Berlinale. In Zbyszek’s project, I and the other producer, Magda Kamińska, participated in editing. For him, we were partners in decision-making; he respected us a lot as producers. We surrounded Zbyszek with a professional crew, a fact that he fully accepted. Did Libera select the crew or was it you? It was our mutual idea to invite the cinematographer Adam Sikora to collaborate. Krzysztof Stroiński was obviously the director’s choice. The choice of the rest of the crew was largely based on our suggestions. For example, the choice of Beata Walentowska was suggested by us, but also by the cinematographer. Let’s talk about money. How do you finance such productions? Where did the funding for It Looks Pretty... come from? Both films by the Sasnals were financed in the same way. Fifty per cent of the funding came from the galleries that represent Wilhelm. In the first case, it was the Anton Kern Gallery from New York, in the second case – Sadie Coles HQ from London. The rest came from the Sasnals’ private funds. They were the producers of the films in terms of finances. What budgets were those? Similarly, around one million zlotys (around 300 000 usd). Including the post-production. Importantly, the Sasnals shoot their films on 16 mm, which is an extraordinary method today. But they have their own camera. Wilhelm always says that he needs to feel the camera in his hand, to feel that there is something that separates him from an object that he observes. The fact that they have a camera and don’t take fees significantly reduces the cost of their films. Otherwise, it would cost more than a million.
One million is about one third of the budget of an average Polish production. How did you find working in such financial conditions? A fantastic thing was that we had the money from the beginning of production. We didn’t have to wait for the funds. It was never the case that we couldn’t do something because we were waiting for the money. Such problems occurred in Zbyszek’s project. The Sasnals simply had the money in their bank account and that was extremely helpful. It is an extraordinary thing, and it seldom happens in Polish cinema. How were you raising funds for Libera’s film? It was slightly more than a million. We received 750 thousand from the Polish Film Institute (PISF) – from the Film Award and the funds at the disposal of the director Agnieszka Odorowicz. 200 thousand came from the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, and 120 thousand from the National Centre for Culture. On top of that, there were different kinds of barter: FilmDistrict with cinematographic technology, and post-production done with Orka. Now, we’re going to look further. In this project, we have a regular financial settlement, as it is the case with every film financed by the PISF. In order to launch production and keep afloat we had to take a private loan in a bank with Magda. You didn’t manage to raise funds from the art world? The art world didn’t help us. We were trying but it didn’t work out in the end. All the money came from the field of film. There are no gallery funds. Was the fact that you were applying for funds for an artist’s film an advantage or a problem for such institutions as the PISF? All the institutions that helped us were established exactly to support such projects as ours. And Zbigniew Libera is currently one of the most recognised and fashionable Polish artists. His name helped for sure. The same with Krzysztof Stroiński, whose name is very attractive for the audience. You were shooting Libera’s film in Slovenia. Why? The film had to be shot in September. And in Poland it’s too cold in September for actors to act naked. Besides, going away boosts concentration on the film set; it creates a sense of community. It was important, many actors were amateurs, Zbyszek’s friends from his hippie past. We even assumed they would live on
The Pleasure of Working with a Filmmake...
location, in the huts that they built. But it didn’t work. Zbyszek is well-known in Slovenia. We hoped to raise some funds there but there was no success. Are you happy with the way It Looks Pretty... reached the audience? The film found its audience, people talk about it, the phrase “it looks pretty from a distance” even entered common use. But still, people often asked us if the film was distributed at all. We’ve decided to distribute Parasite by ourselves. My company will deal with it. How many copies are you releasing? At first around 15, then a bit more second time around. Of course, it will be art-house cinemas. In Warsaw: Kinoteka, Kultura, Luna, Wisła, among other venues. We want to turn it into an event, approach distribution in a solid way. Do such films have an audience in Poland? Very small, around several thousand people. It’s a narrow audience. But viewers should have a choice and be able to see such a film as well. 250 thousand people watched It Looks Pretty...on TVP Kultura. This means that there is an interest in such kind of cinema. I think that those films have a different “watching cycle” from blockbusters, which attract their audience during the first weekend after the premiere. There’s a different logic to them. The audience consumes those films during two, three or even five years. The way they last is simply different. Did you release It Looks Pretty... on DVD? It was included in a New Horizons DVD box. Are you hoping that Libera’s film will manage better? Do you also want to show it at festivals? Yes, a success at festivals is an argument for viewers and distributors in Poland. Maybe we’ll succeed in convincing a bigger distributor. We will try to advertise it as a genre film. There’s Krzysztof Stroiński, there’s some nudity, maybe we’ll manage to get a few thousand viewers more. But distributors themselves say that it’s impossible to gauge the audience for a film. There have been such surprises that audience research before distribution was abandoned.
Are such films able to break even? In the case of the Sasnals, where funding is considerably easy, it’s not that important. In the case of Zbyszek’s film, where we invested our own funds with Magda, and where many institutions entered the project on the basis of a commercial partnership, we will be trying to get back as much money from the market as possible; we will fight for every zloty, for every viewer. What’s next? Are you planning another film with artists? At the moment, I’m beginning to work on two auteur films by directors who graduated from film schools: Adrian Panek and Kuba Czekaj. In cinema, people of different passions and professions became directors. I think that it’s not only the ability to communicate efficiently with people or the logistics of production that were responsible for the high profile of those who are worth our memories. I’m interested in a clear vision that a director has. My point is to be able to help the director implement that vision in the most interesting and the most appropriate way. That’s what I’m interested in, that’s the way I see my mission!
Maciej SobieszczaĹ„ski, Ĺ ukasz Ronduda
THE CINEMA OF AVANTGARDE ANXIETY Oskar Dawicki and Łukasz Ronduda in conversation with Jakub Majmurek Jakub Majmurek: In the film The Performer (Performer), which you, Łukasz, co-directed with Maciej Sobieszczański, Oskar Dawicki acts as himself. Still, I’m not sure if “acting” is the most appropriate word. Do you act as yourself, are you yourself, do you perform yourself? Oskar Dawicki: What I do has little in common with the popular understanding of acting. For sure, the moments with another actor were the most difficult; that was when I needed to “act” the most, which means to pretend (laughter). My solo fragments in the film have a lot in common with the experience of performance art. But emotions were necessary a few times – this also makes some kind of a difference. Łukasz Ronduda: Our entire film was based on the ambiguous relation between the actor and the performer, an ambiguity that is central to Oskar’s practice. In a way, our point of departure was his work The Tree of Knowledge (Drzewo wiadomości) from 2007. It looks like a scene taken out of a motion picture. It’s different from typical raw performance footage, something that Oskar did before. Because here Oskar-performer takes the role of a film character that jumps over a fence and bites at apples on an apple tree... OD: ... there’s some ersatz storyline. ŁR: In that work Oskar introduced elements of acting. That was an outline of a vision of how a film about Oskar might look like. We wanted to follow that path, the mix of acting and performance. In our film, there is also the character of Zbigniew Warpechowski, the nestor of Polish performance art. Warpechowski has always been faithful to the concept of an authentic performer. It’s someone completely different from an actor, someone who doesn’t pretend. OD: According to Warpechowski, the performer appears in front of the viewer the way he really is, his intention is to communicate the truth, he performs something and, as a result, something happens or doesn’t happen – you cannot fake it, it’s a one-off,
O. Dawicki, Ł. Ronduda
unmistakeable and sometimes sublime occurrence – there are no double takes, editing, as it is in film, there are no rehearsals. ŁR: As a result, our film concerns different concepts of performance art; Oskar’s concept, which is in a certain sense contrary to Warpechowski’s concept. Oskar wants to avoid a strong definable identity, Warpechowski – quite the opposite. It is a film about their duel. JM: How did it happen that you decided to make a film together? Who came up with the initiative? OD: Łukasz. JM: Before it happened, you wrote the book W połowie puste [Half Empty] together with Łukasz Gorczyca; in that book you also portray Oskar through fiction. Is the film a continuation of the book? ŁR: The book was just a point of departure. With Maciej Sobieszczański we developed the script in a different direction. OD: The result is quite remote from the book. LR: But our film can be considered as a continuation of the main idea: portraying Oskar through fiction. OD: Yes, it can. ŁR: We constantly followed one of the main ideas that are central to Oskar’s practice: asking about one’s own existence with the help of other people, for instance a private investigator who was hired to follow Oskar, an author who wrote an MA Thesis about Oskar for money, or a portrait painter from the Cracow market square who painted his portrait; finally, two writers, and two filmmakers. Thus, by inviting other people to collaborate in his projects, Oskar asks basic philosophical questions about existence. OD: Of course, I’m aware that today such questions can no longer be asked in a straightforward way – the way Warpechowski did it in the past. ŁR: It’s necessary to find a new formula. By making a film about Oskar, we carried out yet another portrait project in his career. The whole project, in both cases – the book and the film – was a tie-in contract. Oskar pursued his project at our expense, we pursued our project at Oskar’s expense. OD: Someone finally admitted it! (laughter)
The Performer poster for Berlinale 2015
The Cinema of Avant-garde Disquiet
JM: What was the first reaction of the Wajda School to the project? OD: The first basic question was: “What do you basically want to do?” The answer with the highest score was of course: “we want to make a film for theatrical distribution.” That was the highest-graded answer. Such answer was given and that was why we were invited. ŁR: Wojciech Marczewski believed in our project from the very beginning. He was well familiar with and valued Warpechowski’s practice. The artist contributed with set design to his films in the 1970s. They were friends. For young directors who attended the course we were curious exotic guests. OD: We developed strong bonds with them. But our interest in film did not elicit a mutual reaction from them – I don’t think they started going to the art galleries (laughter). ŁR: Our project was very different from other projects and it was definitely something refreshing, which is the reason why we managed to raise funds for production from the Polish Film Institute (PISF). Director Agnieszka Odorowicz gave us 500 000 zlotys (around 150 000 USD). The experience of attending the school was very interesting for both sides. It seemed that something extraordinary happened, something really inspiring, and it was necessary to continue with it. At the time, during our course at the School, I got the idea of the Film Award – every year, a visual artist would attend the course in film directing with their project and have basic funds for making their film (the film would be the final outcome of the process). Later, at the official level, the Museum of Modern Art, the PISF and the Wajda School established the Film Award and – when we had already completed our course – Zbigniew Libera started attending his course as the first artist who won the award. That’s how the history of the Film Award began. JM: What did you learn there? ŁR: Even though it’s called a school, the Wajda School is a place where you develop a specific project. I was initially affiliated with the School as a lecturer, I gave lectures about avant-garde film for filmmakers. For a few years. It was a good introduction to a course in directing that we attended with Oskar to translate the novel into the language of feature film. We wanted to go even The Performer – film stills
A Łukasz Gorczyca, Łukasz Ronduda, W połowie puste (Warsaw: Lampa i Iskra Boża, 2010) B Oskar Dawicki, Hangman (performed for the feature film The Performer, 2015) C Oskar Dawicki, Hangman (performed for a video presented in the exhibition Warpechowski/Dawicki atMuzeum Sztuki in Łódź, 2010) D Zbigniew Warpechowski, Prayer for Nothing, 1974 Oskar Dawicki, Little Ado about Nothing, 2010 E Oskar Dawicki, Weepers, 2011
O. Dawicki, Ł. Ronduda
deeper into the fiction. At the project development stage, in order to detach from the real Oskar, we started to create – encourage also by the people from the Wajda School – a fictitious Oskar. OD: His name was Roland Zugzwang; Mariusz Bonaszewski played that role in screen tests. ŁR: It was an attempt to translate Oskar into film, to create him by means of feature film devices. While shooting the scenes with the actor who played the role of Oskar, we were also shooting performances from the script with real Oskar. Those were Acrobat
Oskar Dawicki, Łukasz Ronduda, Maciej Sobieszczański, shooting The Perfomer, August 2012
(Akrobata) and Hangman (Wisielec), performances conceived specifically for the film. However, we also showed them at the same time as Oskar’s regular works at the exhibition Warpechowski/ Dawicki at the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź. We finally returned to real Oskar, but the experiment with Roland Zugzwang left an imprint on the motion picture. JM: Oskar, what are your memories of the experience of developing the story about yourself and what are your memories of the time you spent at the Wajda School? OD: It was an interesting encounter. I felt like a parrot among sparrows, I felt we were dogs of different breeds. At first, we were mainly sniffing each other. Later, despite the sense of my own
The Cinema of Avant-garde Disquiet
exoticism, it seemed to me that there was honest curiosity on their part. But today I’d consider it rather as a friendly misunderstanding. One way or another, at a certain point I didn’t manage to deal with that pattern of work and I started playing truant. ŁR: That was the time when we did screen tests with Bonaszewski. Oskar couldn’t make it. He withdrew, but he came back later. OD: I find it problematic to endlessly polish a lens with concentration. At a certain point, I need to defend myself against the madness of striving for perfection. I was depressed. That was why I participated in developing the subsequent versions of the script only during the several initial months. But Łukasz carried that to an end. ŁR: The experience of Oskar’s withdrawal has been included in the film. A broader audience knows Oskar rather as a merry ironist, and in the film we wanted to show his other side, a side familiar only to those who know him well. A more depressive side, hidden deftly underneath a layer of clownery. Fantasising about suicide, and so on. OD: Well, in the film I finally kill myself (laughter). JM: The entire narrative develops around that fantasy – making the work Speech Is Silver. And many of your other works were used in the film... OD: I think that the title of the film should be Speech Is Silver. The entire film is a record of creating that single work, as it is the case in the video Tree of Knowledge... ŁR: Yes, Oskar’s most important contribution to the film was his body of works. The film is a form of exhibition of those works. Performances conceived by Oskar formed an important part of the script. Our task was to combine them by means of dramaturgy and a storyline. OD: I need to add that during the shooting stage I made a number of new works when I was improvising, not only on the films set. ŁR: Those works have been included in the film, but they also function in their own right. In order to raise funds for the film, we were organising exhibitions at galleries. We shouldn’t forget about all those collateral activities. It was a completely new model of film production in Poland.
O. Dawicki, Ł. Ronduda
JM: How did the script change? I remember reading the first draft, which was much closer to a feature film: it included flashbacks, for example a scene from Oskar’s childhood – during PE class as a little boy, he refuses to wear any gym outfit and finds a glittering jacket in the backroom of a gym hall – the only attire that makes him feel good. That scene is missing from the final version of the film, which unfolds from one performance to another. Why did you change it in that direction? ŁR: Our film was created through constant negotiations. Should we include more of the storyline or less? Should we follow the direction of a performance film, a cinematic exhibition, or psychological cinema? Those permanent negotiations were very interesting. We are satisfied with the final outcome. The producer of the film Wojciech Marczewski and the editor played a very important role in this respect. OD: Of course, I’m never happy with anything. JM: I guess the final version is further from a feature film? ŁR: For sure, the shooting made me and the co-director realise that many things written in the version of the script that was closer to a feature film were simply impossible. When we finished shooting first scenes with Oskar, it became clear that we needed to abandon the script and focus on the main character. JM: What did your co-operation with the co-director look like? What was the division of work like? ŁR: From a very general perspective, I can say that our division of work resembled what the Coen brothers do – Maciej was in charge of working with actors, I was in charge of the visual side. Still, those two spheres mingled. Initially, we had a plan to send Oskar to a course for actors before starting work on the film set, but we abandoned that idea. He came to the film set as he was. The contrast between the artificiality of the actors and Oskar’s authenticity is a major element of the film. JM: Oskar, how did the crew react to you – the people who had worked in cinematography and for whom you and your behaviour must have been something new? OD: I need to admit that the entire film set experience was ecstatic. The professionals, who work on different films sets and on different films, think the same. They have a good comparison and they can admit that we managed to generate an extra
The Cinema of Avant-garde Disquiet
quantum of energy – even though our project was essentially underfinanced. JM: In the film, you co-operate with very experienced actors, Andrzej Chyra and Agata Buzek. OD: Before we started working on the film set, we managed to establish a friendly relation. We had some bottles of wine together. So when we started our work, those people weren’t complete strangers. Still, the first double takes must have been hilarious for them. JM: You are often portrayed through close-up shots, your face does the acting. That was seldom the case in your gallery films. How did you feel about it? OD: Our cinematographer, Łukasz Gutt, was a very important member of the crew. I simply had to trust him in this respect. JM: Łukasz, how did you work with the cinematographer? Was it your choice to invite Łukasz Gutt? What were your reasons? ŁR: Łukasz understands the problems that exist at the crossroads of cinema and visual arts, he hails from that area himself. His father is Wiktor Gutt, a visual artist who represents the avantgarde tradition of Oskar Hansen. His wife is Anka Niesterowicz, an artist educated in Kowalnia – the studio of Grzegorz Kowalski at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw; graduates of the studio include Artur Żmijewski and Katarzyna Kozyra. At the same time, Gutt is one of the best young cinematographers in Polish cinema. He was a perfect partner for us to work on the film. Łukasz got very involved already in working on the script. It was because of him that we decided to focus above all on the protagonist – we decided that the camera should be very subjective. That’s why we rejected many scenes that would make the narrative more objective and move us further away from the main character. That process went even further during the shooting stage. JM: The opening scene of the film, where the camera travels through an exhibition, makes me think of Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru). At the beginning of that film, the camera also roams the National Museum and stops to show Wajda’s favourite paintings. ŁR: That scene was meant to underline that what we see is a “film-exhibition.” It was one of the few scenes that stayed there from the first versions of the script right until the shooting stage.
O. Dawicki, Ł. Ronduda
JM: Oskar, didn’t you want to have a bigger influence on the visual layer of the film? OD: As Łukasz Gutt joined us already at the stage of working on the script, a stage in which I also participated, I felt that I was very close to that kind of decision-making. ŁR: Oskar works with a very specific kind of aesthetics, it is mostly conceptual, and there’s that one strong accent – the jacket. In fact, Oskar doesn’t work with aesthetics so much, his works are rather poetic installations. That was why we essentially had to invent Oskar’s aesthetics. OD: I have a rather perverse attitude to aesthetics. JM: Oskar, do you think your work on a film is something that will influence in some way your activities as an artist? Can that experience be translated into your artistic practice? OD: Certainly not in a simple way. It’s difficult to point at a certain direct link. In fact, already before The Performer I was no longer fine with situations when a friend who’s just had two beers is holding a camera borrowed from his brother-in-law and shooting my video. And I’d still like keep my standard of communication high. For sure, working on a film gave me an insight into the kind of crime that film represents. I wouldn’t be able to learn it from any book. My doubts that concern the sense of such major collective effort never leave me. JM: How would you compare the work of a film director with the work of a conceptual artist? They both employ other people to implement their own ideas. The director hires actors, and you hire a private investigator, for example. In your previous works you were also setting some kind of machine in motion. A different machine, and probably a smaller one than the machine of film. OD: The most striking aspect is the scale of that machine. From my experience, and from the experience of artists that I know and value, I can say that, contrary to filmmaking, our activities have a private dimension. It’s like a soap bubble rather than a chemical corporation. Different scales require different skills. The director has to have skills akin to those of a politician. JM: Are you able to find your own self in your cinematic portrait? Do you treat The Performer as your own work, a work that you can sign?
The Cinema of Avant-garde Disquiet
OD: I signed the work, we signed a contract before we started shooting the film. Of course, I’m never happy with anything, so this film is also not pitch-perfect. Juts another imperfect portrait. JM: Your works betray a specific sense of humour. Do you think the film shows it? It seemed very serious to me. OD: It was part of the contract that we should refrain from laughing. ŁR: We had a laugh in the book W połowie puste, as I’ve already mentioned, the film is deliberately more serious. It revolves around Oskar’s fantasies about his own death, around the project Speech Is Silver. We make it clear in the film that it’s not true Oskar, because it isn’t you, Oskar? OD: Yes, it’s not me. I know, I know (laughter). ŁR: Neither is the art world real or portrayed in a realistic way. There are archetypes: Gallery Owner, Master, Best FriendRival, Depressed Artist. Such archetypes make it easier to develop the narrative of a feature film. And performances rely on them. Our film is a hybrid of conventional cinema and the avantgarde. It’s something akin to avant-garde cinema of moral anxiety (laughter). OD: This is confirmed in the extremely ironic closing credit that suggests I died in 2014. For me it’s also a kind of a safety valve; something that allows me to say: What do you mean? I’m here, I’m alive. Otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to take part in the film. ŁR: Still, during the TV pre-release review there was one woman sitting next to Oskar who asked if the artist really killed himself. JM: Oskar, was working on a film a one-off adventure for you? OD: I think so. For sure, I won’t stop using moving images, but film? Moving images are merely one of the elements of a film. It was also an important lesson – to see what hides underneath those images, the kind of chasm that is there. Working on a film taught me to appreciate the weakness of the field of art. JM: Weakness? OD: Here, I’m able to attract honest interest with my gesture created at the hyper-human level that cannot be pre-determined, as far as it’s possible. This freedom is incomparable with cinema.
O. Dawicki, Ł. Ronduda
ŁR: Yes, compared with cinema, art appears as an enclave. The circulation of thoughts is faster too. It takes three years to make a film, and because of that you rather don’t think about other projects. In the field of art, more fragile individuals, such as Oskar, have a chance to survive. In cinema, they lose the power struggles. JM: Wouldn’t you survive in cinema? OD: Not as a director. A good director is a sweet tyrant on the lookout for a sponsor. It’s not me (laughter). JM: Who is The Performer for? What audience do you want to reach? Does it have a chance to work at cinemas? ŁR: This question is rather for you to answer as a critic. For sure, The Performer is a film that originates from a borderland. A borderland of three artistic practices. Conceptual cinema that belongs to the field of art, art-house cinema, and feature filmmaking, more conventional, the cinema of moral anxiety... At some point we were afraid that we would fall out of one field and wouldn’t manage to reach another. OD: The borderland is usually a stretch of ploughed field. I’m afraid not so many people go there for a walk. JM: Does this film give a chance to a viewer who has never heard about Oskar Dawicki, Warpechowski, who doesn’t have a clue about Polish contemporary art? ŁR: That’s what we wanted. JM: What kind of reception would like to see? Tabloids? OD: I don’t know what I would like. I don’t want a war! (laughter)
A Igor Krenz, Jacek Beler, Arkadiusz Jakubik â€“ members of the Azorro Group, shooting The Performer, August 2012 B Jakub GierszaĹ‚, Agata Buzek, Oskar Dawicki, shooting The Performer, August 2012
THE FORM DEVELOPED IN AN ORGANIC WAY Łukasz Gutt in conversation with Jakub Majmurek Jakub Majmurek: You are no stranger to the world of contemporary art. Your father is Wiktor Gutt, an important neoavant-garde artist of the 1970s, as a boy you appeared in some of his video projects. Łukasz Gutt: Yes, I’ve been familiar with the language of contemporary art since I was a child (laughter). Where did the decision to study at the film school come from? Didn’t you want to follow the steps of your father? I was designed in a way to go to the Academy of Fine Arts. As a child, I had extra classes in drawing with Anna Jarnuszkiewicz; we would meet and she would set different tasks for me. As for art theory or history, Krzysztof Jarnuszkiewicz would take me to different museums and galleries. It had a great impact on me. They both infected me with the Modernist thought that the goal of an artistic activity is always to interpret nature; that art refers above all to nature. I was just about to submit my portfolio to the Academy, but at the last moment something, some kind of intuition, stopped me. And I submitted my application to a film school, a bit against everybody. At first, there was consternation in the family, but they accepted it. Why did you choose the department of cinematography, and not directing? Did holding the camera, looking at the world through its lens seem closer to visual arts to you? I was very young and I only had a vague intuition about the way the director of photography works. That intuition told me that it’s better to have some trained skills in terms of cinematography, something that the director doesn’t have. With this knowledge, when I’m ready and if I’m ready to make a film, I’ll make it. The knowledge, the possibility of shooting, giving films a visual form was more interesting for me than dealing with the film narrative from the literary perspective. I felt more confident in the field of visuality, I photographed a lot. I even worked as a
The Form Developed in an Organic Way
photographer before I started school. I still have the feeling that one day, when I feel like doing it, I’ll sign a film as a director, but for now I’m dealing with the thing that gives me the greatest pleasure – giving films a visual form. How did you feel at the Film School? At first, I was confronted with a very academic way of thinking about film. But I was lucky enough to encounter such professors as Bogdan Dziworski, who is a cinema artist and has a very open mind. He significantly broadened my visual sensitivity. Did you know Dziworski’s works before? I knew his works, he fascinated me. What was he like as a lecturer? He’s hermetic and open at the same time. It’s difficult for a student to reach him as a master, but on the other hand, he gives you a lot. He worked with us mainly on formal tasks, based on photography, but they were significant eye openers also in the sphere of film. They were often based on the most basic problems – the play of formal solids. That course was at a high level of abstraction. What did the academism of the rest of the school consist in? Those were such typical school ideas. Schematic topics of etudes suggested to us by the professors. Thinking about the work of the cinematographer in terms of “the effects”: “the night effect”, “the dawn effect”, and so on. Being schematic was convenient for them, because later it was the easiest to verify, to evaluate, to grade. I wasn’t that interested, I did my own things, at least to the extent that I was allowed to. Łukasz Ronduda argues that in terms of visuality cinema still uses the language of painting prior to Impressionism, such categories as composition, chiaroscuro, and so on, whereas contemporary art considers the image in completely different categories. Would you agree? Cinema is a much younger medium than art; the road it has roamed is shorter. And yes, it’s often stuck in academic aestheticism. I didn’t have a problem with that, but it also never appealed to me in cinema. What did? The language, the universal alphabet of cinema. It needs no words to build meanings, emotions, reactions of the audience at
a very broad level. Maybe that was the reason why it was Lenin’s favourite medium – because of its broad reach. Each and every time, this language builds the world of a given motion picture, which simply needs to prove its worth. It doesn’t matter if it’s surreal or realistic. That is why cinema does not simply repeat the aesthetics of classic painting.
In Poland, cinema is often regarded as a “literature-related art”, as it was called already by Ingarden. Did you also have the impression that the directors you work with treat cinema this way? That’s what they learn at school. First they need to learn to create literary structures that translate into dramaturgy, psychology. But it’s all very individual. I’m currently working on a film with Filip Bajon, who has a great knowledge in the field of literature, but on the other hand, he is also very conscious about form. He doesn’t think in terms of psychological or dramaturgic continuity and, paradoxically, that’s why he’s not that far-removed from the intersection of cinema and visual arts –the area we’re talking about. You finish school, you enter the market. What is your experience of working in the industry? Do you have the impression that it gives you a possibility to co-create the image in film, or are you treated rather as a worker for hire, the one who “arranges the lighting” on the film set?
The Form Developed in an Organic Way
It all depends on the person you work with. I have particularly good memories from working with Leszek Dawid. I made my debut in his film Ki and I was a cinematographer in You Are God (Jesteś bogiem). With Leszek, I have a feeling that we can sense each other’s intentions without words. I like it a lot when a director allows me to be driven by my intuition in film. Leszek gives me this kind of freedom. In Ki you’re also mentioned in the credits under “script collaboration”. In the best days of Polish cinema, the cinematographer worked very intensively on the final shape of the film. It was a team work. Do you have a sense of that team work today? Or are films rather divided by tasks: X writes, Y directs, Z operates the camera, and so on? I have the feeling that directors use my potential as much as they can, not only as a cinematographer. And that’s right. I value the Polish tradition where the cinematographer has a strong presence in the creation of the world on the screen, also by interpreting the text of the script. I started to appreciate it fully when I began to work in England. The cinematographer is a strictly functional role there and has a mainly professional job to do. So my Polish background was something unusual, but also an asset. The director of the series I worked on, The Tunnel, allowed me to participate in the work on the text, he greatly valued my experience in this respect. We spent some evenings over the script and a bottle of wine. Do you have the impression that Polish cinema is open to the image, to experiments with the image? Again, everything depends on a specific case. Some films are more task-based, more professional, others pose a mental challenge. You shoot both documentary and feature films. Do you think differently about cinematography in a documentary and in a feature film? I rather don’t shoot documentaries anymore, unfortunately. I made the last one with Paweł Ferdek, in Kyrgyzstan. Our visions clashed there: Paweł wanted to follow a much more publicistic path than me, and I wanted a film that would be more abstract and formal. I have always had a principle in documentary films: if I can do something in a single take, I do it. It is more truthful and better this way.
You reject editing? A bit. Editing entails a certain manipulation, while a single take creates the quality of documentary truth. I often didn’t succeed, but I was always trying. It’s different in feature film, it’s pure creation. Which of your films are you most satisfied with as a cinematographer? I’m always dissatisfied after my films. When I finish a film, I dislike it very much, I dislike the decisions I made. I only get used to it with time. For sure I like Ki, my debut. In terms of the cinematographic profession, I managed to show a number of interesting things in Jan Kidawa-Błoński’s film In Hiding (W ukryciu), and in the series The Tunnel, which I was shooting in England. With the director, we were playing with the convention of a crime story. Working with a genre film was something new for me. The avant-garde tradition that you originate from was based on the ideals of the Open Form of the Hansens, where artistic practice was regarded as a democratic non-verbal communication. Can cinema, as an industrially organised form, be opened in the same way? Certainly not on a large scale. Cinema has it own functionality, which makes its universal character possible, but for sure it happens at the expense of openness. This opening may happen in auteur cinema, but in commercial cinema focused on box office success – I doubt it. Being a professional cinematographer, you’re also active in the field of art. Yes, together with my partner, Anka Niesterowicz, I made – a bit like a cinematographer for hire – a video work Disgrace (Hańba). That’s how we met, we became a couple, we’ve done several projects together. That meeting opened my eyes again to the world of visual arts. Together, you also made Minstrel Show, a work that relies heavily on cinematic devices: crane shots, panoramic vistas, chiaroscuro. The project is even conspicuously cinematic for a gallery work. Exactly, this is a cinematic form. It’s still not enough for filmmakers. They need some dramaturgy, psychology, something more. For them it’s rather flat. With Anka, we very consciously decided that the form would be very cinematic, but the content
The Form Developed in an Organic Way
would be very conceptual. The language of film puts you in a certain mood, but it has a conceptual dimension at the same time, it does not rely on dramaturgy taken from film. The film refers to the tradition of minstrel shows, where white actors sing with their faces painted black, like in old American cinema. It is set in a philharmonic concert hall – a fact that’s very important for us. In this work concept precedes the form, it carries and determines the form. And eventually you find yourself in The Performer (Performer), at the crossroads of cinema and visual arts. Polish cinema entered that crossroads for the first time in the 1970s owing to the Workshop of the Film Form, such figures as already mentioned Dziworski, or Grzegorz Królikiewicz. Did you bear that tradition in mind when you were starting your work on The Performer? The times are different nowadays. Back then, films were made in different conditions. The worlds of cinema and art were closer to each other. Today, they have become very distant. On the way, Polish cinema went through the period of the 90s and the system-related confusion of that time. Only now is it trying to open, to look for ways to go beyond conventional schemes. Łukasz has told me about The Performer that it explores a virgin territory given the absence of art-house cinema in Poland – because on the one hand there’s narrative cinema, while on the other, there’s conceptual school. Do you also think that there used to be no middle ground before? For me, an example of such encounter is Marcin Koszałka. I don’t know to what extent it is his conscious decision, but some of his documentaries betray a very conceptual character, and they gravitate towards the things that contemporary art does. Those encounters are impromptu, somewhere on the margin. I don’t know if it’s possible to design such an encounter. In The Performer it is programmed top-down, but it also began from a meeting between three people: the artist Oskar Dawicki, the curator Łukasz Ronduda and the scholar, and now practitioner, of film Maciej Sobieszczański. What was your share as a cinematographer? Did you work already at the stage of developing the script? We spent quite a lot of time together working on the script, it changed a lot over time. At first, it was not clear if Oskar would
A B C D
ﾅ「kasz Gutt, 1983 Leszek Dawid, Ki, film still ﾅ「kasz Gutt, Anna Niesterowicz, Minstrel Show, 2009 National Museum in Warsaw, shooting the film The Performer, 2012
play the role of Oskar. I was very much for this solution because I was convinced that he would bring in the truth, regardless of what we write in the script. How did you find working with two directors? For sure it was something new. Trusting the director is always essential when working on a film. I was also the one with the most experience among us. Łukasz came from the art world and that area was his source of expertise. I was deeply convinced that I needed to follow Oskar with my camera. To make my camera correspond to him. To amplify his gestures. I wasn’t thinking about a scene but about the position of the camera in relation to Oskar; how to make the camera empathic to him. Where did you look for visual inspirations for this film? For a long time, I didn’t have an idea about the cinematography for this film, the text wouldn’t guide me in any way. What guided me were only rehearsals with Oskar, meetings with him. The form developed in a very organic way. I showed the directors different films that made use of the devices that I also wanted to use, even though those were not my inspirations. The Wrestler, Animal Kingdom. I was looking for certain tricks there, but I also wanted the entire thing to have a certain naturalistic quality. Like in Nan Golding’s photos: if something is beautiful, aesthetic, it is so because the nature she portrays looks like that. How do you think the Polish film milieu will react to Performer? Won’t it fall on deaf ears? I don’t have distance to my films and I can’t tell you whether the film milieu will accept it or not. Will they like it? I don’t know, I don’t calculate that way.
THE EXHIBITION AS A FILM Łukasz Ronduda
A range of art projects in the history of Polish art that are situated at the crossroads of art and cinema can be described as exhibitions in the form of the feature films. Not merely regular documentations of existing artefacts, they combine works by means of a storyline, emotions and empathy. Examples of such projects include some of the works by Władysław Starewicz, Andrzej Wróblewski, Zbigniew Warpechowski and Helena Włodarczyk. I would like to share a couple of performative projects curated by myself that can be described as exhibitions in the form of films. These exhibitions-films, Cameo and Cinematographic Projection/ Film Screening (Projekcja kinematograficzna/Seans kinowy), can be considered as the genealogy of the feature film The Performer (Performer). A pioneer of such projects was Władysław Starewicz, who combined around 1912 his two greatest passions: collecting insects and filmmaking. Starewicz created a range of works at the crossroads of entomology and cinema, science and art. He built showcases with dried insect specimens and, at the same time, made animated films starring the insects themselves. The artist gave his scientific exhibits a film storyline, he animated the insects, which had originally been used for the needs of research, and showed their fantastic adventures. Starewicz’s late retrospective exhibitions highlight this combination of two activities. Another landmark in the history of exhibitions in the form of the feature films is Andrzej Wróblewski’s project Waiting Room (Poczekalnia). The artist conceived the work at the turn of 1956, but never managed to complete it. His idea was to make a retrospective show in the form of a feature motion picture. The project seems to gather the essential problems that the artist dealt with in his practice. The dramaturgy of this film is based on a journey through the artist’s paintings, or rather moving image versions of his paintings. As a result, the experience of the film resembles the experience of an exhibition. The only exception is that we experience the film versions and not the paintings themselves, and that the links between them are determined by dramaturgy in a way that is characteristic of a motion picture – by means of the adventures
of the protagonists and their emotions – and not by means of space and discourse, as it is usually the case with the exhibition. Very interesting examples of exhibitions created in the context of feature films include some of the works by Zbigniew Warpechowski. The entire film Constant Complaints (Wieczne pretensje) by Grzegorz Królikiewicz is filled with Warpechowski’s artistic installations. These works retain significant autonomy, they amplify and comment in various ways on the emotional narrative of the film. In turn, in her film Trace (Ślad) Helena Włodarczyk turns the sculptures of Alina Szapocznikow into living creatures and builds a storyline about their adventures during a stroll in the city. I made my first exhibition-film – Cameo – in 2009. The work premiered at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. In the cinematographic jargon, a “cameo role” is a brief – usually several seconds long – appearance of a famous person in a feature film. For a number of years, I was gathering fragments of films in which Polish artists, mostly representatives of the avant-garde, appeared in supporting or bit-part roles in professional film productions. Most of the films were not exactly brilliant, and the participating artists were not widely known. I considered those appearances as a specific kind of performance. In those performances, the artists (as actors) were seducing the viewers, entertaining them with dialogues, anecdotes, expressive acting, empathy, etc. – everything that they despised in their regular artistic activity. In turn, in the field of art – a field devoid of these cinematic qualities – they tried to oppose the world that cinema generated. Seeing Edward Krasiński’s role of an old photographer-sex maniac, or Tadeusz Kantor as a young artist who criticises two elderly ladies who offer miraculous wellingtons for visual artists – wellingtons that make travelling in time and space possible, was a source of rather perverse pleasure for a researcher of avant-garde art. I also derived perverse pleasure from watching similar appearances by Zbigniew Warpechowski (an erratic tenant), Józef Robakowski (a toxic father), Paweł Kwiek (a commander in the January Uprising, or an orthodox Jew), Wojciech Bruszewski (a soldier), Krzysztof Bednarski, Janicki Brothers, and others. The exhibition can be viewed at vimeo.com/23791366 On the one hand, the exhibition was an attempt to reflect on the roles played on a daily basis – to blur the rules of affiliation
Exhibition as Film
that define and constrain art and curatorial practice. On the other hand – the project portrayed the usual situation of artists in a negative image, as it were, and thus became a sort of denunciation of their open collaboration with the enemy. The artists did not tend to boast about their appearances and were not enthusiastic about my project. Nevertheless, Cameo, as a found footage film made of fragments of productions mainly from Polish film studios – and with copyright in the hands of those studios – was a project that made it possible to produce an exhibition without making it necessary to collaborate with the artists. From the curator’s point of view, an exhibition as a statement on art or artists that does not require collaboration with the artists was a particularly interesting experience. I considered the project as an occasion to unwind and let off steam after many tiresome collaborations with difficult artists – the kind of artists I had apparently been inclined to throughout my curatorial practice. However, I need to underline that the division of roles in Cameo was the same. As a curator, I was working with film documentations of artists’ performances. The next step was to combine short documentations within an exhibition – a show that was not held in a gallery space but in a found footage film. Interestingly, after the screening of Cameo at the CCA, and later at galleries in London and New York, the artists who participated in this special group show started to add it to their CVs. I would like to mention the screening of the exhibition-film Cameo at New York’s gallery Triple Candie. The venue specialises in the so-called curatorial performance. It was a very interesting experience for me as a curator. The founders of the gallery invited my exhibition-film because it fitted in with their programme of Art-less Exhibitions. The programme concerned exhibitions that made curatorial statements on art but did not feature art. Active in New York’s Harlem and responding to the needs of the local community, the gallery Triple Candie gained renown for David Hammons’ exhibition (David Hammons: The Unauthorised Retrospective) of copies and prints of works displayed without the artist’s consent. The reason for this curatorial appropriation was the frustration caused by the lack of possibility to organise Hammons’ exhibition in Harlem – the area where he came from – after the artist had become a star of the art world. The goal of the show was to activate the local community, whose members
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A 28 – 6 C 2.0 09 2
1. Tadeusz Kantor 2. Paweł Kwiek 3. Paweł Kwiek 4. Józef Robakowski 5. Jan Świdziński 6. Krzysztof Bednarski 7. Akademia Ruchu 8. Wojciech Bruszewski 9. Krzysztof Bednarski 10. Piotr Uklański 11. Krzysztof Bednarski 12. Zbigniew Warpechowski 13. Józef Robakowski 14. Zuzanna Janin 15. Krzysztof Bednarski 16. Wacław i Lesław Janiccy 17. Jarosław Fliciński 18. Edward Krasiński
did not visit museums or galleries in Manhattan. David Hammons did not sue the gallery but neither was he enthusiastic about the situation. Maurizio Cattelan showed more sense of humour. He was delighted with his retrospective show at Triple Candie that comprised reconstructions of his works. The artist also arranged for the exhibition to be purchased by his collector Dakis Joannou, a transaction that contributed significantly to the budget of the non-commercial gallery. The second exhibition-film that I would like to discuss here is Cinematographic Projection/Film Screening, curated by myself and Michał Woliński in 2008. Generally speaking, it was an attempt to reconstruct a typical film screening combined of separate elements characteristic of the conventional cinema screening. The point was to build a whole made of individual films created by different artists at different times and in different places. The goal was a mimetic re-enactment of all the elements of the cinema screening. What are these elements? When we go to the cinema, we first see film trailers, later (of course not in digital cinemas) we see the film countdown timer, then the logo of the film studio, and later the actual film, followed by “The End” and the closing credits. With Michał Woliński, we reconstructed all these elements by means of short experimental films made by Polish artists. We began with Paweł Althamer’s trailer (Real Time Movie, 2008) of a film with Peter Fonda. The film countdown timer was shown as Paweł Kwiek’s film Numbers (Numerki) from 1974, followed by the logos of film studios – in Maurycy Gomulicki’s and Illian Gonzales’ Mystic Dramatic Corporative, a found footage work made entirely of such logos. When the time came for the actual film, the lights in the cinema hall went on and the artist Zbigniew Libera appeared in front of the audience to re-enact Paweł Kwiek’s spoken film project from 1972, Commentary (Komentarz). “The End” appeared as Robert Szczerbowski’s film The End (Koniec) from 2008, which features nothing but the eponymous inscription. The screening finished with credits shown as Oskar Dawicki’s Tribute to All People of Film (W hołdzie wszystkim ludziom filmu), a film that consists of an endless sequence of credits from different films. Cinematographic Projection results from the reflection that the job of a curator has to do mainly with artists’ films that are usually shown from the beginning to the end. This is the basic difference between curators and artists. The latter make a more
Exhibition as Film
frequent use of the found footage technique and work with fragments of films. Artists are allowed to do more. Curators show artists’ films from the start to the end and they can merely situate them within their concept of an exhibition or a screening. In the exhibition, artists’ film works build a relation with other works on display. In the film screening, they build a relation with other films that are shown in a sequence, one after another. The goal of Cinematographic Projection was to use artists’ moving image in order to create a new organic whole. Akin to artists, who work with fragments of films and use them to create a new quality, the curators of Cinematographic Projection worked with entire artists’ films (like regular curators) and used them as fragments of a new organic whole. An important fact for the curators was that the coherence of the new whole was not articulated through a curatorial text (at least not only through a curatorial text), but the entire screening became a new whole in terms of form, a separate film. I would refer to such formal curatorial projects as mimetic. We can easily imagine such projects also in the exhibition format. Artist’s individual works could be used to create a certain mimetic whole. For example, a house – with Monika Sosnowska’s door handle, light from Michał Budny’s window, and so on – an entire house could be built and furnished. Let us return to the central element of Cinematographic Projection – Zbigniew Libera’s performance. When the actual film was to be screened, the artist appeared in front of the audience and performed Paweł Kwiek’s Commentary. Libera’s performance gave rise to yet another exhibition-film. It was described in the novel W połowie puste [Half empty]. Libera re-created a radically textual film, without film stock and screening. A film that existed only in the form of a textual commentary. Paweł Kwiek, the artist whose action Libera re-enacted, performed in front of the audience and improvised a story that served as the storyline. The performance was set in a screening room with the lights on. The story was a combination of motifs and clichés from mainstream cinematography. Kwiek’s goal was to trigger the mechanism of ‘mental’ projection (in order to make the viewers’ imagination visualise the text). Kwiek, akin to other members of the Workshop of the Film Form, rejected the cinema based on literature and asked provocatively: why should we bother to make a film if it can be told? The Workshop, alongside the Polish new wave
Cinematographic Projection: 1. Paweł Althamer, Real Time Movie, 2008 2. Paweł Kwiek, Numbers, 1974 3. Maurycy Gomulicki and Ilian Gonzales, Mystic Dramatic Corporative, 2004 4. Zbigniew Libera, re-enactment of Paweł Kwiek’s spoken film Commentary from 1972 5. Robert Szczerbowski, The End, 2008 6. Oskar Dawicki, Tribute to All People of Film, 2006
Permanent objections, 1974, directed by Grzegorz Kr贸likiewicz, set design: Zbigniew Warpechowski
directors Grzegorz Królikiewicz and Andrzej Żuławski, accused the Polish cinema of the 1970s of neglecting the film form and excessive subordination of the image to the storyline (according to Żuławski, the Polish movement of “the cinema of moral anxiety” was much closer to radio than to cinematography). What is more, in Commentary Kwiek radically rejected cinematographic communication mediated through film in favour of direct communication with the viewer. In this context, Libera’s performance within Cinematographic Projection was an attempt to bring back to life conceptual spoken films – works that triggered mental projections in the viewer’s imagination. The artists who made such films in Poland in the 1970s were Paweł Kwiek, Jan Świdziński, Ewa Zarzycka, and Andrzej Dłużniewski. The tradition of spoken films dates back to the first Modernist avant-garde, especially its Dadaist-Surrealist branch. Representatives of the genre included the Hypnist group from Belgrade and their radio-cinematographic poems as well as Futurist poets who considered writing as a form of cinematographic practice. As I have mentioned above, in the novel W połowie puste, written alongside Łukasz Gorczyca, we organised a presentation/ exhibition of conceptual spoken films by Polish artists. Following their intention, we wanted the films to appear in the reader’s imagination. A passage from the novel reads: The screening Conceptual Spoken Films – Mental Projections was inaugurated by Paweł Kwiek. The artist presented his classic cinematographic performance Commentary from 1972. He appeared in front of the audience to introduce his own film about a girl, a guy and the obstacles they had to face on their way to love. “The guy’s parents are against the relationship, and the holidays are coming to an end” – Kwiek continued the story. Despite the lack of an actual projection, after a couple of minutes we realised that there was something in the room that could be considered as a specific kind of viewing. We realised that we ourselves were the creators of the images in our imagination – the images that Kwiek’s words triggered. The artist launched that mechanism by means of communication that was clichéd to the point of boredom, as if taken from a romantic comedy. At the same time, Kwiek compelled us to build a distance as he often laid
Exhibition as Film
bare the naive style of his narrative. Somewhere between the piled layers of naivety, our consent to this naivety, building distance and then throwing ourselves anew into the imagined situations, we started to wonder – through alternate bursts of laughter and moments of seriousness – what the essence of commercial cinema was. Indeed, commercial cinema attacked us with the same clichés as those that Kwiek activated on purpose in his project – and it degraded culture in the same way, except for the fact that commercial cinema did it seriously... Kwiek’s screening posed the riskiest question: what should a film be and what should it not be? Kwiek’s performance was followed by Andrzej Dłużniewski, another veteran of conceptual art, who presented a spoken film project that was similar in form but carried a different message – Sentences about Numbers, People and Space (Zdania o liczbach, ludziach i przestrzeni) from 1975. At the beginning, he stated that the mental projection began by Kwiek was still going on, but it was entering a new and a more essentialist dimension. Kwiek’s slogans helped us realise to what extent we were filled with tacky images that circulated in our visual culture, whereas Dłużniewski’s project was to demonstrate the real power of our imagination, able to contradict the culture of the spectacle. Pointing at the empty, barely visible screen in the cinema hall, the artist slowly began: “A pale grey screen. A little man is balancing. A grey silhouette slightly darker than the space enclosed by the screen. He walks around, disappears from the screen, leans forward, moves back. The range of his movements is larger than the screen. He’s moving with horizontal, slanted, vertical movements, upside down or to the side. He walks around. He revolves. Upside down, he’s drawing a horizontal line, the line is grey, slightly darker than the background. It’s low, close to the bottom edge of the screen and all along it. And then he falls down. He stands up and disappears alternately to the left and to the right side of the screen...” Dłużniewski continued his psychoactive film story for about twenty minutes. He wanted the mental projection that developed in the viewers’ imagination to become an ideally dematerialised conceptual work of art. A work that became the purest idea – “the bare
Oskar Dawickiâ€™s performance after the screening of The Performer at Berlinale 2015 in the Forum Expanded section. At Berlinale 2015, The Performer was awarded the Think: Film Award for a refreshing fusion of feature film and performance art. Photo by Robert Jaworski
Oskar Dawicki, Broken Movie, 2010. Poster of Dawicki’s spoken film presented during the review Conceptual Spoken Films. Presented in the novel W połowie puste, the review comprised the following films: 1. Paweł Kwiek, Commentary, 1972 2. Andrzej Dłużniewski, Sentences about Numbers, People and Space, 1975 3. Oskar Dawicki, Broken Movie, 2010 4. Jan Świdziński, Film/Non-Film. From the Logic of Incomplete Realities, 1975
The poster was presented for the first time in 2012 at the BWA Avant-garde in Wrocław within the exhibition Broken Movie. Cinematic Moments in Contemporary Art, curated by Łukasz Gorczyca. The exhibition featured also the review of Conceptual Spoken Films in an audio version.
Łukasz Ronduda life of art” – only when it is free from the intention of the creator, while it still has not been imagined and consumed by the viewers. Immediately after the last images from Dłużniewski’s film triggered by the passage: “A sphere whose radius is of whatever length and whose inner surface is an ideal mirror”, the next performer, Oskar Dawicki, was brought onto the stage. His film performance was titled Broken Movie (Zerwany film – in Polish this expression refers both to destroyed film stock and, idiomatically, to booze blackout – translator’s note) and it was a kind of modern-day continuation of the older conceptual projects from the 1970s. Wearing his trademark brocade jacket, the artist was completely drunk ... With an unconscious and arrogant voice, a result of alcohol consumption, he started to slowly read out a text from a paper: “Good, good morning ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to tell you, tell you my latest broken movie, broken movie.” ... After Dawicki, Jan Świdziński went on stage, who wanted to present his work Film/Non-Film. From the Logic of Incomplete Realities (Film/ Nie film. Z logik niekompletnych rzeczywistości) from 1975. The artist began his presentation in a witty way: “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise for technical difficulties. After an interruption caused by a broken movie we’re returning to our mental projection.” Later, he pointed at the empty screen and continued, asking viewers to re-launch their imagination: “Look, this is a work of art – it’s a photograph – there’s landscape, there’s earth, there are trees, there’s the sky – this is earth, these are trees, this is the sky, this is a work of art – this is a photograph. Then, he gradually limited his narrative in order to conclude with a simple statement: “empty screen, empty screen,” which was the only statement that corresponded to the real experience of the viewers. Contrary to Dłużniewski, Świdziński reminded the viewers that there was no essence and the world is a result of a language game, a result of naming things, it is a reality whose authenticity can be verified only if we experience it ourselves. Świdziński continued waking people up from the mental film projection, pointing at specific points and events in the hall that existed in reality: “empty screen, empty screen, an old artist who’s
Exhibition as Film
saying something to the microphone, brighter and brighter, the lights are brighter and brighter, people are standing up, slamming chairs, people are leaving... All these projects at the crossroads of exhibition and film provide the context for the full-length feature film The Perfomer (codirector: Maciej Sobieszczański). The point of departure for the scenario was the novel W połowie puste, written by myself and Łukasz Gorczyca, devoted to the life and work of Oskar Dawicki. The film about Oskar was a natural effect of the reflection on his performative strategy. Our goal was to create a film-exhibition. Oskar’s individual performances, which blur the borders between acting and performance art, are the basis of the storyline and drive the action, build emotions, determine the dramaturgy of the motion picture. Generally, in our vision, a sequence of Oskar’s performances, shown one after another, shapes the film. In the exhibition space, we also usually deal with a sequence of individual works, but the works are combined by means of the spatial narrative of the show and by discourse (in a curatorial text). In the film The Performer, the works featured in a sequence are combined by means of dramaturgy, the storyline and emotions – the basic devices of feature film. Nevertheless, this is still an exhibition, even if it operates with different means.
Exhibition of graves made by artists for themselves that was supposed to be held at a cemetery as one of the scenes in the film The Performer. Eventually, the scene was not included in the film.
A Aneta Grzeszykowska, Toothed Aneta 1981, 2012, wool, wooden structure, filling â€“ interfacing, stool, deciduous teeth B Wilhelm Sasnal, Grave design, 2012, pencil drawing C Zbigniew Libera, Grave Design, 2012, pencil and chalk drawing
D Aneta Grzeszykowska, Hourglass, 2012, photographic print, acrylic paint E Zbigniew rogalski, Sea, 2012, lightbox F Oskar Dawicki, In the Grave with Stuntmen, 2012, felt-tip pen drawing on paper
THE HUMAN BEING IS A CLUSTER OF PARTICLES FOR ME Norman Leto in conversation with Łukasz Ronduda
Łukasz Ronduda: Let’s begin with Sailor – your first film. You made it in a very “solitary” mode of production and narrative. You’re in charge of everything: from computer simulations, which form 80 per cent of the film, to scenes with actors, to the storyline and the script. You also deal with production and distribution. Why did you insist on doing everything on your own? This model is different from collective film production. Norman Leto: The reason was my innocence. I didn’t know what the Polish Film Institute (PISF) was, I had never been to any film festival, I didn’t know anybody from that milieu except for one person. I was writing a book and I wanted to make as intimate a film as possible. Actually, I can see today that it wouldn’t have any chances in the standard procedure of the PISF – producer – distribution. There are too many things there that don’t meet certain standards required by the committee of the Institute. One way or another, it was not a problem at that time, I was simply living in Warsaw, alone in a flat in Nowoursynowska St., just after moving in from Cracow and I was making my film whenever I could. It was the winter of 2009, there were few friends around or occasions to go out. So in the morning I would do some writing for the book, and in the evening I would be making the film on the basis of what I wrote in the morning. I wasn’t thinking about what would happen with the film, I wasn’t thinking about distribution. Because there was no bureaucracy, no interventions from other people, I managed to make the film in six months. And it paid off, financially and otherwise – some doors opened for me that previously stayed closed. A friend of mine, the director Michał Marczak encouraged me to show the film at one of the festivals. I chose the festival Era New Horizons (today T-Mobile). And it slowly started to resonate. How did you come up with the idea to make a feature-length film that would function in the context of film festivals, rather than in the contemporary art environment?
I simply grew tired of doing petty stuff. You receive invitations to smaller exhibitions all the time, contemporary art festivals take place all the time. From a broader perspective, it doesn’t mean anything. Given such spate of exhibitions, I reached a conclusion that it’s better to release something less frequently, but something that’s bigger. A novel or a feature film, instead of petty works. All that’s left after such works are dusty catalogues. I concluded that you cannot write epigrams or short poems all your life. You need to confront something bigger. Something more lasting. Yes, definitely. A film requires more time, more work, but it’s also something that lasts. And it’s also more contagious, catchy. For example, the agency of books has recently been on the decline, unfortunately. And cinema is vital. People still like to go to the cinema. That’s where they sometimes look for role-models. It’s still a kind of intimate experience. Confinement in that dark hall. Forgetting about the outside world. Deprivation. That’s also something that exhibitions don’t offer, I’m never able to isolate the viewer to the same extent as at the cinema. At the cinema, you can force different things into the viewer’s mind and check what happens later. With a laboratory-like precision. It’s because of that darkness and soft walls. So what do you think about the environment of new computerbased media, social media? You have a reputation as a very competent artist in terms of new technologies, but you keep returning to cinema. Why? I choose the things that have the strongest agency, and even if you take into account the latest technologies, it’s still cinema that has the strongest agency. Of course, theoretically, I could make a computer game. But that’s even more expensive and even less flexible than cinema. For sure, I’m not interested in working in the context of social media, net-art – that’s also petty stuff. It leaves little room for what you might call introspection, and in cinema you can still do it. I use new media only as a tool. For me, 3D Studio or niche plug-ins are something like an instrument for a musician. But, as I’ve already mentioned, one of the main reasons to shoot the film and write the book was my willingness to isolate the viewer from the surrounding world – from that constant distraction that occurs when you take something in.
The Human Being Is a Cluster of Particles for Me
There are a lot of things at an exhibition that are redundant, there’s a lot of noise. That’s why I stopped going to exhibitions. The distraction during an exhibitions, and what’s worse – the impotence of many artistic gestures afterwards. For instance, there’s nothing left after performances. What remains is gossip, a review
in “Obieg” or in “Dwutygodnik.” Given the current spate... Maybe in the Middle Ages gossip could be kept alive in a village for a long time and have an authentic causative impact on people. Today, it’s just little more than background noise. Only larger and more lasting things can be noticed. Things that you can return to. There are of course artists that work with the present moment, their ideology is to do one thing and that’s it. If that’s the concept of a work, then all right. There are also artists like Robert Kuśmirowski, who admitted yesterday that he’d done 34 exhibitions this year. It’s interesting, but he seems to infect people by splashing things on them, infect them with an averaged image of himself. Following that rather awkward analogy, in my case it’s rather a syringe with w needle, which is supposed to inject something into the viewer, individually. Such activities lie in my nature. Feature filmmaking required you to abandon the media from the field of contemporary art – less narrative, with a scarce storyline, less
emotional-empathic. You created Sailor taking care to hold the viewer’s attention throughout the 90 minutes of the film, to make him or her identify with the character. Here, you enter into the field of knowledge related to... ...film structure. Where do you get this knowledge from? Mainly from watching other films. If you’re asking if building a storyline is difficult for me – it is, but not in formal or production-related terms. What’s difficult for me is that there’s that tacit but iron rule: you need a human factor to make a film really attractive. And I don’t like human affairs. More than in human emotions, I’m interested in the mechanism that generates them. And cinema needs to concern human problems. The entire industry, including competitions, is oriented to that. Other points of view are ignored. Anthropocentrism is the biggest difficulty for me because I find it the least interesting. Let’s look at film posters – 90 per cent of them show a human figure. Unfortunately, people are gregarious, they want to listen about stories of other people. And I’m not interested in the family drama of a man who suffers from pancreatic cancer, because there are too many films that tell such stories. I’m interested in the mechanism that is responsible for such massacre in his body – and the impact on the brain. The owner of the brain is the last thing that interests me. It’s a different kind of interest, you can also call it anthropocentric, but it’s a bit shifted. Hypochondriac? I don’t know. One way or another, such films are too scarce. Medical literature shouldn’t be the only medium that is able to portray the phenomena that occur inside the body. They also trigger emotions. In my case, at least. But you know that in order to express that other point, you need to translate it through the human being. And that’s what I find difficult – that I need to do it, after all, to make it more viewer-friendly. Maybe it’s good to the extent that when you make a film about how the brain works, and therefore about the phenomena related to inanimate matter, there is an unplanned side effect in the form of metaphysics, mystery. I’m working on Photon now, and I can see in some scenes that purely technological visualisation of quantum phenomena still emanate that black void, that mystery of everything. You cannot escape metaphysics or humanity, even when you use the coldest possible language.
The Human Being Is a Cluster of Particles for Me
But returning to the structure of the storyline: as I’ve mentioned, I watch many films, I talk to people who do it professionally, I read different scripts. Of course there is a dominant tendency – three acts and so on, things that trace back to ancient literary conventions. Those tricks are still said to affect the viewer. I treat it a bit more freely because I’m looking for new solutions, but at the same time I try not to deceive the viewer. This means... I give them that foothold in the form of a sketchy storyline or a purely cinematic form. 24 frames, film stock, specific editing procedures. In a certain way, this manoeuvre is deceitful: the point is to attract viewers to the cinema. To encourage them to come by making them think it’s a regular film, shot entirely with a camera, with no visualisations. And only at the cinema does it turn out that 40 per cent of the film are visualisations of what is happening in the viewer’s own head. But they’ve already paid for the ticket. This is the best way to do it, by surprise. Of course, a few people will leave, especially those who like cinema but don’t go to film festivals. But those who stay are usually surprised that they managed to connect with the character even though the form is less conventional. In both films, the viewer is guided by a narrator’s voice-over. It’s a peculiar figure that engages the viewer in an irritating way, contrary to common rules. To what extent is the narrator yourself, and to what extent is it constructed? Let’s begin with the fact that I first wrote the novel Sailor, which is the basis of the film. I wrote a book to make a film in a better way, to have a chance to know that character better. Books afford the most profound kind of introspection. And the cheapest. All you need is a pencil. The language of cinema doesn’t reach that deep, but it has other kinds of potential that literature lacks. The quality of that synthesis is the factor that makes the character interesting or not. I was inspired mainly by my own life, but I was surprised by the results of enhancing those inspirations. If I were to estimate the degree to which I am the protagonist of Sailor, I think that would be 40 per cent. I amplified some of my traits to a level that would be unbearable in reality. I decided that it would work well on the cinema screen; because in cinema, everything needs to be enhanced by half. That’s when scenes appear natural on the
screen. It’s a common mistake that debuting directors or painters make – they try to portray reality in a realistic way, rely on the power of nuances; whereas the language of reality has a much higher resolution than the language of cinema. Cinema will not capture those nuances. If I’d made a copy of reality, that would have been just another bland art-house film. Hence the decision to create that slightly irritating character. The main trait of your entire film practice is your portrayal of the human being not in a humanist way, but through science, as a synthesis of proteins... A cluster of particles. Can you elaborate on your fascination? Before I do it, I’ll say that if I wanted to write the script of Sailor in a traditional form, it wouldn’t be possible. I tried and it didn’t work. A classic script has to be regulated in a way that will translate the human problems that it concerns into the language of cinema. Even the slightest departure from human problems and portraying them through a biological prism instantly lays bare the uselessness of the classic script format, tailor-made for human affairs. A whole range of problems emerge that are connected with the translation of visual language into the language of cinema. When I wrote in the script of Photon that the sequence of cell division is “a phenomenon that cannot be described in the language of the script” – and that’s true – I offended the members of the literary committee, they pointed it out. In a similar vein, it’s impossible to describe in a script the scene with a lifeshape, because it’s synaesthetic. When you show it on the screen, you immediately get a sense of what it is about. Many phenomena that occur in the minds of my characters have such character – impressions, or however else you can call it. The things that the visual artist and the exhibition audience encounter on a daily basis are incomprehensible for a cinema-goer. And sometimes there are meetings with conservative committees of film institutes. Unfortunately, such confrontations are the painful and tangible effects of looking for a new cinema language. The impossibility to put something into words is the basic problem with visual artists who move into the field of cinematography, which is based on literature – the script. Artists are better in thinking in terms of the image, while Polish cinematography is
The Human Being Is a Cluster of Particles for Me
very literary, the script is essential. It’s paradoxical. Everything that eventually becomes an image needs to be expressed through text first. The text is the spine. Subordination to text is total, while the entry of the artists into cinema should serve to restore the cinema of images, cinematic, even anti-literary. Still, there should be some kind of literary framework, a script. I’m not in favour of going for synaesthesia and impressions in 100 per cent, because that would be a visual counterpart of literary graphomania. I’m just struck by the disproportion that exists in Polish cinema: in formal terms, everything has been too cautious recently; in content-related terms – too literary, too much of settling accounts, history, looking back. Not enough of looking inside. Let’s return to your fascination with science. 1984. I was with my father at a car mechanic’s garage. And there was a gearbox. That’s one of the first things I can remember. It was neither cultural nor genetic: it just made me wonder how it is possible that a shaft on the one side of that box rotates slowly, then it enters the box, exits on the other side and rotates faster. And, annoyingly, the box is made of iron. What’s going on inside? It’s a mystery. I think that this is the simplest way to express what I’m dealing with now. I wonder how it is possible that humans can speak. What they say is less important because it’s mostly predictable. To cut the long story short: facts are less interesting than the steps that lead to those facts. Paradoxically, it’s very existential. Yes, it’s just that in cinema this existentialism is imposed already in the script, tailor-made for a given character. I try to stay away from such existentialism, because I know it’ll surface anyway as a side effect of talking about the human being in a cold way. It’s risky, but you finally need to try to approach these problems in a different way. These questions concern existence. These are basic philosophical questions. Of course, a scientist who watches my film will perceive it in less poetic terms than a conservative humanist, who can, in turn, find the fragments about the creation of proteins boring.
I can understand that. Fortunately, a festival audience is able to open their minds and look for different points of view to look at the human being. Especially younger viewers. And what do you think about the references to Houellebecq in your practice? Do you share his despair caused by the fact that we will never change certain basic determinants of our biology-based existence, something that utopians would want? I’ll begin my answer with something different: My friend from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, a lecturer in cognitive studies, told me that some students of neurobiology started to understand only during their studies, at the age of twenty years, that some research and experiments that they conducted indicated that there is no free will. That they were somewhat enslaved by their brains, and that the strong sense that they can decide about their own lives is essentially an illusion. Because when you approach the sense “of your own self” by means of biological methods (instead of psychological methods), a lot of interesting questions emerge. If we compare individual parts of the brain to individual instruments that play a symphony together (the flowing sense of consciousness), do we need any listener? Our intuition says that we do, and that listener is “oneself.” But it seems there’s no such receiver. In this case, how does the operation of neurons translate into inner sensations? Who feels them? Where is He? When students started to dig deeper into those matters, those who were more sensitive started to lose ground beneath their feet. They were losing interest, because what they learnt collided with their mindset. And this is the metaphysical side of science, the cinematic side of science. We’re talking about one of the more wellknown philosophical problems that emerge when you do research on the human brain. This is what Houellebecq delights in; this is the basis on which he builds his characters. His characters seem to passively surrender to existential hopelessness that stems from the lack of free will. It’s interesting that Houellebecq tagged this territory. The narrator that I create for the needs of Photon accepts determinism as something that you have to learn to live with, not only to exist but to actively apply pressure. Especially when the mindsets that offer ready answers are still the most widespread. Photon – film still
The Human Being Is a Cluster of Particles for Me
In what way will Photon be different from Sailor? The main difference is the narrator. In Sailor I created a figure of a depreciated high-school teacher with some complexes. A teacher of physics with some kind of grandiose delusions, and so on. Here, I want to create someone less caricatural than that miserable physicist. I would like nature to be the protagonist of the film. Not the narrator. Because, after all, Sailor was highly autobiographical. I want to take some rest from that. The title, Photon, suggests more visual references. That’s why I chose photon, and not quaternion or boson. That universal word was suitable for a film about such universal perspective on reality. There were suggestions not to choose the title Photon – because no one would go to the cinema to see such film – and to call it The Miracle of Life, or something like that. And those suggestions came from humanists, the obligatory artistic supervisors from the Institute. Artistic support, something of that sort. The title was one of the first problems. The Miracle of Life? Well, I’m not sure. What did your confrontation with the PISF look like? What were your remarks? Because the project received funding for development, but later it didn’t receive any funds for production. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about funding for a film is the terribly long time span. You need to get used to it, and it’s certainly something I’ve learnt only now – that these processes are terribly long. The ability to keep the fire burning to make a film for four years, when at the same time you struggle with financial matters... It’s one of the basic things to learn, and it’s rarely mentioned when you talk about filmmaking. Being a director brings to mind working on the film set, and in fact a large portion of what a young director does is paper-work and running around different offices. Even if there is a producer and a production manager, a director still needs to participate in everything. It’s a fee you need to pay to get in. If you ask me about the PISF, I think that a film may sometimes be killed by the slowness of that bureaucracy; in the meantime the members of the committee change – from very supportive to very conservative ones. If you ask me about my specific case, the first committee gave my project a very high grade and generous scheme of scenes in the film Photon
funding for development. When they saw the ready script, they asked for minor changes in order to push the film to the last stage. Unfortunately, in the meantime, the members of the committee changed, and the rules of the committee changed too. The new, rather conservative committee, headed by Piotr Dumała, killed the film unanimously. The Polish Film Institute has a strong link with the classic understanding of film, with the Film School, and so on. No wonder they have little trust for mischief-makers and barbarians from the field of visual arts. Maybe your initiative of the Film Award of the PISF and the Museum of Modern Art will start to change things slowly, but if I were to estimate, I’d say it’ll take at least twenty years for a tangible change to occur. After all, films cost a lot of money, and risk is not welcome. You organised an exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw in the context of your film production. How did you treat that show? Above all, I did it to sustain the interest in the film, because the process that I’ve talked about is extremely long in the categories of visual arts. People simply forget, so once in a while, at properly calculated moments, I try to remind them that something like this is being made. I prefer to remind them through a nice and complete form, such as a trailer, than through petty stuff, such as posts and interviews. Was that exhibition a trailer of your film? Yes. I think that if someone made the effort to go and see the show, they will probably go to see the film too, even just to confront what they saw at the exhibition with the ready motion picture. An exhibition-trailer is a more interesting form than a dry trailer on the Internet. And one thing does not exclude the other. So your use of the exhibition for the needs of the film and promotion was purely instrumental? I did something that a classic filmmaker cannot afford to do. It’s difficult to imagine that Wojtek Smarzowski makes an exhibition-trailer of Wołyń at the CCA. It’s chalk and cheese. In turn, in my case, such exhibition does not strike as something odd, it’s something natural. I try to make good use of the potential of institutions that deal with modern visual arts, because it’s a territory I’ve worked in so far.
The Human Being Is a Cluster of Particles for Me
Let’s talk about the works of art which you made for the film but which could exist at the same time as works in the gallery. I’m interested in the double status of those objects. For example, the lifeshapes? Did you make them for the film, or were they autonomous from Sailor? They were made for the book, at first I actually had them in my mind in a somewhat synaesthetic way, I tried to describe them and it was hard. The lifeshapes eventually became an important part of the film, but they can function within an exhibition as a separate work. I’m making a film but it doesn’t mean that I’m saying farewell to visual arts, and to institutional white cubes. Aren’t you planning to switch from the field of visual arts to the field of film completely at a certain point? I’m not planning a method, I’m rather looking for the best means of expression to talk about the matters that itch me. Instead of a planned method I prefer a reverse approach: I don’t know how my creative path is supposed to look like, but I do know exactly how it’s not supposed to look like. Maybe that’s what led me to make the second film on the border of literature and cinema. I watch other people’s films and I instantly see the direction that I don’t want to follow. It can often bring you to a new path that you haven’t walked before. And what do you find irritating in the field of visual arts? I showed it well in the video work Common Visual Code (Powszechny kod wizualny). It’s a cluster of my most common visual impressions from galleries and art fairs. These are not specific works because I didn’t mean to offend specific artists. What I did was a synthesis in the form of a non-existent, digitally generated show where I located all the things that have already started to irritate me. More and more objects made of wood slats, of strings, something with coal, something with tar, defacing, something hung over something else, and above all, those bloody neon signs with aphorisms. What strikes me is the narrow range of materials and topics that the artists deal with, while imagination is said to be limitless. I don’t know if this is a question of similar education, or the lack of funds, or maybe the willingness to match the current gallery trends. Grant-hunting? But I can also see the same problem on the Polish musical scene and in cinema, so I cannot exclude the possibility that there’s something wrong with me.
Photon â€“ film stills
Photon â€“ photos from the film set
SAILOR (EXCERPT FROM THE NOVEL) Norman Leto
IN THE HOME COUNTRY Right after my return from China, skin imperfections appeared on my face. I did blood tests, complete blood count, hormone testing, toxicology, et cetera – everything was all right. In the meantime, a dermatologist prescribed simple medicines and recommended a few visits to a solarium (unthinkable in the circles of intellectuals). I felt excellent lying in a streamline sunbed. I was thinking about a modern portrait form, which was later called a lifeshape. In the fifth minute of my sun bath, I started to mind the music with too much of a sports flavour that was played by the internal mp3 system. I raised the hatch of the sunbed, interrupting my sun bath for a short while. I stood up and found a USB input on the rear wall. I plugged my phone, removed an entire folder and uploaded the sounds of the night-time howling of wolves in rut. Naked, I quickly returned to the sunbed and closed the hatch. Other affairs: it turned out that Fuss disappeared somewhere in Berlin. His mother called me, she was scared by the relapse of her son’s illness. I comforted her by saying that Fuss was all right, that homelessness was just an episode, and that he’d disappeared being healthy and strong. The day before yesterday, they started shooting the film in which Nel takes part as an extra, which of course made me anxious. No problem, pilchard, I’ll see you tomorrow. Meanwhile, I was considering whether to sign a three-year contract with a certain Dutch businessman (a friend of Leibnitz), a man from the modern art world. He offered me three years of legally sanctioned financial bliss under the condition that “I’ll be in a creative state”. From his perspective, a “creative state” meant producing five tangible works a month. He was unable to sell intangible works – information – which meant he operated with categories from before the era of Larry Page – like the majority of those numbskulls. I refused. SOMEONE’S BIRTHDAY My lifeshape became rugged, overgrown and swollen in an unhealthy way (the last increase in the number of Google results
about me). While I was thinking about it, I wrote the basics of a script that made it possible to generate 3D lifeshapes. The device would render them on the basis of biographical data. The form comprised more than 100 different questions that pertained to approximate mobility (in the scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is a man in coma and 10 is Tony Halik), approximate number of sexual intercourses over the years, or the curve of social life (1 is a man in coma, 10 is a party animal), among other factors. My point was to express the approximate degree of influence of a person on the surroundings. Hence, for instance, in an imperfect trial version of the application, the biography of one of the members of my more distant family featured a flimsy comb-shaped structure (the regularity of school years), small deviations from the axis (little travelling) and small complexity of the core. Later: a few zigzags (first romantic relations), a quite distinct bulge on the top (the birth of a child) and one more (tying the knot), another long comb-shaped structure (very regular marital life, working for the same company for twenty years) with little horizontal deviations (still little travelling). A blow around the age of forty five â€“ death of the husband, an erinaceus bump (nine out of ten on the scale). After that explosion, a clear degradation of the combshaped structure: the woman still went to work, but fell prey to more and more serious alcoholism (triangular structures), her social life gradually vanished (the lifeshape became increasingly narrow), then she retired, and eventually her impact on the surroundings gradually disappeared. The lifeshape transformed into a string and came to an end with a small hair-like bulge, a sign of an illness â€“ pneumonia in her case. I added the death myself â€“ she died shortly after filling in the form [fig. 9]. For the needs of the tests I entered the data of different, sometimes extreme, cases. One day, the lifeshape of a thirty-yearold man who had been in a comma since the age of twelve made my blood curdle. The software illustrated the data as an almost ideal white sphere, which grew slowly in all directions at the same time (total lack of mobility, minimal social life, scant impact on the surroundings). At the bottom of the sphere there was a narrow branch of the life from before the accident. In a word: the phenomenon of life in its pure form [fig. 10]. Imagine how the lifeshapes of Charlie Chaplin, that strange Versace woman, Stephen Hawking, Michael Jackson, a caretaker
Documentation of work on the book Sailor
from the nearby high school, a farmer, and so on, could look like. The lifeshapes of great dictators, generated on the basis of their quite well documented biographies, looked peculiar. Hitler’s lifeshape initially took a narrow standard comb-shaped form during his school education, then it split into three parts that got tangled together – like a spiral, as it is the case with some plants. After a few complex transformations, it suddenly exploded to form a gigantic and swollen corpus (an increase in Google results that concern a given year) with arms or maybe rather branches – some of them were burdened at the ends with some more oval-shaped irregular forms, or rugged like a pointed coral. The entire lifeshape culminated with a bulbous and flaky corpus. The side branch could illustrate the infamous episode with the bunker, Eva Braun and his suicide. We also entered the data of other people who had a considerable direct impact on reality. Albert Einstein’s lifeshape was as elaborate and fluffy as Hitler’s, but it displayed a different and a bit more consolidated order of structures – the shapes that were initially angular were becoming softer in border areas. Instead of portraying someone’s muzzle, I use statistical data. Much more interesting were the simplified visualisations of lifeshapes combined in generational sequences, a new and cruel form of a family tree that confirmed the popular sayings, such as “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” “like father, like son,” “there’ll be no kids from this,” “mother whore, daughter slut,” and so on. Clearly visible were also the sudden explosions of outstanding biographies among generally uninteresting structures of hillbillies, akin to brushwood. Complex genealogical models were a terrible strain for my equipment, which obviously hung at the least desired moments (you know that dry tick). When I was trying to calculate the lifeshape of Stalin, I burnt a 750 W power supply unit, which interrupted my tests for some time. That was when I became interested in clouds of data related to common citizens. In those years, it was difficult to gather the data of individuals, but we knew that people who used smartphones with GPS and social services such as Facebook and Twitter, fashionable at the time, would accumulate an unprecedented cloud of data. Of course ninety per cent of the people cannot read charts, let alone draw conclusions from them, but they do a perfect job as livestock that provides manure in the form of data. I tested on myself and my close friends something that specialised servers would be doing in
the future. I was observing with a smile how the so-called alternative reality and the proper reality started to clearly mingle for the first time. One penetrated the other, like milk penetrates coffee. This is more or less what I said when during someone’s birthday party somebody asked me what I did in life. My speech took about three minutes and I just finished, dropping an ice cube into a glass of water with a mint leaf. Silence fell. I was observing the reactions: Undo was speechless, akin to the rest of the simple people at the table. Some women were delighted, some were bored. Nel froze with a teaspoon of jelly next to her mouth. We were sitting in a local restaurant with a group of third and fourth league acquaintances. I was having a good day, I had a good flow, omega has gone fizzy in my head, I calmly took a breath and continued my monologue: – For example, that old woman who claims that her body... – at that moment, the seat of my chair broke off, and while I was falling, I banged my knee against my jaw, almost biting my tongue off. Nobody laughed (an authority, they wrote about me in a newspaper), but everybody asked if I was ok. I was sitting on the floor, I suddenly got mad that I’d wasted such a sophisticated speech in such a simple company. I stood up, I kissed Nel on the temple, and I started having my jelly in silence. My sociological power was up. The night was coming to an end – earlier, people were playing darts, drinking beer, talking about washing machines, buying flats and dishwashers. I paid for Nel’s red jelly (artificial blackberries, refractive index 2.0), my campari (1.5), and Russian beer Baltica for Undo (1.55), I said goodbye to the company, I said goodbye to the birthday boy. We left the bar. Excerpt from the book Sailor by Norman Leto (Warsaw: Stowarzyszenie 40000 malarzy, Warsaw, 2010).
PHOTON – STORYBOARDS (SELECTION)
Photon â€“ storyboards
Photon â€“ storyboards
Photon â€“ storyboards
Photon â€“ storyboards
POLISH CINE ART
Mutants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 4 0 – 2 51 Anna Molska Hooray, We’re Still Alive! . . . . 252–27 1 Agnieszka Polska X . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 7 2 – 2 7 7 Katarzyna Kozyra Ashes and Diamonds ........ 278–287 Janek Simon
THERE IS A CHASM BETWEEN CORRECTNESS AND WHAT I WANT TO DO
Anna Molska in conversation with Jakub Majmurek and Łukasz Ronduda
Jakub Majmurek: How did you arrive at the idea to start working with film storyline. Apart from Weavers (Tkacze), most of your video works are not that narrative. I like the idea of activity on a larger scale. I’m not planning to make a film in the classic understanding, or – as you’ve called it – in the narrative understanding. I’m interested in the union between film and visual arts. In film, the camera is operated by the cinematographer in agreement with the director, and in a sense, the aesthetics of the image becomes a separate and autonomous quality that remains in the context of the script; it’s something that’s driven by the script, but it never entirely follows the rules of the script. I’m looking for a high degree of integration between my perspective and work that I make as a film. I need an opportunity to check if I’m able to achieve it. Still, I want to make a communicative film, a film that can be understood also by viewers from outside the art world. Łukasz Ronduda: You’ve graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, from Grzegorz Kowalski’s studio. Kowalski is famous for the broad use of media in his studio. Do you find the knowledge you got from Kowalski’s studio useful in your work on the film? Yes, definitely. Studying under Grzegorz Kowalski offered me an entire spectrum of freedom. He just dropped a keyword and gave us total freedom of action. At least, that’s how it was in my case. And it’s action that I perceive as the essence of the process of reaching self-constituting new truths, the rules that my works are based on. These are almost always planned experiments whose outcome moves me towards further ramifications and traps that I seek to exit. ŁR: Your project Mutants (Mutantki), which won the second edition of the Film Award, refers to your previous video works and installations where you combined raw human matter with different
There Is a Chasm between Correctness...
ideal utopian structures. That was the case in Tangram, a work that you made for the Berlin Biennial in 2008. It’s similar in Mutants, the eponymous characters appear as a kind of organic remnant of Communist modernisation, nobody knows what to do with them; they also don’t match the crumbling utopian structures. Can you tell us something about the basic idea of your project? The most basic idea, from which everything began, is the mother. My point was above all to work through the problem of the mother figure. That was my point of departure, which I located in a context that pertains directly to me and interests me a lot – the context of the aftermath of the political transformation in Poland, which we all have experienced. That extraordinary sociological experiment has never been sufficiently researched because it’s still going on and will probably never reach a clear conclusion. Historians will deal with it in the future, but I’d like to discover the ramifications now. ŁR: Does you experience of maternity play a role here? Of course. With their perspective on reality, my children make me aware of fundamental half-truths, things that would perhaps escape me in the spate of consecutive layers of acquired information. That’s how every human story begins, even if this relation is short-lived – from the mother and the child. I don’t want to focus on it in Mutants, it’s not going to be a film about the early days, but I have this kind of reflection because of maternity, among other reasons. ŁR: Even if they don’t bring to mind the abject, the mothers in your project are certainly mad, dangerous. Does it also result from your experience? Are you afraid of maternity? Are you afraid that being a mother will detach you from art? No, I’m not afraid of that. Neither of maternity nor of detachment. JM: Is it just my impression or is it modernity in general that’s becoming a matter of the past in your projects? The artistic avant-garde, the social forms of the industrial world, or even a modern scientific project, such as the one you portrayed in your work The Sixth Continent (Szósty kontynent), devoted to the Polish Antarctic programme. For sure, I have an imperative to document all those things. Even if the outcome is not a work of art. Right now, I’m interested
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
in confronting living characters with specific examples of Modernist architecture in Poland under Communism – for example with the Słowacki estate in Lublin, designed by Oskar Hansen. It was supposed to implement the Open Form theory in architecture, while today it’s derelict and attracts criticism from both dwellers and architects, who consider the Hansens’ ideas to be impractical and unrealistic. Generally, the Polish landscape, the things that you can see in Poland now, is the main inspiration of my project. I want to use it also as a tool that will allow me to document all those phenomena that disappear from the Polish contemporary landscape; I want to record different living relics of Communist modernisation, but I want to use them as the background for the syndromes of the contemporary era. Today’s countryside is not folksy idyll dressed in striped folk attires from Łowicz. It’s a cultural melting pot shaped by the influence of satellite TV and connected to the Internet via cell phones. The head of the village is in his early thirties and builds a realistic concrete black panther in his backyard – something that brings to mind the art of Mexican streets. EU projects pump massive funds into the mushrooming businesses of local networks of agricultural enterprises, and rural wits are unpredictable – crowds of their sons and daughters are taking up new urban spaces. ŁR: So far, you’ve worked in the field of art, where you could add a lot to your works through a commentary, through discourse. This support disappears in film. I accept the laws of film, but I don’t agree that a commentary and discourse are a support. Actually, these are the qualities that I’d like to preserve in film. I understand that you’re talking about the difference between ambiguity that is acceptable in a video work and the literal and purposeful character of the film gesture. I’m not sure if I wouldn’t prefer to look for a language of film that would allow me to generate multiple potential interpretations but would still appear literal. I’d like to bring my experience with art into the field of film; I’m talking about a system of working with the actor, the way I treat set design and costumes, and the general approach to the question of visuality. Actually, I wouldn’t like to talk about it. It escapes verbalisation and makes me retch.
There Is a Chasm between Correctness...
ŁR: Let’s talk about the history of the project. After receiving the Award, you arrived with the project at the Wajda School. What was your encounter with that institution like? The world of film is a very masculine world, it’s strongly fixated on money, power and personal configurations; extremely
hierarchical, hermetic, packed with authorities that you totally can’t co-exist with in a normal way. The relations in that world: the guru, his assistant, the assistant’s assistant, believers. I also often felt as if I had joined some kind of political party. I used to think that filmmaking is like mathematics, but now I see it’s rather about building coalitions and politics. JM: Were there ever some more creative tensions at the School? The interests of the people that I met there, the members of my group at the School, often simply diverged from my interests. Tensions resulted rather from conflicts related to the mindsets of particular participants of the course than from collective digging into film-related problems. The essential practical tool of education at the film school is severe criticism, which often engages authentic emotions and enters the sphere of direct interpersonal relations. In a nutshell,
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
in order to defend your vision you need to have a thick skin and a pile of strong arguments. But that was also a valuable lesson. JM: Of what? Of the difference between visual arts and film. It’s not that you take the camera and shoot whatever you want. To create a film you need to force your way through endless bureaucracy, even for the simple reason that film projects are based on scripts. The script is the basis of collective work. In art, even if a work is created collectively, the artist remains the face of the work and takes full control. It’s different in film – you need to learn to talk. JM: What stage was your project at when you arrived at the School? At the stage of the treatment. I developed the treatment at the School and wrote the consecutive versions. The treatment was the thing that limited me the most. The sheer fact that I had to write it. On a white A4 sheet of paper, black letters, specified font size. I understand that these are global standards, but writing is not the most appropriate tool of working on a motion picture for everyone. ŁR: And you broke away. During your work on the film you created a sculpture of the motion picture. You used very solid materials: steel and concrete. At the same time, it’s a mental map of the film, it incarnates the treatment. Different elements have magnets, you can move them and change the structure of the designed film. Is this the way you work on the film? For some time, the sculpture was on display at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, now it’s back at the sound studio, which is the best place for me to work, and I’ll be able to continue working with the sculpture of my film. I gained a lot from using the sculpture. My problem with writing treatments is that they are expected to be linear: the beginning, the middle, the end. Short and complete literary forms. You even say: “to close a treatment.” It sounds very menacing, putting ideas to death. JM: The treatment you sent us has such three-act structure. Exactly, that’s the worst thing you can do to yourself. The sculpture gave me the possibility to look at the film not in a linear but in a spatial way. In a way that is similar to how I see music. Only the sculpture allows me to see the proportions between
There Is a Chasm between Correctness...
different elements of the storyline; I cannot see it in the same way in a text (where you can elaborate on a shorter fragment or put a longer fragment into a single sentence). I know there needs to be a way to communicate my project, but writing about general premises and filling them with content is really not a good
Mutants, test scene
method. For now, I’m writing mainly different interesting scenes and locating them in the structure that the sculpture represents. What results is a sort of a game. It starts to turn out that certain fragments cannot be moved that easily any more. This is a counterpart of the process of film editing, a process that always breaks the linearity of the narrative. After all, you can edit a number of different films using the same footage. That’s why writing something rigid, something that has the beginning, the middle and the end seems senseless to me. At a certain point, it gets blurred and you lose control; the project changes, it evolves depending on what kind of people you meet on your way while you work on it. And that’s no big discovery. ŁR: What you do can be seen as an attempt to apply the Open Form in the context of cinema. Did you want to open up the process of writing the script? That was my point. The treatment and the script are obviously tools of communication with the film crew. And I do want
A Film Sculpture, 2014 B Weepers, 2010 C M=F*S (work), 2008
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
to use that tool at a certain stage. I know that I’m going to need it. But I don’t need it now. Black letters on white paper have some kind of evil energy to them, the energy that devastates me completely. ŁR: At the School, you also made a scene that has a double articulation. On the one hand, it’s a regular narrative scene, and on the other hand, the narrator reads out the rules that filmmakers should follow to create such model scene. Yes, I made use of my notes from the course at the Wajda School and excerpts from Andrzej Wajda’s autobiography. I find this knowledge very interesting. It’s incredible that people who have a similar level of knowledge do things that are so different in terms of the level they achieve. JM: Have you already got an idea about the members of your film crew? Yes, I’m slowly gathering the crew. I’m lucky with people and I meet really interesting individuals on my way. I started to appreciate working with people a lot. It makes a lot of sense. I think that an important change has occurred in me – I’ve changed from someone focussed on the individual creative process into someone who can creatively manage human resources, and stay in a relation based on mutual trust with each individual separately. JM: Are you afraid of working with professional actors? No, I’m not afraid, I even feel very comfortable about it. I can feel that there are many very talented actors in Poland. My point is not to make them do better and better double takes, but rather to make them think while they work, and to make them solve the tasks that I give them. I have two basic rules: actors shouldn’t get bored while they work, and that work should finish at a scheduled time of the day. I believe I’ve already developed a certain model of collaboration and I can easily transfer this model to working with professional actors. ŁR: Is it going to be narrative? No. In a sense – yes. Essentially, there’s going to be a narrative for sure, but it’s the viewer who’s going to need the narrative, and not the film. It’s a bit like the perforation that makes it possible for tape to move forward but doesn’t carry any information.
There Is a Chasm between Correctness...
JM: How do you imagine your film from the aesthetic point of view? Any inspirations from contemporary cinema? I always find it problematic to reveal my inspirations. The worst thing would be to make art and to draw inspiration from art. My inspirations stem from different fields. It would appear totally banal if I talked about them. I can be inspired by an old woman at a marketplace with a bag of dumplings, who looks like a dumpling herself – and doesn’t it look pretentious in writing? If I could show you the image that she triggered in my mind, that would be something completely different. JM: When I was reading your project, it made me think of Federico Fellini, specifically of City of Women. There is also the thread of a figure, an archetype of the mother and motherliness. Were you thinking about that film while writing your project? No, I saw City of Women a long time ago, I watched Fellini’s films passionately when I was at high school. I can’t remember that film very well today, I’ve got some after-views. Actually I’m not even sure if I saw that one at all. JM: How would you like your film to look like in terms of aesthetics? I’m very keen on visuality, that’s what I’m missing in Polish cinema. It’s rather strange given the position of the Film School in Łódź in terms of the high level of cinematography and the presence of fantastic professionals in this field. I want to control visuality, take care of every detail, including even the closing credits. JM: I guess it’s rather difficult to open up a film. Manipulation and rhetoric are something inherent in film even because of the sheer conditions of projection. At least from the viewer’s perspective it’s difficult to open the film form unless everybody gets a chance to edit it their own way. It can be said that film cannot be an open form by definition, but there are different stages of its making and, for sure, it is an open form up to the moment when a final copy is released and screened publically. Actually, I’m sure that a film adopts different forms in the minds of different viewers, and in this sense, it’s still an open form. The combination of narrative, image, nature, architecture, sculpture and the human being allows us to explore different territories and evoke different emotions. JM: How do you want to work with emotions? Do you want to manipulate the viewer’s emotions or encourage reflection?
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
In Poland, it’s worth working on emotions because the Polish identity is composed of emotions. They are really very strong here and occur literally everywhere. I observe extreme polarisation and tension in a shop, in politics, at a security check at the Okęcie airport, on an online forum about vaccinations, and at exhibition openings. This polarisation infects me, and this stems from the fact that uncertainty appears in the fields where I think I should feel support and certainty. In my film, I’d like to combine this kind of emotionality with the distance that will allow me to adopt a clear and sober perspective. I can see it in the phenomena that occur on the axis between the Polish countryside and the Polish urban areas. The countryside that is penetrated by streams of EU funding, streams that lead to politics in the capital city. Who are the people that decide about our fate through their own random decisions, and who are the people who manage by learning how to live in this situation? I’d like to strike a balance between emotionality and structure. Of course, it’s impossible to achieve, because there is an endless chasm between correctness and what I want to do. The only way to jump over that chasm is to use rules that cannot be codified, rules that you can develop only by following your own path.
Anna Molska, Tanagram 2006–2007, film still Anna Molska, Hecatomb 2011, film stil
ARTIST’S CINEMA LIKE BEEKEEPERS’ CINEMA
Agnieszka Polska in conversation with Jakub Majmurek and Łukasz Ronduda
Jakub Majmurek: Already on the first year of film studies we discover the theory of cinema of Karol Irzykowski, who claimed that only animation film is “pure art,” because only animated film gives the filmmaker full control of the material. You began with animation, then you made gallery films, now you’re making a feature film. Do you agree with Irzykowski? Agnieszka Polska: The difference between cinema with actors and animation consists mainly in the ways of sharing the experience of work. Working on animation is very meditative, it’s essentially done in solitude – at least in my case. In turn, you work on a film with a group of people; responsibility is shared. The language of classic cinema is also much more literary; when I’m working on a feature film, I devote much more time to preparing the text. In animation, the act of writing is not that important. JM: The narrative is not a tool of contemporary art? I wouldn’t say it is. Contemporary art occupies huge, you can say boundless, territories, and narrative forms also belong to this field. JM: Your gallery films were gradually becoming more and more narrative. In fact, Hair (Włosy) was already a short fiction. Yes, but I wouldn’t consider it as an evolution. Apart from more cinematic forms, I continue creating animations that are not necessarily narrative. Łukasz Ronduda: It’s also possible to see that your gallery films were gradually becoming more and more professional, more and more “cinematic.” At some point I started to feel the need to work with professionals. As Kuba has mentioned, when you work on an animation, you have the impression of being in full control of the image. In film, if you want to achieve this kind of control, you need to trust Agnieszka Polska, Future Days
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
your experienced collaborators, who are able to help the idea materialise. That’s why I started working with more professional individuals, for example with the cinematographer Kuba Kijowski. I remember that when I first saw shots from Future Days, our collaboration, I was very excited by the fact that the image looked exactly like I’d imagined. Of course, Kuba added a lot to it and had a significant influence on the outcome, but I’m thinking rather about the impression, the atmosphere that I initially imagined. ŁR: Kuba Kijowski worked on such films as Secret (Sekret) by Przemysław Wojcieszek and Floating Skyscrapers (Płynące wieżowce) by Tomasz Wasilewski. He’s a brilliant cinematographer, he has a great imagination. JM: You eventually receive the Film Award of the Polish Film Institute and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, which enables you to make a feature film. What is your project about? I’m working on a film about Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the German new-wave director. The film will portray the final hours of his life. Fassbinder died in 1982 at the age of 37. During his short life he managed to make about 40 feature films. It was possible thanks to a fixed group of collaborators, actors, who participated in every project; they functioned both as an inspiration for the director and a material that he used to create films. Fassbinder himself does not appear in my film. He’s present as a mysterious force that has an impact on a group of people, on his collaborators. The film concerns the relations between the absent director and the artists who are dependent on him in financial, emotional, artistic terms. More generally, the film portrays the mechanisms of establishing hierarchy in a group or in the society, the processes of shaping dependence between individuals, which are difficult to explain. JM: Why did you take interest in Fassbinder? Was it because of the biographical myth? No, at the beginning I was fascinated by the form of his films. The way they’re edited, their conspicuous artificiality. Later, I discovered his biography, which is indeed fascinating. ŁR: Different avant-garde artists were your patrons already in the earlier works. You made a work about Paweł Freisler; Future Days portrays an afterworld inhabited by the most important figures of 20th
Artists’ Cinema like Beekeepers’ Cinema
century art. Now you’re working on a feature film and it also concerns an artist, a director. Yes, I treat my film project as a continuation of my activities in the field of art, where I used the mythologisation of creative approaches as my medium. My film The Garden (Ogród) concerned the artist Paweł Freisler, who founded his practice on building legends about his own activities, stories that were difficult to verify. The film presents a fictitious journey to Freisler’s garden; as the artist claims, he abandoned art in favour of growing plants. Therefore, in my work I created another legend about the artist using his own techniques to tell a story about him. The same idea was a pretext to start working on a film about Fassbinder. At the beginning, I wanted to create a motion picture that would be as similar to his own films as possible. Not only by imitating the editing, the repeated visual and narrative schemes – I also wanted to recreate the group of actors who collaborated with him. ŁR: The theme of a group appears throughout your work, Future Days, Hair portray communes... ...I don’t know if I’m interested in communes as such. If anything, I’m rather interested in the problem of influence and the way independence is built by an individual. ŁR: By a young artist? In the context of the influence of the predecessors? Yes, the questions of the anxiety of influence were prominent in my early works. I think that this theme will transpire also in the film about Fassbinder. A very important aspect of this project is the question related to the processes of self-constitution of an individual. The relations between artist’s independence and responsibility: to a group of collaborators, to the society. JM: Is your transfer to the field of film an escape from the anxiety of influence? You’re using a new medium, you’re making a film about someone from outside your own field... Artists are afraid of great predecessors whatever medium they use. It’s natural that when I’m making a film then I’m not afraid of a great beekeeper, but of an outstanding film director (laughter). (By the way, that would be an interesting case: a filmmaker who made a film trembling with fear of an outstanding beekeeper). Anyhow, it was the other way round. It’s not that
Future Days, 2013
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
I wanted to make a film and I found Fassbinder as my topic. I wanted to make a work about Fassbinder and feature film turned out to be the most suitable form. The most suitable form for this kind of fear (laughter). JM: In your works, you’ve been exploring the archive of art history, now you’ve chosen a film director who was a very cinephiliac filmmaker, his films referred to the history of cinema, to other films. Is your film also supposed to be such a cinephiliac commentary? I haven’t thought about it as a broader commentary to the history of cinema. Of course, you cannot escape those references, and I don’t know if you should try to escape. Referring to the history of the medium is something completely natural in cinema. JM: You arrived with the project at the Wajda School. How was it received? Fassbinder and this sort of filmmaking might not be congruent with the School’s idea of cinema? I don’t know exactly what the School’s idea of cinema is, but for sure the lecturers respect Fassbinder. Still, it’s clear that it’s not a tradition that has a significant impact on Polish cinema. ŁR: I think that the basic difficulty was not Fassbinder but the fact that you’re another person from the field of art. Yes, for sure I’ve sensed some kind of distance caused by the fact that I’m a visual artist. But there was something positive in the School experience. The thing I liked most was to act in scenes directed by someone else (laughter). ŁR: You also attended a film course at an art school in Berlin. How would you compare those two experiences? There’s completely no comparison. In Berlin, Hito Steyerl’s class was mainly about endless discussions that concerned the social obligations of artists. Her class gathers above all video artists, but the discussions concern theory rather than practice. JM: Do they mainly teach craft at the Wajda School? When I talk to young filmmakers, they often complain that there are no discussions about ideas at film schools, you just learn the narrowly understood filmmaking skills. At the Wajda School the focus on the skills is strong, for sure. But not as strong as what I remember from the Academy of
Artists’ Cinema like Beekeepers’ Cinema
Fine Arts in Cracow. It was very difficult to find something else than craft there. Apart from such studios as the studio of Agata Pankiewicz or Grzegorz Sztwiertnia, all issues that could force us to think were diligently avoided. It’s difficult to believe but as twenty-year-old students we had weekly classes in frottage that consisted in drawing autumn leaves, coins and strings through carbon paper. As for film education, I don’t know the differences between schools in Poland and abroad. Maybe Polish film education is not that different from artistic education. ŁR: You were the first winner of the Film Award who had an individual curriculum. You didn’t participate in classes with everybody else, you only took the workshops that you selected. Did you have the impression that the School closed its doors to you? The individual curriculum was not imposed but agreed with me. Anyhow, I can surely see some kind of distance to visual artists, but I can also understand why it is so. ŁR: Why? It’s a bit because this entire phenomenon, the Film Award, artists’ cinema, has been created rather artificially, after all. By Łukasz, who now also writes a book about the phenomenon he’s created himself (laughter). Artists who work with film are everywhere in the world, but nowhere does it happen on such a scale as in Poland. Is it by chance that every year 15 artists write film scripts? Or maybe it’s rather the fact that a good funding opportunity has appeared in the form of the Film Award? Maybe if there was a fund to support artists who use scientific research in their works, the artistic milieu would suddenly take interest in experimental physics. But maybe this judgement is too harsh. Artists who make films for theatrical distribution are everywhere in the world. But there are also scholars, advertisers, beekeepers who begin to take interest in making cinema. I think that “artists’ cinema” isn’t that different from “beekeepers’ cinema”. JM: If it wasn’t for the Award, you wouldn’t be making a project about Fassbinder? I had the idea to shoot a motion picture about him before the Award was established. It’s just that initially it was a script of a half-hour film. If it wasn’t for the Award, I probably wouldn’t try to develop it as a feature film.
Title page of the project Hooray, Weâ€™re Still Alive!
Test scene from the film Hooray, Weâ€™re Still Alive!, 2014
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
ŁR: You’re working on the project with Paweł Pawlikowski, how does your cooperation look like? I think that Paweł has a sensibility that is traditionally understood as a sensibility of a visual artist. His judgement of the project is based on the conceptual sphere. ŁR: How does your cooperation look like? We mainly talk. We freely discuss the consecutive versions of the script. For me, these meetings are important, nice and they give me a lot. JM: At the School you made a scene from the project, a short film Hooray, We’re Still Alive! Did it go well? I’m happy with that scene, even though it was of course just a test that helped me to determine the final shape of the production. It was also an ersatz of the real massive production machine. Before the confrontation with such huge production, an artist doesn’t realise the extent to which that machine influences the work. JM: Is the size such a problem? The size and the pace. Producing anything in cinema is terribly time-consuming, you cannot compare it with visual arts. In visual arts the transfer from the idea to implementation is quick; sometimes a thought, a sentence is already a ready work. The worst thing in cinema is the fund-raising stage. It takes so long that it can discourage you to the project at the very beginning. I haven’t talked about it to filmmakers, I don’t know if they find the slow pace and the need to wait discouraging. JM: You haven’t got discouraged? I wouldn’t call it discouragement. But I’m in a different place now compared to where I was a year ago, when I was starting the project. I formulate some thoughts and diagnoses in a slightly different way. I’m developing and sometimes I’m afraid that when I eventually get the chance to make the film, I will already be in a completely different place mentally. The processes I’m talking about had and still have an influence on changes in the project. But it’s clear that at some point you need to finish working on the script and on the aesthetic vision. ŁR: The scene that you shot at the School follows the convention of the television theatre. How did you arrive at this form?
Artists’ Cinema like Beekeepers’ Cinema
It stems from Fassbinder’s biography. His collaboration with the actors began when he joined a theatre group in Frankfurt. Interestingly, the activity of that group was based on the principles of “democratic theatre”: it was supposed to be a theatre without a director and a dramaturgist, a theatre created by actors during rehearsals. Fassbinder joined the group and was very quick to adopt the director position, which didn’t officially exist. He found it extremely easy to subordinate people. The fact that Fassbinder’s experience originates from theatre can be seen very well in his films. JM: Do you want to shoot the entire film in a theatrical manner? Yes. The outcome will be even more artificial. For sure, there’ll be a strong reference to the tradition of the Polish television theatre. ŁR: What do you start with when you think about the project? The storyline, the character, the mood? It seems to me that mood is the most important thing in the scene you shot. The scene is a fragment of the script, which is built in a very classic way, it’s orderly from the point of view of dramaturgy, even though the project is more conceptual than purely narrative. The need to tell a story is not the priority. More important than telling a story is a certain dialogue with the figures of culture, the play on the classic cinematic convention. JM: Fassbinder is a figure that sits in political contexts. Are those contexts important for you in this project? Of course, the sheer questions of the contrast between the idea of democratic theatre and Fassbinder’s dictatorship, the struggle of his collaborators for freedom can be interpreted in the context of social tensions. It is also a clear reference to sociopolitical questions that are present in his films. Akin to many artists, Fassbinder based his scripts on his own experience. And his key experience was that of psychological violence against others. He knew it, he used it, he knew how to portray it perfectly on the screen. JM: Are these problems topical for you? Fassbinder is sometimes presented as a relic of 1968. It’s fair to say that these problems are as topical today as they were 40 years ago. The need to stabilise social relations, to eradi-
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
cate unethical relations and to create a platform that serves the purpose of mediation – these are very universal questions that exist to a larger or smaller extent in every community. I think that the anxiety of influence of unknown political forces that shape social relations is one of the most common traumas of the everyday. This is what I’m going to portray in Hooray, We’re Still Alive! – the nameless, inexplicable force that determines behaviour within a group. ŁR: When are you starting work on the film set? In the second half of 2015. ŁR: Do you already have a crew? I’m going to work with Kuba Kijowski again. Many people who I’ve already worked with. The film is produced by Kasia Karwańska, I worked with her on Future Days. Tomek Kowalski, the visual artist, is going to deal with set design, and the duo Bracia – Maciek Chorąży and Aga Klepacka – are going to deal with costumes. I’ve worked and been friends with all these people for a long time.
EVERYTHING IS A MATTER OF SYNCHRONISING IMAGINATION Jakub Kijowski in conversation with Łukasz Ronduda Łukasz Ronduda: You worked as a cinematographer in Floating Skyscrapers (Płynące wieżowce) by Tomasz Wasilewski and Secret (Sekret) by Przemysław Wojcieszek, but you were also in charge of cinematography in Agnieszka Polska’s half hour long film Future Days. What was the difference between the collaboration with Polska and the other filmmakers? Jakub Kijowski: In feature filmmaking I’m most interested in telling a story. Telling a story is the key. I work on the visual layer, and through that layer I want to convey the entire complexity of characters, dramaturgy, stories, and so on. Everything I do when I work on a film is focussed on this. And this is the topic that I’m most willing to discuss with directors, and this is what directors expect the most; that’s why I think that when I collaborate with director, actors, and so on, we all want to do the same thing: to tell a story. But when I meet visual artists, things are not that easy to name and define. Visual artists have different goals. And the greatest challenge for me is to understand those goals, but I also like it when their goals are well defined. And what was it like in Agnieszka Polska’s Future Days? There was a basic story. Well, yes, but telling a story wasn’t the point. The story was merely a pretext, a basis to talk about conceptual artists and their works. Gosh, I feel that you can tell me more about Future Days than I can tell you (laughter). For sure, it was shot in a beautiful way. It’s a relatively new phenomenon. We call it the professionalisation of video art. Artists didn’t work with professional cinematographers before and didn’t care too much about the technological quality of their works. Now, it’s changing. Future Days is a proof. When I come back to that film, I really think: I like those images. But that was our premise. The film is about artists’ heaven
and we wanted it to be “beautiful.” We tried to follow a very aesthetic direction. It determined the film production from the start, beginning with the decision to use a good professional camera, the selection of those particular locations, the decisions made during the process of colour correction and editing. We’d say: “Let’s do it like it’s in heaven”. The most important thing is that the visual aspect should be adequate to what you want to say, and that was the case in this film. You’re collaborating with Agnieszka Polska again on her feature film project about Fassbinder, which won the third edition of the Film Award. You’ve done a test scene together, a scene that determined the entire aesthetics, the visual language. The Fassbinder project is more of a feature film challenge, so it’s more conventional than the gallery project Future Days. I think that we should still do a few screen tests, such as the scene we’ve made. We just need to see to what degree we need to imitate Fassbinder, adopt his style, his language, to what degree we should dig into that, and to what degree it’s only an inspiration. For the time being, the style resembles the television theatre from the 1980s. Yes, that’s how it is now. How did you reach this kind of style? Generally, it seems to me that the concept of the television theatre, a somewhat cheap television production, is very interesting. From today’s perspective, that convention is very distinctive. I can see it clearly now and it inspires me. We reached it with Agnieszka because we decided to move away from realism. When we gathered the initial documentation and saw photos from different clubs from the 1980s that we could enter and adapt without costly modifications, without too much set design, we realised that we would follow the path of artificiality, the theatrical convention. What do you get from collaborating with Agnieszka? For years I’ve been trying to do interesting projects. To meet interesting people, to talk to them, to do something different every time, something where you need to use your wits, work in an inventive way, to avoid doing everything the same way every
Everything Is a Matter of Synchronising Imagination
time. I’d like to make ambitious films, at the border of art-house, but there are few such films. What do you expect from a director? My experience tells me one thing: the less conventional a project, and this is the kind of projects I try to work on, the less you have the right to expect from the director. The less you have the right to say something like: that’s not the way you do it. It’s not mass production, where the same solutions are repeated every day. If you do extraordinary projects, you need to find solutions, develop them. In a formatted TV series, first you do one screen test, then another one. 20 minutes and everybody goes to get their make-up, and then we shoot a scene. It’s the same every day. How do you prepare before working on the film set? It’s a matter of imagination. You can imagine the things that you create on the film set at different levels before you actually start working on the set. Everybody has a more or less trained imagination. But fun begins when we compare our visions, because I might imagine one thing, and you might imagine another. It’s a matter of synchronising those different visions before you start working on the film set. The more time you have to prepare it together, the better. When you read the text at the beginning, the script, you can imagine something, but the problem begins later when you translate it into “hard imagination”, into reality – that something needs to stand here and here, and this actor is supposed to do this and that, and the light or visual effect is such and such. Your imagination needs to find a way to synchronise with the imagination of other crew members, the people with whom you translate the initial vision into reality, into something specific. A question emerges: will it match, or won’t it match? It’s no use assuming that if there’s imagination then everything will go as planned; it’s too complicated. That’s why you need to do some tests before, and draw some drawings. You’re collaborating with Agnieszka Smoczyńska as the cinematographer in The Disco Daughters (Córki dansingu), a film about mermaids. In this case, the visions of individual crew members were synchronised by Aleksandra Waliszewska’s drawings.
A Aleksandra Waliszewska, Untitled, from the cycle Mermaids, gouache, 2013 B Michalina OlszaĹ„ska in a bathtub in the film The Disco Daughters C Aleksandra Waliszewska, Untitled, from the cycle Mermaids, gouache, 2013
Well, yes, maybe I can’t see it that well now, because I’m digging into details too much. But yes, Agnieszka talked a lot to Aleksandra. It was a bit beyond me, because I joined the project slightly later. Our mermaids don’t look like Disney’s mermaids, and Waliszewska’s work is probably the reason. It was an important inspiration. In that project we can observe an interesting role that a visual artist performs. Synchronising imagination. Robert Bolesto, the screenwriter, drew inspiration from Waliszewska when he was writing the script. Later, inspired by the script, Aleksandra painted a gouache painting that featured a mermaid who “swims” out of bed; in turn, the aesthetic appeal and atmosphere of that gouache painting provided an aesthetic model for your film. Generally, the film will be very interdisciplinary. Music is also important, produced by the Wroński sisters. Akin to everything in the film, the music might appear naive, but it’s such naivety for adults. A fairy-tale for adults. I’m trying to find a visual form for such fairy-tale. And what does your collaboration with Przemysław Wojcieszek look like in this context? Wojcieszek’s intention was to do something very conceptual. That’s what he said. That was his key word. He doesn’t want it to be simply photographed. It’s cool when a director tells you something like that. A great thing about working with good directors is that they push you forward from the very beginning and tell you: we want to go further, don’t be afraid, go further, stronger. It was similar with Tomek Wasilewski, who has a good sense of visuality, he’s a visually refined person. Whenever he found something that he liked, he immediately said: “yes, let’s follow this path.” It’s great for a cinematographer – to have a partner who knows that there’s value in finding something unconventional. What do you think about the union between art and cinema? It’s attractive. Visual artists who make films can profit a lot from cinema, which has been around for a while and has developed different kinds of aesthetics.
A Jakub Kijowski on the film set of Agnieszka Polskaâ€™s Future Days B Secret, Agnieszka Podsiadlik and Tomasz Tyndyk
I’M NOT INTERESTED IN FILM AS A CRAFT
Katarzyna Kozyra in conversation with Jakub Majmurek and Łukasz Ronduda
Łukasz Ronduda: You want to make a feature film. How did you arrive at this idea? Katarzyna Kozyra: I wanted to reach the broadest possible audience. That was my main point. I thought that the art audience is a group that I find the least interesting. I’m interested in common people. I’m not interested in the hermetic world of galleries and talking to jaded gallery-goers. Will my intention resonate with the audience – it’s a different question. Jakub Majmurek: Does cinema really have such mass appeal? More than art. At least in Poland. Which doesn’t mean that an exhibition cannot attract more viewers than a film. ŁR: Your exhibition at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art attracted 40 thousand viewers. It’s a good audience of an artistic film. Fabicki’s Loving (Miłość) had around 30 thousand. I can’t remember exactly how many people came to Zachęta, but I know that it wasn’t bad. JM: Were you interested in cinema before? Were you a cinephile? My mum was interested. When I was a child she used to take me to the cinema three times a day. But those weren’t very artistic films, just films for common viewers. So I was also interested. But I stopped at some point. Around the time when the Confrontations came to an end. Now, I’ve taken up an interest again, but only because I started thinking about making my own film. I decided to catch up and see what people are making. JM: And what did you see? Many great things. Inspiring. I can’t remember the names now, it’s not my job to remember them. I returned to films from my childhood, films that keep inspiring me. Roman Polański, Stanley Kubrick. I generally like cinema made by artists. Kubrick is an artist. Polański, Fellini. Not directors but artists. Artistsdirectors. I’m not interested in film as a craft.
I’m not Interested in Film as a Craft
ŁR: Film appears as the crowning achievement of the road you travelled from the critical art of the 1990s to such projects as In Art Dreams Become Reality (W sztuce marzenia stają się rzeczywistością), where you play different roles and make use of devices characteristic of feature filmmaking: actors, set design, fiction-based storyline. Will your film function as an extension of that project? It will retain the spirit of that project. The film will be based on a specific theme, it will happen the same way as the earlier project happened. Formatting in the sense of staging will be used as an auxiliary device. And is it the crowning achievement or not? Well, I’m not sure if you can say that film is the crowning achievement of art. For sure, it’s incomparable in terms of production. The scale of my previous film projects was smaller. ŁR: And this film project? Is it going to be something in the vein of a creative documentary? You’ll take a person who... ...you know what, if something is supposed to happen on the film set, then I can’t say publically what is supposed to happen, because I’ll kill the whole project. The person who plays the main character cannot have a chance to read about it before we start working. An interview about the point of the project is senseless. It’s against the logic of the project. ŁR: When we gave you the Film Award, we had to reveal the synopsis of the project, it’s online. It’s good that it’s online. If someone’s interested, they can read it. But I don’t want to say anything more. I don’t want to discourage potential participants in the project. I know that some artists wanted all works submitted to the competition to be revealed, but I’m against it. If I reveal my project, I’ll simply kill it. I don’t agree! ŁR: In that case, could you tell us something about your other project, Casting, done at Zachęta? I organised a casting for the role of myself. I didn’t want to make an exhibition as an exhibition, I was preparing the ground for my film project. I did three castings for a person that could play my role. There were no restrictions, everybody could apply. ŁR: What did you gain? A number of faces. A number of voices.
A Olympia, 1996 B Summertale, film from the cycle In Art Dreams Come True, 2008, photo by Ela BiaĹ‚kowska, courtesy Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation C Casting, 2010
I’m not Interested in Film as a Craft
ŁR: Did it result in a work? Yes, a video record. ŁR: Is it similar to what you want to achieve in your film? Well, it’s similar, or maybe it’s not similar; it’s going to be a different story. As I’ve told you, I don’t want to talk about it. I want the person who’ll enter this project to have the sense of security, to know that certain things will happen between us. JM: From what you’re saying, or rather not saying, it appears you have a very performative take on directing. The performative activity on the film set, the things that happen between you and the actor are more important than telling a story. Telling a story is also important. For me, it’s hilarious and extraordinary that people sit in darkness, there’s the light of the projector, and they are told some kind of strange story. And they buy that artificial world. I will want to play with artificiality. It will be clear that staged scenes are artificial. That’s what I always liked in Fellini’s films. JM: Art doesn’t create such an artificial world? It also does, but it doesn’t hide it. It doesn’t pretend that the flat flickering something is a real world. In cinema we buy it. We participate in the lives of the characters; someone gets old in a matter of an hour and a half and we find it moving. It will be fun to play with this. ŁR: You’re having meetings with Wojciech Marczewski. At the Wajda School you’ll have the possibility to participate in workshops devoted to screenwriting, working with actors, and so on. Will you want to use this possibility? I think I should want it as little as possible (laughter). In my opinion, the value of this award consists mainly in the fact that I don’t know these tools, that I’m not interested in them. If you want someone who knows them, give the award to a director. ŁR: We don’t require you to make a film according to strict rules, like at school. We just want you to confront those tools and to decide if you want to use them or not. Well, have it your way, I’ll confront them. But when I was shooting Summertale I already saw what kind of guys are there in the world of cinema.
J. Majmurek, Ł. Ronduda
ŁR: What kind? First of all, they’re very macho. Secondly, few people are able to really bring in something fresh. They make films the way you make shoes. Lighting technicians, cinematographers. When they set lights for you, you can immediately recognise it, you can see it looks like from a western. And they also preach at you all the time. JM: Have you already chosen cinematographers for your project? Yes, there’ll be one professional cinematographer from the film industry, and one who is also professional but who graduated from an art school, and not a film school. ŁR: Can you reveal the names? I’ll surely take Piotr Niemyjski. He’s not formatted. He was the cinematographer of the second crew in In Darkness (W ciemności). When I was watching that film, I really liked some of the scenes; it turned out later that those were his scenes. He’s recently made Foreign Body (Obce ciało) with Krzysztof Zanussi. I’ll also take Yanif Yura, my researcher from Looking for Jesus (Szukając Jezusa). Peter will deal with feature scenes, and YoYo will deal with recording things live. I also value Przemysław Niczyporuk a lot, who did cinematography for the brilliant documentary film Phnom Penh Lullaby (Kołysanka z Phnom Penh). Incredible perceptiveness, eyes in the back of the head. ŁR: What about the script, is it still in the form of a treatment? JM: ...or rather a performance score? Yes, a score. I will complete it in stages. First the performative activities, then the staged scenes that will explain those activities. But it makes no sense to talk about it now, everything will turn out otherwise anyway. JM: What visual shape do you envisage? Is the film going to recreate the aesthetics of your video works with a better camera, or is it going to be something completely different? You know what... I shot my video works with great cameras too, for real. So the quality of the camera is not the point. The quality of the image is less important for me than the emotional load that I want to extract from it. Even though my stuff is terribly visual. Cheerleader, video, 2006 photo by M. O. Soto, Zachęta National Gallery of Art
ARTIST AS A FILM PRODUCER
Janek Simon in conversation with Jakub Majmurek
Jakub Majmurek: Your latest project is a remake of Ashes and Diamonds produced in Nigeria’s Nollywood – the largest film production centre after Hollywood and Bollywood. How did you get there? Janek Simon: I first went to Nigeria in 2007 to make a different project. It concerned a certain place in Lagos – the Alaba International Market. It’s the largest marketplace in Africa, trading in second-hand electronic devices from Europe. TV sets, computers, mobile phones, washing machines, refrigerators – everything that’s not suitable for use in Europe ends its commercial life there. A computer that Europeans dispose of works for another several years in Africa, and if something doesn’t work, it’s disassembled, patched up, fixed, recycled in a totally uncontrolled way. That’s where Europe gets rid of rubbish that is difficult to recycle. The marketplace itself is essentially a small town. It looks like a set design of a post-apocalyptic film: piles of TV sets are on fire, computer mainboards are boiled in rusty barrels. That marketplace was where the Nigerian film industry was born. I met people who had something to do with it. Then I got the idea to make a Nigerian version of Ashes and Diamonds. What were the beginnings of that industry? There was never any film school there, just individual filmmakers who were making festival films on celluloid, but the Nigerian audiences didn’t watch those films. The legend about the birth of Nollywood has it that at the beginning of the 1990s traders from Alaba brought massive amounts of blank VHS cassettes from China. Those cassettes didn’t sell so they started to record matches from satellite TV, but that also didn’t sell well. That was when they started to shoot amateur films, total home video, they recorded them on those blank VHS cassettes and that was a hit. That’s how the Nigerian film industry is said to have been born; later it’s grown and it’s starting to become professional nowadays.
Ashes and Diamonds, poster
How big is that industry? How many films are produced a year now? About two thousand films. Alaba is still the centre of that industry. There’s a massive DVD warehouse, new films premiere every two weeks. 40 new titles arrive on a specified day of the week, two times a month. The DVDs are loaded onto trucks and distributed all across Nigeria, and even West Africa. They go to former British colonies, such as Ghana, but recently they have also started to reach former French colonies – for example Benin. In those colonies people watch the films in such a way that one person who speaks English delivers a live interpretation of what the characters say. Some time ago clones of Nollywood started to appear also in other West African states; there is an industry in Ghana, Sierra Leone that is organised in a similar way. In East Africa there’s a more professionalised film industry in Kenya. Do people watch those films at cinemas or at home? That’s one of the things that are currently changing in Nollywood. In the 1980s, cinemas virtually disappeared from Nigeria. It was so dangerous that people stopped going out in the evening. In the 1990s, the system operated through distribution of films on VHS, and later on DVD. People watched films at home or, when things got safer, in small halls with a TV set and a player. A very innovative thing was the price of the films (they were ridiculously cheap) and the fact that they were so short-lived. The films were distributed from Alaba all across Nigeria and disappeared in no time. There isn’t even any archive. One of the most vivid figures of Nollywood of the 1990s, the director Chico Ejiro (he’s the one who most often appears in European documentaries about Nollywood), made more than 300 films. As he says, he doesn’t remember them, he can’t even recall what they were about. How long did it take to make an average film in the 1990s? About a week. It took three days to shoot it, then it was edited, and the next week the film was already available on DVD in Alaba. You’ve said that it has become more professional nowadays? Yes, but also more stratified. That old Nollywood still functions the way it did in the 1990s. But the new and more professional Nollywood 2.0 has appeared, as the Nigerians call it. You could see a growing distance between those two worlds during the
Artist as a Film Producer
last five years. It’s also related to the fact that for about a decade now Nigeria has witnessed super-dynamic development; today, it’s the tiger of Africa. The country has a population of 170 million people and massive deposits of various natural resources, mainly crude oil. What’s more, it has a rather stable political situation now (which was not the case before), so the country can really develop. A middle class emerges, which is quite globalised in terms of their dreams and lifestyles. Cinemas are built again in Nigeria for that class. To make a film that can screen at cinemas you need a much better quality of production. And a group of directors emerged who got their education from film schools in Europe and the US; they make professional films with decent digital cameras (Red and Alexa are a hit now). How does the equipment base generally look like? I’ve been to two Nollywood 1.0 film sets. Filmmakers used such cameras as Sony EX1, equipment that can be bought for about three thousand dollars. There were a lot of people, some kind of assistants; workforce is apparently cheap. For a long time, the Nigerian film industry clustered in a single hotel – the Winnies in Surelere, an area of Lagos. Everybody who wanted to act or do something in film used to go there, people were hanging around and could make it to the screen. Does the government support this industry in any way? It just started in March 2013, when I was there. Nigeria has a massive problem with PR. Especially Lagos – nine years ago it was deemed the most dangerous city in the world. And it could really happen at that time that gangs would rob passengers of everything they had right after leaving the airport. The authorities are trying to enhance the image of Nigeria and they considered that Nollywood could be a perfect tool. But it previously operated for 20 years without any support. Who produces the films? Mostly the directors themselves. Do they invest their own funds? Very often. Another group which producers come from are traders from Alaba. Producers still sit at the marketplace with a pile of DVDs with films they produced themselves and sell them. Later, they reinvest the profit in another production. In Alaba,
A Alaba marketplace in Lagos â€“ the birthplace of Nollywood B Nollywood â€“ documentation of the Ashes and Diamonds project
there’s a section with films where producers and traders sit right next to each other. Our jaws dropped when we went to meet with the boss of the local counterpart of Polish Filmmakers Association, and it turned out that it’s a guy who sits at the marketplace on a pile of DVDs and sells them to clients. What is the budget of a Nollywood film today? There are already two systems. The world of the old Nollywood, with films for 10 thousand dollars, and Nollywood 2.0, where films can cost up to 2 million dollars. The top director of Nollywood 1.0 told us that he’d need 80 thousand dollars for a remake of Wajda’s film. Have any film studios and strong production companies appeared within Nollywood 2.0? There are two such professional studios. They’ve been established recently. Previously everything used to be shot on locations, at friends’ houses, and so on. A new thing is also the fact that banks start to invest in production. Every film has a logo of a bank now. What makes Nollywood films sell? Names of the actors, stars? There are recognised directors and stars. For example, the actress Genevieve Nnaji, already mentioned Teco Benson, or the actor Ramsey Nouah, who is associated rather with Nollywood 2.0. Are films visible in the public space, for example through posters? Yes, the poster is very important. Initially, those were posters hand-painted on rice sacks, today posters are shown at art galleries. The current posters look like clones of Hollywood ones – there’s a collage with actors’ faces and some explosions in the background. How do these films look like in terms of aesthetics? Bollywood is associated with musical, and what’s the most distinctive film genre of Nollywood? The most original genre is horror with elements of voodoo and traditional African religions. The first Nollywood hit was Living in Bondage, a horror about an ominous sect that provides its members with material wealth in return for killing a close relative – mother, daughter, brother. You could make a remake of it in Warsaw now (laughter). Another popular genre are drama films
Artist as a Film Producer
about relationships, love, romantic comedies. A wave of historical films has also emerged recently. And of course clones of action films from Hollywood. Is there any artistic cinema next to Nollywood? Is Nollywood 2.0 such kind of cinema? Nollywood 2.0 is not an artistic cinema in the European sense. These are people who try to make professional commercial cinema. There are individual artists who shoot films for festivals, but there is no strong artistic film scene in Nigeria. Does Nollywood have its own festivals, awards? Of course. There are a few festivals of African cinema, there are “African Oscars,” galas, red carpets, stars. Does this cinema function outside Africa? In England, for example, where there’s a large African community. There are several African film festivals in London. But, for now, the quality is not sufficient to watch those films seriously outside Africa. How many viewers does an average Nollywood film get? Nobody wanted to tell me. There’s no box office, it’s a mystery. I managed to find out somewhere that the most successful film earned 200 thousand euros. Where did the idea to make a remake of Ashes and Diamonds in Nollywood come from? It’s a continuation of my other projects. I take something that is central for us and transfer it to peripheral areas. Wajda’s film depicts the key problem of the dynamics of the local political conflict: it’s about the evaluation of what communism was. We still have two incongruent narratives for that matter. I became interested in what would be left from that if you took it somewhere far away. Wajda’s film contains universal elements that can be immediately understood also in Nigeria – the conflict between youth and duty; but there are also our topics. For me this project is a test of the universality of our debates. I went there in March 2013 for almost a month. I had meetings with directors, I showed them Wajda’s film... Had anyone seen Ashes and Diamonds before? Nobody. The director whom we finally chose, Niji Akanni,
knew Wajda’s films – he studied film directing in India, at the school in Pune, which was very anti-Bollywood and they were watching Tarkovsky, Wajda there. He says that he’s off-Nollywood. How does this director work in terms of production? He works at one of the two studios that I’ve mentioned. We’re going to produce the film. We’re going to bring the money and hire him to do the directing and script adaptation. Is he going to make a historical film? Yes. It’s going to concern the war in Biafra in the 1960s. In May 1967, the province of Biafra located in the south-east of Nigeria, declared secession. The government army entered the area and it ended with a massacre of civilians. More than one million people died of starvation. It’s a trauma for Nigerian nationalism, because the state was generally assembled by the British of three separate ethnic groups. In today’s Nigeria there’s no agreement about the narrative that concerns Biafra – on the one hand, there is the narrative of the Nigerian nationalist project, on the other hand, there is the narrative of the Igbo people, who were conquered. How much is the film going to cost? About 200 thousand dollars. That’s what Akanni’s previous films cost. This one might be a bit more expensive. He wants to shoot it in Biafra, where cities have remained in ruins since the war. Those places are not easily accessible. How did directors react to your idea? Everybody wanted to do it. Their interpretations were very different. We would meet, I’d tell them what my point was, I’d give them a DVD with Wajda’s film, then we’d talk again. That’s how we talked to ten filmmakers. They represented different environments: from hardcore Nollywood filmmakers to those who shoot films that cost two million dollars. Their interpretations were often bizarre. Teco Benson, a director from the elite of the old Nollywood, an action filmmaker, wanted to shoot it in the contemporary context and turn Maciek Chełmicki into a terrorist from Boko Haram – the Nigerian version of Al-Qaeda. Niji offered the most interesting interpretation and the most attractive budget.
Artist as a Film Producer
Contrary to other visual artists, you enter the field of cinematography not as a director but as a film producer. Yes, I act as a producer with a certain radical idea and my intention is to implement it by allowing an invited director to make the majority of artistic decisions. I want to use this opportunity to prove that a different approach to film production is possible. In Poland, this area is currently completely subordinated to the director; all attempts of the producer to take control are seen as a threat for the director’s vision. It’s different in my project. The outcome will be a feature film, but the road to that outcome will be different than usual. There are no such models of film production in Polish cinema. But in reality I take a smaller artistic risk than other artists who enter cinema as directors. My risk is only at the level of production, and not at the artistic level. Are you looking for funds in the field of art? It’s a huge sum for the field of art. So far, my March journey has been financed by the Zachęta National Gallery of Art and the BWA in Wrocław. I’m going to look for funds in different institutions, such as the Adam Mickiewicz Institute or other art institutions. Would you like your film to screen at cinemas in Nigeria? That’s our goal. I think that a film about such a significant historical event for Nigeria will be something truly important there. The text is an extended version of an interview published originally in Krytyka Polityczna, no. 35–36, Kino-fabryka.
Bio Notes Oskar Dawicki (1971) – performer, multimedia artist. In 2001, Dawicki cofounded the Azorro Group, which created such video works as Is an Artist Allowed to Do Anything? (Czy artyście wszystko wolno, 2002) and Everything Has Been Done (Wszystko już było, 2003). His works are based on irony, absurdity, grotesque humour. Dawicki often problematises the situation of an art performance and asks questions about his own existence. His works include Tribute to All People of Film (W hołdzie wszystkim ludziom filmu, 2006), Hommage à Bruce Lee (2003), I’ve Never Made a Work about the Holocaust (Nigdy nie zrobiłem pracy o Holokauście, 2009). Protagonist of the novel W połowie puste and the film The Performer (Performer), where he acts as himself. Łukasz Gutt (1980) – cinematographer. Graduate of the Film School in Łódź. Son of Wiktor Gutt, a neoavant-garde artist of the 1970s. Cinematographer in films North of Calabria (Na północ od Kalabrii, 2009), Ki (2011), Jeziorak (2014), The Performer (Performer, 2015). Collaborates as a cinematographer with the artist Anna Niesterowicz (Minstrel Show). Jakub Kijowski (1979) – cinematographer. Kijowski has collaborated with Przemysław Wojcieszek and Tomek Wasilewski, among other directors. Cinematographer in films Floating Skyscrapers (Płynące wieżowce, 2013) and Secret (Sekret, 2012). Camera operator in Made in Poland (2012) and In Darkness (W ciemności, 2011). Active also in the field of art, cinematographer in Agnieszka Polska’s film Future Days (2013). Katarzyna Kozyra (1963) – one of the leading artists of the Polish critical art of the 1990s. Graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, studio of Professor Grzegorz Kowalski. Works with performance, video art, happening, creates quasi-theatrical spectacles. Such works as Animal Pyramid (Piramida zwierząt, 1993) and Men’s Bathhouse (Łaźnia męska, 1999) stirred debates in the media about the borders and tasks of art. Kozyra’s projects confront the problems of the body, old age, illness, gender roles. Winner of the fourth edition of the Film Award (2014).
Normal Leto (1980) – multimedia artist, painter, filmmaker. His art is heavily autobiographical, based on recent scientific developments and such tools as computer visualisations. In 2007, Leto created video projections for Krystian Lupa’s spectacle Factory 2. In 2010, the artist made the feature film Sailor, based on his own novel. His new feature film, Photon, is set to premiere soon. Zbigniew Libera (1959) – visual artist. In the 1980s, affiliated with the Łódź opposition milieus of Kultura Zrzuty and Strych. His works develop the traditions of the neoavant-garde of the 1970s. Libera is considered as the forerunner of the Polish critical art and body art. The artist has used video in his practice since the 1980s. His works include Lego. Concentration Camp (Lego. Obóz koncentracyjny, 1994), The Messenger Girl (Co robi łączniczka, 2005). Winner of the first edition of the Film Award (2011). His feature film debut, Walser, premieres at cinemas in 2015. Anna Molska (1983) – visual artist, graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where she studied in the famous studio of Professor Grzegorz Kowalski. Specialises in video art and performance. Molska’s practice investigates the legacy of Modernism, modernity and real Socialism. Her works include Tkacze (Weavers, 2009), Weepers (Płaczki, 2010), The Sixth Continent (Szósty kontynent, 2012). Winner of the second edition of the Film Award (2012). Agnieszka Polska (1985) – visual artist, works with film and animation. Graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow and Universität der Künste in Berlin, Hito Steyerl class. Polska’s projects concern the legacy of the avant-garde, important figures of 20th century art, artistic communities. Her works include The Forgetting of Proper Names (O zapominaniu imion własnych, 2009), Hair (Włosy, 2012), Future Days (2013). Winner of the third edition of the Film Award (2013). Józef Robakowski (1939) – visual artist, filmmaker, Professor of the Leon Schiller National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź. One of the founders of the Workshop of the Film Form (1970–1977) at the Film School in Łódź, a group that
gathered students who experimented on the borderland of cinema and neoavantgarde in visual arts. Robakowski works with photography, installation, film, found footage. One of the pioneers of Polish video art. Anna Sasnal (1973) – literary scholar, longtime editor in the publishing house Ha!art. Film and theatre screenwriter. Sasnal has co-created the films It Looks Pretty from a Distance (Z daleka widok jest piękny, 2011) and Parasite (Huba, 2013). Wilhelm Sasnal (1972) – painter, filmmaker, author of comic strips. Co-founder of the group Ładnie, his paintings and comic strips portray the experience of the generation born in the 1970s. One of the most internationally recognised contemporary Polish painters. Sasnal combines his painting practice with short films. His cinema debut was It Looks Pretty from a Distance (Z daleka widok jest piękny, 2011), co-created with his wife, Anna Sasnal. Janek Simon (1977) – conceptual artist and curator. Works with interactive art, video, installation, objects, artistic actions. Alongside Kuba de Barbaro, Agnieszka Klepacka and Jan Sowa, Simon headed the Cracow-based artistic cooperative Goldex Poldex. Simon’s projects concern mainly cataclysms, utopia, (post)colonial situation. His works include Total Chess (Szachy totalne, 2004), Cracow Bread (Chleb krakowski, 2006), Volkswagen Transporter T2 (2008). Adam Sikora (1960) – cinematographer, director, screenwriter. Cinematographer in Zbigniew Libera’s film Walser. Sikora has collaborated with Jerzy Skolimowski (Essential Killing), Lech Majewski (Angelus, Wojaczek), Piotr Dumała (The Forest – Las). Alongside Ingmar Villqist, Sikora directed two films Ewa (2010) and Love in the City of Gardens (Miłość w mieście ogrodów, 2015). Agata Szymańska – film producer. Szymańska has produced It Looks Pretty from a Distance (Z daleka widok jest piękny, 2011) and Parasite (Huba, 2013), and co-produced Zbigniew Libera’s Walser (alongside Magdalena Kamińska). She is currently working on the production of Kuba Czekaj’s debut feature film The Erlprince (Królewicz Olch). Beata Walentowska (1980) – film editor,
studied editing at the Leon Schiller National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź. Editor of films by Anna and Wilhelm Sasnal, as well as Zbigniew Libera’s Walser. Walentowska has collaborated with Jacek Borcuch on Lasting (Nieulotne, 2012) and with Piotr Dumała on The Forest (Las, 2009) and Hippos (Hipopotamy, 2014).
Polish Cine Art. The Cinematographic Turn in Polish Contemporary Art Edited by Jakub Majmurek and Łukasz Ronduda Warsaw 2015 copyright © for this edition by Political Critique Publishing House Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and Adam Mickiewicz Institute 2015 Issue I ISBN 978-83- 64682-43-8 Co-financed by: Polish Cultural Institute London (Marlena Łukasik, Paulina Latham) Polish Film Institute
Copy editing: Marta Konarzewska Proofreading: Urszula Roman Managing editor: Patryk Walaszkowski Cover design, typesetting and text makeup: Krzysztof Bielecki Translation: Łukasz Mojsak Cover image: Film still from Future Days by Agnieszka Polska
Editors and publishers wish to thank the artists for making images of their work available for this publication. Photographs courtesy of: Magda Chołyst, Oskar Dawicki, Anna Goszczyńska, Łukasz Gutt, Magdalena Kamińska, Katarzyna Kozyra, Zofia Kulik, Zbigniew Libera, Wojciech Marczewski, Anna Molska, Anna Niesterowicz, Błażej Pindor, Agnieszka Polska, Józef Robakowski, Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal, Adam Sikora, Janek Simon, Agata Szymańska, WojciechaTubaja, Aleksandra Waliszewska, Michał Woliński, and Raster Gallery, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, FilmPolis, Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, Lampa i Iskra Boża, Nowy Teatr, Wajda Studio, Wajda School, BWA Awangarda, Anna Lena Films (Paris), Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (New York), Galeria Fortes Vilaça (São Paulo). Political Critique Publishing House ul. Foksal 16, II floor 00-372 Warsaw firstname.lastname@example.org www.krytykapolityczna.pl Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw ul. Pańska 3 00-124 Warsaw email@example.com www.artmuseum.pl Books by Krytyka Polityczna are available at the seat of Krytyka Polityczna (ul. Foksal 16, Warsaw) KP Club in Łódź (ul. Piotrkowska 101) KP Club in Tri-City (Nowe Ogrody 35, Gdańsk) KP Club in Cieszyn (ul. Zamkowa 1) KP online bookstore (krytykapolityczna.pl/wydawnictwo) and in good bookstores across Poland.