In the Right Direction

23 April 2019

We talk to Alicja Myśliwiec, PR manager of the Mastercard OFF CAMERA Festival, about contemporary independent cinema, the direction followed by Poland’s filmmakers and the Cinematic Kraków brand.

Mastercard OFF CAMERA is a great celebration of independent cinema, but what do we really mean by this term? Has its definition changed over the years?

Anyone can use a camera, but the question is whether the person making production decisions provides their own perspective. Auteur cinema always speaks with its own voice. Films by independent producers continue to focus on important, bold subjects and ask difficult questions. However, budgets are no longer as important in distinguishing independent films.

In the era of ubiquitous smartphones, new media and information overload, has the way in which independent filmmakers view the world changed?

Definitely! We make this clear with films presented during the festival’s special sections which explore the contemporary world, reveal how cinema responds to the changing realities and show how closely it is related to the here and now. For example, the section Where Are These Men? is a reflection on the #metoo and #timeisup movements. There are fascinating trends in initiation cinema which explores how we can find ourselves in a reality which exists as a de facto network of interconnected communication schemas, more virtual than real. It is dominated by the question: who am I? We also see the great revolution driven by new technologies in the lives of the younger viewers of OFF CAMERA: teenagers, students, young people who are currently making decisions about their future. I deeply believe that the direction taken by independent cinema is posing important questions and seeking answers.

This year, there are ten films competing in the Polish Feature Film Competition, including some which have already won prizes such as Jacek Borcuch’s Dolce Fine Giornata and Jagoda Szelc’s Monument, while Adrian Panek’s Werewolf is shortlisted in the international competition Making Way… What direction is Polish cinema taking?

The best possible, international direction. Jacek Borcuch’s Dolce Fine Giornata is the director’s third film to have been shown at the Sundance Festival, which serves as one of our main reference points since it inspired Szymon Miszczak to create the OFF CAMERA brand. Polish cinema crosses borders and tells universal stories which draw on our everyday lives. Jagoda Szelc’s Monument is a strong element of philosophical films; the director achieves a veritable exorcism of cinema. I like to call her a shaman of cinematic language, since she is not afraid of following rituals when telling stories; there is no other Polish cinematographer working today to be as consistent in their work. I would like to invite all film fans to join us for a meeting with Jagoda Szelc in May. We will discover why the director enjoys hanging around outside cinemas to watch people as they walk out during screenings.

What are the unmissable films of this year’s Mastercard OFF CAMERA?

I definitely recommend Adrian Panek’s Werewolf, Jagoda Szelc’s Monument, Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer starring Nicole Kidman, and Brady Cobert’s Lux Vox which opens the festival. Starring Natalie Portman, the film tells the story of an artist’s struggle with her self-image, as well as being a stunning musical production: the soundtrack was written by the musician Sia who usually covers her face with a wig.

What else can we expect from the May instalment of the festival?

We start with the SerialCon focusing on TV dramas, welcoming artists whose work makes us wait impatiently for new episodes or happily stay up all night to binge watch an entire season. There will be premiere screenings, so fans of series won’t be disappointed. We are fascinated by crime thrillers, and they are a rapidly growing TV genre, as shown with the recent production Chyłka – Zaginięcie based on the novel by Remigiusz Mróz and starring Magdalena Cielecka. We will discuss to what extent the text of a thriller affects the small screen format. In any case, it makes little difference whether we are talking about a film or a TV seriesJ.

Mastercard OFF CAMERA, the Film Music Festival, the Krakow Film Festival and the exhibition at the National Museum dedicated to Andrzej Wajda come together under the joint banner Cinematic Kraków for the first time.

That’s right, and I am delighted that we are talking about our city in a context other than simply being a location. When we look at the lineage of many filmmakers, there is something about Kraków – some kind of inner disquiet – which brings them here. Some people might say that it’s something to do with Wawel’s chakras, while for others it might be the spirit of Piwnica Pod Baranami and the atmosphere of artistic freedom of expression. This standard of independence is extremely valuable. It appears in various configurations, and I really think it unites us all.

The exhibition WAJDA at the National Museum in Krakow is a particularly important, moving element of Cinematic Kraków. It wasn’t so long ago that Andrzej Wajda was a guest of our festival; we recall the digital remastering and screening of his The Promised Land when he met the film’s stars Daniel Olbrychski, Wojciech Pszoniak and Andrzej Seweryn. The latter returns to the festival this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his work. I am certain this will be a great opportunity to talk about Andrzej Wajda and look at Kraków through the Maestro’s eyes. It is the perfect element in the entire history of cinema and the atmosphere created by OFF CAMERA, since Andrzej Seweryn celebrates his anniversary with a screening of Jan Matuszyński’s The Last Family which won the main competition in 2017. In Kraków history doesn’t so much repeat itself as it rhymes.

Interviewed by Justyna Skalska

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