Stimulating the Senses

27 May 2019

We talk to Marcin Polar, director of the documentary The Tough, presented as part of the international short film competition at the 59th Kraków Film Festival, about his creative passion, his drive to stimulate audiences and the opportunities offered to young artists by festivals.

Where the idea for the documentary The Tough come from?

Marcin Polar: The Tough, my second documentary, stems from my interest in caving. The passion took up several years of my life and it kept me busy while I was a student at the film school. I was fascinated by caves, to the extent that I felt that they are a fascinating setting for a cinematic story. I was interested in what makes people explore caves, since – objectively speaking – there is nothing particularly pleasant or momentous about it, and there are no measurable benefits. Unless you discover a previously unknown cave [like the protagonist of The Tough – ed.], which is then included on maps and your name is commemorated in encyclopaedias. However, all this requires huge effort and risk. I wanted to find out what drives cave explorers, but as I worked on my film I realised that there is no single answer to the question.

In fact The Tough leaves many questions unanswered.

That’s right, and that was my aim – to leave an open field for discussion.

What was the most difficult element in making the documentary?

Logistics! Just the task of getting up there, carrying heavy climbing and filming kit, was a major challenge, because the entrance to the cave is high up in the Tatras, above the tree line. And of course the real fun started later, as we were descending and having to negotiate through a whole series of spaces so narrow that we had to breathe out hard to squeeze through. We made the film over the course of a few years, spending from a few hour to several days in the cave, which of course involved sleeping down there. Yes, it was a huge undertaking.

Not a single word is uttered in your film. Why did you chose such an unusual form of documenting the discovery of Harda Cave?

I think that’s exactly how I managed to say everything I wanted to in the film. I wasn’t trying to make a reportage. It was important to me to create more than a visual impression, since films affect many senses. Following screenings of The Tough, many viewers have told me that they felt unwell, as though they were in the cave themselves. And that was exactly my intention – so that everyone could experience cave surroundings for themselves and put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist as he explores them.

The Tough was premiered at the Sundance Festival, and now it’s time for the Kraków Film Festival. How important is it to you as a filmmaker that your work is shown during such prestigious events?

Festivals are a great opportunity to reach the public and stir their interest in my work. Just qualifying for the festival is a great honour and perhaps the best recommendation for a film. The vast number of productions being made all over the globe means that festivals are the only real way of coming to the audiences’ attention.

Interview by Justyna Skalska

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