Conrad Festival 2020

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  • Monday, October 19, 2020 - Sunday, October 25, 2020

What is it that makes some things visible while others lie beyond the power of our vision? During the Conrad Festival, we will examine several phenomena from different perspectives, mainly the non-obvious.

“Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, ‘When I grow up I will go there’”, says Marlow in The Heart of Darkness, echoing the sentiment of the author Joseph Conrad. While today there are almost no blank spaces left on maps, we are becoming increasingly aware of empty spaces around us. Although we have ordered our world and set out paths, it takes just a single step to come face to face with something which has eluded us from our usual safe perspective. This year’s Conrad Festival explores the “Visible and Invisible”. Programme director Grzegorz Jankowicz stresses the importance of the “and”, explaining that “the visible always goes hand in hand with the invisible; that we do and don’t see things at the same time, and that the visible and the invisible are intertwined beyond the boundaries of our perception”. And so we are faced with the most important question, posed by artistic director of the festival Michał Paweł Markowski: “Who […] decides what’s visible and what’s invisible? Who has the power to show the invisible and conceal the visible?” We will search for answers between 19 and 25 October during meetings with artists, at the cinema and exhibitions, during industry meetings and a the Conrad Award gala. Due to the epidemic, events are held in a hybrid format: some move online while others are held at Kraków’s bookshops and cultural institutions, with a few of those streamed online.

Latest communication situation

As usual, the most important point of the main programme of the Conrad Festival is meetings with authors. This year they are moving online: discussions will be streamed on the Facebook pages of the festival and the “Tygodnik Powszechny” weekly, the KBF YouTube channel and on the PLAY KRAKÓW platform. Events start with a conversation with the American writer Sigrid Nunez, who talking about pain which brings together humans and animals, although only the former are able to describe it. The Israeli author Etgar Keret ponders current narrative trends – what stories can contemporary writers tell? The following day brings a meeting with the Romanian writer Matei Vişniec who explores the value of liberty and whether it is a blessing or a curse. The rising star of Czech literature Bianca Bellová talks about reconciling with change and the vanishing of people, objects and even conventions. Chantal Mouffe turns our attention to less obvious topics, posing strong arguments stating that populism can actually save us. We join Roy Jacobsen on a journey to a fictitious island in the Norwegian Sea to find out whether living far from modern socioeconomic centres makes people seem less important and even invisible. Kevin Barry describes people forced to wait for an increasingly delayed ferry, focusing on the thoughts going on in their heads while in this limbo. We will also listen to reflections of Icelandic radio journalist Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir, who ponders words we use to communicate which also carry a destructive power. Adeline Dieudonné turns our attention to an important aspect of experiencing violence and to overcoming toxic family relationships, while the Russian author Maria Stepanova gives a brand-new perspective on the importance of our roots and remembering our ancestors. Her compatriot Victor Erofeyev talks about two Russias: one we watch in official media channels as described by politicians or journalists, and the other we have no easy access to. Karl-Markus Gauss takes us to forgotten cities in Europe to try to save them with literature. The British author of Turkish origin Elif Shafak talks about moving between two different cultures and languages. The Irish author and lecturer Emilie Pine reaches for uncomfortable topics we frequently avoid: difficult relations between children and parents, tough childhoods, violence against women and infertility. Finally, the acclaimed opera singer Ian Bostridge presents his decades-long relationship with Franz Schubert’s Winter Journey. His fascination with the work and countless performances have led him to continually reinterpret the work, bringing about an unexpected literary result.

After selected meetings, it will be time for the audience to ask questions. This time it happens online, immediately after the discussion; all details will be published on the festival’s Facebook page in due course. It’s a great opportunity to interact directly with authors in a friendly environment – don’t miss it!

Worlds waiting to be read

Authors note elements of their surroundings and use them to spin their own literary reality, at times shaping it to resemble our own and others to create fantastical alternatives. But rather than a substitution, it is an attempt to interpret our surroundings. So what do authors try to show us? In search for answers, the main programme takes us on a journey to literary worlds of Polish authors Marek Bieńczyk, Mikołaj Łoziński, Agnieszka Pajączkowska, Małgorzata Rejmer, Joanna Rudniańska, Zyta Rudzka and Magdalena Tulli. But we don’t venture on this journey alone: our guides will be other writers, journalists and scholars of literature. Through their discussions with authors, they will find for us keys opening up fresh interpretations of familiar texts. The meetings will be streamed on the Facebook pages of the festival and the “Tygodnik Powszechny” weekly, the KBF YouTube channel and on the PLAY KRAKÓW platform.

Face to face

Although in recent months we’ve had to get used to experiencing culture online, the opportunity to meet authors in person is a real joy for all bookworms! Indie bookshops host discussions about the latest released published under the patronage of Kraków UNESCO City of Literature and awarded the KUCL Prize as part of the stream accompanying the festival. We start with a meeting with Zośka Papużanka, discussing her obsession with observing others. Wit Szostak reveals secrets of his notebooks filled with other people’s words, while Igor Jarek presents an unusual image of Nowa Huta in his debut short story collection. Aleksandra Lipczak transports us to the part of the Iberian Peninsula bearing the Arabic name Al-Andalus to explore the multicultural history of the region. Finally, we spend a while pondering human fate with all its rises and falls with Adrianna Alksnin; the rhythm of the meeting is set by Bruno Jasieński on percussion. Conversations with authors will also be shown online.

Literature’s flirting with cinema

What’s the best way of finding material for a great film or TV series? Reach for contemporary prose! The online meetings Word2Picture are the perfect opportunity for literary and cinematic worlds to form closer ties. What does this look like in practice? Szczepan Twardoch talks to Anna Różalska and Łukasz Maciejewski about translating literature into film, noting the forthcoming launch of the TV adaptation of his novel King, while Jacek Dukaj reveals the secrets of the work on the TV series Into the Night. The meeting welcomes special guest Tomek Bagiński.

Words on the screen

Once we’ve talked about book adaptations for the screen enough to whet our appetites, we head to cinema for literary film screenings. We start with an unconventional biopic of one of this festival’s guests, made by Stephane Kaas. The documentary Etgar Keret. Based on a True Story is accompanied by a screening of a short cinematic debut by Inbal Pinto and Keret himself; Outside is a satirical look at life at the time of the pandemic. Next, we take a look at one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century through Nancy D. Kates’ Regarding Susan Sontag. Piotr Stasik’s A Diary of a Journey is an encounter with 82-year-old photographer Tadeusz Rolke; during his summertime journey through Poland, he is accompanied by the teenage Michał and reveals to him secrets of his work and many truths about life. Next, we travel to Iceland with Hlynur Pálmason’s A White, White Day, weaving the story of loss, grief and unconditional love. Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole, inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s reportage The Unwomanly Face of War, takes us back in time to 1945 Leningrad. Finally, we will see Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s 2015 debut Mustang, depicting the lives of girls and women in a conservative Turkish society and awarded at the Cannes Film Festival. All films will be shown between Monday and Friday at Pod Baranami Cinema; the following week they will be streamed on www.e-kinopodbaranami.pl.

Seeing anew

Before heading out to the cinema, take the time to visit festival exhibitions! The exhibition Lady Dada. Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven at Nuremberg House recalls the German avantgarde artist and poet and one of the most celebrated individuals in New York’s bohemian circles of the 1920s. Piwnica pod Baranami presents an exhibition of intimate portraits of Olga Tokarczuk Through the Lens of Danuta Węgiel. And it’s time for two events for fans of children’s book illustrations – and there are plenty of us around! The Galicia Jewish Museum presents a selection of works by the acclaimed Polish-Jewish illustrator Jan Marcin Szancer, while the Wyspiański Pavilion shows Daniel Mróz’s beloved illustrations and drawings for poems by Ludwik Jerzy Kern. Plenty for kids and adults to enjoy!

Fun time

While we’re on the subject of kids, the organisers have prepared several events especially for them. Our younger guests can enjoy an afternoon with stories by Toon Tellengen, (un)usual workshops with Anna Świątek and a monstrous walk with Joanna Guszta and Przemek Liput. Older kids join Michał Rusinek for a language investigation, solve an urban game and learn about forgers and plagiarists. Teenagers join workshops on creating new worlds with Jakub Woynarowski. All kids’ events are held in person; dates and venues will be announced nearer the time.

***

Right at the end, we discover new literary lands. Streamed online, the Conrad Festival Gala at the ICE Kraków Congress Centre introduces us to authors nominated for the Conrad Award for debuting writers, and reveals the winner. We will also hear from authors already awarded numerous prizes. The first reading during the special transmission is delivered by Elif Shafak, while the second will be held live at ICE Kraków – the name is being kept secret for the time being, but we are in for an exciting surprise! (Anna Mazur)

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