Cinematic Dialogue

31 May 2018

We talk to Krzysztof Gierat, director of the Krakow Film Festival, about films, their creators and the benefits of bringing protagonists into direct contact with audiences.

What would you say were your favourite moments of the 58th Krakow Film Festival?

One of the highlights was the meeting with Sergei Loznitsa, the youngest ever winner of the Dragon of Dragons. In the past the prize was always bestowed on established creators of documentaries and animations, but then when we realised that Loznitsa is the holder of vast numbers of awards, we decided to invite him. He is an iconic documentary-maker; an incredibly original artist who has developed the found footage genre and enhanced and expanded observational documentaries by turning his camera onto real events. We also hosted Etgar Keret for the screening of the film Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story, and I hope it will be the first of many visits by this acclaimed Israeli author and filmmaker. Finally, we witnessed a fascinating rivalry among winners from previous years. Talar Derki, Till Schauder, Zosya Rodkevich and Kaleo La Belle are all acclaimed artists who come back here time and again because the Krakow Film Festival provides them with a platform to confront their audiences and meet representatives of the film industry.

As well as documentary-makers, the festival frequently hosts protagonists of those documentaries. How do such encounters between the public and people they have seen on the screen usually go?

In this instance we are able to confront on-screen portrayals with reality. It’s plain to see if the filmmakers twist the characters to fit their own vision or if they are unfair to them. We all remember Krzysztof Kieślowski abandoning documentaries for just this reason. Last year we were joined by Grzegorz Zariczny, whose latest film The Last Lesson was shown during the festival, to discuss how directors can present their protagonists without prejudice yet without shying away from their faults. I think such cinematic encounters, whether they are with the composer Jerzy Maksymiuk and his wife Ewa or the triathlon athlete Jerzy Górski, are perfect opportunities to discuss certain aspects of documentaries missing from the final versions.

Can the films presented during the festival be described as a barometer measuring the problems faced by the contemporary world?

The documentaries shown as part of the Krakow Film Festival don’t concern front-page news; they concern real people and the relationships they are involved in. They are films which enter into dialogue with one another, frequently revealing different aspects of the same dreams, experiences, human weaknesses and our struggles to overcome them. The filmmakers explore frequently difficult aspects of family lives; Lidia Duda’s Newborn is a portrayal of a young couple trying to build their marriage despite traumatic childhood experiences, while Rafał Łysak’s Unconditional Love explores his own relationship with his grandmother and her facing up to the fact that her beloved grandson is gay.

For the last few years the Krakow Film Festival has featured an extensive music section. Have you got a favourite to win this year’s DocFilmMusic section?

That’s a difficult question, because our shortlist includes only the best of the best. I think Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda a mention, because it is a perfect example of what our festival is all about, which is stories about people. It is a film about an eminent composer who is also an ordinary man struggling with illness and weakness; he is not a hero but someone we feel close to and want to touch, hug and hold close. I really hope that Robert Piaskowski, programme director of the Krakow Festival Office, invites him to the Film Music Festival one year so we can hug him in person.

What else will we see during the festival?

This year we are joining in with the celebrations of the centenary of Poland’s independence: we sent Tadeusz Lubelski, president of our programme board, to the Polish National Film Archive where he made an extraordinary discovery of two documentaries, amalgamated into a single film Polonia Restituta from 1928 and Banner of Freedom about Józef Piłsudski. We are proud to show them both on 1 June. The screening will be preceded by a presentation of a film by Marcin Giżycki; he used materials created during the 1920s by the amateur filmmaker Count August Zamoyski to prepare a 30-minute film Sculptor With the Camera. The live accompaniment comes from The Beat Freaks from Szczecin and Kraków’s SALK ensemble. And of course we will raise a toast to independent Poland during the interval!

Will these independence-themed accents feature throughout the festival?

Although I didn’t find any films with direct references to this key point in Poland’s history during the selection process, of course there are documentaries recalling the past. For example, while Anna Konik’s Fluffy Under a Placid Sky is nominally the story of her mother’s amnesia, the other “protagonist” is the attempt to restore the collective memory of her hometown. I should also mention Natalia Koryncka-Gruz’s A Minor Genocide about the pacification of a village near Lublin during the Nazi occupation, exploring the way trauma is passed from generation to generation.

What makes the Krakow Film Festival stand out from other similar events?

The strength of our festival is that we maintain two parallel tracks. On one hand, it’s a festival for audiences and we are delighted to share our joy in watching and discussing our favourite films. On the other, it is an event for filmmakers, producers and distributors who attend pitches to spot brand-new projects and attend meetings and workshops. We are extremely popular with film buffs from Poland and abroad. It’s important that the festival is held here in Kraków, renowned for its hospitability – it makes artists and audiences feel welcome, and they come back time and again.

Interviewed by Justyna Skalska

Krzysztof Gierat is the director of the Krakow Film Festival and member of the European and Polish Film Academies.

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