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Leszek Dawid, photo: Dominik Pisarek / Forum
A filmmaker who is never in a hurry and prefers quality over quantity, he has garnered more awards than the amount of movies he has directed. Although You Are God is only his second feature, Leszek Dawid appears to be one of Poland's most mature filmmakers
Asked whether he had always known that he would be a filmmaker, the 1971 born director answers with laughter: "you can't know these things in advance". Almost like the protagonist in Jan Jakub Kolski's History of the Cinema in Popielawy whose story is to Poland what Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso is to European cannons.
Before he arrived at the Łódź Film School he finished English Studies at the University of Wrocław. Wishing to pursue his interest in photography, he thought of applying to the Faculty of Cinematography. "One time I went to the Łódź School, I walked along its hallways and thought to myslef that I just didn't understand the place. I forgot about film for a long time. But finally I realised that I had to do something in order not to think in the future that didn't even give it a try".
That's how he ended up going to the Łódź Film School. Upon meeting Kazimierz Karabasz and other masters of the Polish cinema, he became fascinated with the documentary genre.
The university was a place of meetings, meetings which allowed him to discover himself better. "School is for trying everything and not believing anyone who tells you what is good and what is bad. Thankfully the teachers I had were different, they talked about searching for something new and always giving more of oneself. I will always remember Wojciech Marczewski's classes and his suggestions to always leave your own imprint in everything we do".
The Łódź Film School also taught me a lesson in modesty. "During the second year, before I filmed A Bar at Victoria Station / Bar na Victorii I was expelled. My films weren't terrible, they were average but I was extremely stubborn. I insisted on filming a documentary about the Alpinist Marcin Tomaszewski o 16mm tape". The lecturers didn't like the result and Leszek Dawid left the School for a short while. "I later came back but the memory of the expulsion always remind me of the relativity of the profession I chose".
Leszek Dawid avoids conversations about his sources of inspiration. "As time goes by I feel that masters are a threat to filmmakers: with their experience, their personalities, with the impact they have on you. Subconsciously you try to tread in their footsteps. When you notice that this is happening, you should quickly change directions."
Paving his own path in the industry, he came back to his family regions. A Bar at Victoria Station, Dawid's most renowned documentary begins in his hometown of Kluczbork. He knew the two young unemployed men from his childhood. He took his camera and embarked on a journey with them. "There was only me, the camera and them. The three of us went to London. I shared their fates, I had as much money as them, only my perspective was different. I wanted to make a movie, they wanted to find a job."
At Poland’s prestigious Kraków Film Festival, for its "pulse and energy", A Bar at Victoria Station received the Silver Lajkonik for Best Polish documentary and the Silver Dragon in the international competition. It was also nominated for the Polityka weekly Passports in the film category and won two other awards, one at the Ińsk Festival and the other in Neubrandenburg.
Dawid’s subsequent films also proved his sensitivity in observing human tribulations. His feature etude My Place / Moje miejsce exposes a moment in the life of a 26 year old drummer who decides to leave his family town to try his luck in Warsaw. The jury of the Kraków Film Festival singled the movie out for "showing the real story of a young man searching for his place in life and society", while at the Young and Film Festival in Koszalin My Place was sought out for its "excellence of craft, professionalism and honesty in its approach to the topic".
Apart from A Bar at Victoria Station and My Place, On the Road and the melancholic documentary Zaungaeste / Zaungaste – Zza płotu filmed with the German director Matl Findel, are other films that show people’s inability to reconcile their own aspirations with societal expectations. On the Road / W drodze is a documentary built from thoughts and opinions of hitch-hikers who the director picked up in different places in Poland.
These topics also come around in Leszek Dawid’s features. In My Name is Ki he told the story of an ambitious woman who tries to be a mother and not give up on her career. You Are God portrays people whose particular sensitivity makes them stand from the housing estate they live in.
"Every now and then I hear that I tell the stories of people who are lost in everyday reality. I believe that this happens by chance," the filmamker confesses "my films talk about people in certain contexts and I hope that they will never become films only about the context. Essentially, what is most interesting to me is not having a plan for your own cinema".
He is not a directorial-demiurge. He is not the one leading his protagonists. "I really like the process in which the actor’s character takes me on a voayge. This is something I learned when making documentaries and it’s something I eagerly do when working on feature films. I’m constantly interested by the world I’m telling about. If one day I were to reproduce it from the position of someone who knows and wants to share his knowledge, things could become dangerous".
Although it’s not his world nor his life, alongside My Name is Ki’s main character, Dawid entered the reality of night clubs and parties. In You Are God, he brought a camera to the Silesian housing estate to discover the world of hip-hop in depth and to show the victims of the Polish post-communist transition period. He is loyal towards his characters. He tries to understand. Regardless of whether he is portraying naive youngsters from his hometown Kluczbork or a crazed girl from Warsaw. "I think that the fair thing to do is to take the side of your characters. The only thing they really have is their presence on the screen. An honest creator respects their right to have their own voice".
"Giving life to paper characters is a priority to me” – Dawid said in an interview with Anna Bielak (From My Own Perspective / Z własnej perspektywy, Ekrany no. 4/2012). "I don’t like it when characters described in a text speak out that exact text on screen. That is not the kind of onscreen presence I want because it’s really more of a lack of presence". Week long table rehearsals which are set up to analyse the motives of the character are meant to help actors grow into their roles. "Actors have to feel the character, even if sometimes they don’t understand him, that’s acceptable. There are a lot of questions I myself can’t answer. The important thing is to try to answer them together. An actor equipped with the right emotions ceases to be an extra".
He has been lucky when it comes to actors and he has a great instinct in leading them. On the set of My name is Ki he had to suppress Roma Gąsiorowska’s energy, an extremely talented actress who tends to overdo things. The effect was bewildering. "It’s one of the most interesting and most realistic portrayals of a contemporary young woman in Polish cinema in recent years" Aneta Kyzioł writes in the weekly Polityka. For the role of the emotionally unstable young woman Roma Gąsiorowska received the Gdynia Festival’s of Polish Feature Films Golden Lion and the oldest Polish film award given out since 1956 by the monthly Film – the Golden Duck for Best Actress. The movie was warmly received at the festival in Venice where it was presented as part of the Venice Days. Adam Woronowicz and Krzysztof Ogłoza who played the girl’s partners, were also nominated for the Golden Duck awards.
The director managed to discover new acting talents in You Are God as well. "Marcin Kowalczyk came to one of the first castings. I watched him rap Kaliber 44’s Plus and minus / Plus i minus and I knew that something was going to happen during the making of this film. If people like him are showing up, were were bound to meet somebody somewhere". And it all turned out well. At the Gdynia Festival Marcin Kowalczyk was chosen Best Debutant for his role as Magik and Dawid Ogrodnik and Tomasz Schuchardt, playing Rahim and Fokus, received awards for supporting actors.
When it comes to his own awards, the creator of My Name is Ki talks about them without enthousiasm. "Success is a shady affair. I like it when people comment on my movie, but I try to not pay too much attention to it. I’m much more interested in what’s ahead of me rather than what’s behind me. The more experience I have, the more movies I’ve made, the harder it is to make another one. Knowledge starts coming in the way and experience can falsely lead you into acting according to a routine. You have to try hard to not let making films become something mechanical, not to position yourself as somebody who knows".
He trusts his own intuition. "It’s the only thing we have. In truth nothing else exists. There’s a hundred questions and doubts,"– he says – "during my first year at the Film School, Juliusz Janicki, the head of the directing department told us: it’s November, a bit late, but you can still quit, because in this line of work you won’t find anything interesting, you’ll only find fear and loneliness. Whoever wants, comes along, who doesn’t, can still turn around. I thought to myself: What is this? I’m at the beginning of a new adventure, what fear and loneliness is he talking about? I believe it will be fun. But in reality you really are left with nothing but fear and loneliness. And the only thing you have is your intuition.
There is no other voice. You listen to people, who advise you, you listen to actors, who tell you about their experiences, which relate to the role, but you’re really on your own".
Translated by Marta Jazowska