Documentary filmmaker and feature film director. One of the internationally most acclaimed Polish film documentary filmmakers, nominated for an Academy Award in 1994. Born in 1940 in Paris.
He is one of the internationally most acclaimed Polish film documentary filmmakers, boasting prizes from numerous film festivals, including Oberhausen, Kraków, San Francisco and Leipzig, and holding prestigious lifetime awards, most notably 1995 "Polityka's Passport" in the film category, 1995 Culture Foundation's Award, 2000 Minister of Culture and National Heritage award, the 2004 "Jancio Wodnik" Award at the 11th "Prowincjonalia" National Film Art Festival in Września, and the Andrzej Wajda Freedom Award received at the International Film Festival in Berlin in 2004. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his documentary 89 mm od Europy (89 mm From Europe) in 1994.
Prior to enrolling at the Łódź Film School in 1967, Łoziński graduated from Warsaw Polytechnic, Department of Communication, and worked for a few years as a sound engineer at the Warsaw Documentary Studio (WFD). He completed his direction studies in 1971, but it was not until 1976 that he obtained his degree, by which time he could boast some serious documentary filmmaking achievement. His pre-graduation project was Zmiana (A Change) and Widziane z dołu (Seen from Underneath), two parts of a TV film made together with Paweł Kędzierski, and Zderzenie czołowe (A Head-On Collision aka Front Collision) was his graduation work.
In the 1970s and 1980s Łoziński was associated first with the Polish Television, then with Andrzej Wajda's Studio X and with the Warsaw Documentary Studio. He was expelled from the latter by the Minister of Culture in 1980, his two consecutive films stopped by censorship, but re-joined in August of the same year. He gave up making documentaries under the martial law, though accepted the Warsaw Institute of Psychoneurology's commission for a project on alcoholism, and, with the Warsaw Documentary Studio, registered major developments in the underground Solidarity. The mid-1980s saw him return to individual documentary filmmaking. Most of his 1990s film were made at the Kalejdoskop Film Studio.
1971 witnessed a generational change in Polish documentary, with debuts by young filmmakers such as Tomasz Zygadło, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Wojciech Wiszniewski and Paweł Kędzierski. As a group, they moved away from neo-realistic, objective registration of reality advocated mainly by Kazimierz Karabasz, and, according to Mirosław Przylipiak, veered towards describing social reality and unravelling the non-presented world ("Kwartalnik Filmowy" 23/1998). Łoziński was one of the leading directors of the generation whose films were marked by "a skepticism of official, façade life which was at odds with individual experience" and revealed the inconsistency "between the official and personal living", wrote Małgorzata Hendrykowska in 'Kronika kinematografii polskiej 1895-1997' (A Chronicle of Polish Filmmaking: 1895-1997) in 1999. This is a very apt comment on Łoziński's documentaries made in communist Poland, for Próba mikrofonu (The Microphone Test), Zderzenie czołowe (A Head-On Collision), Happy End, Król (The King) and Egzamin dojrzałości (Matriculation), now considered documentary classics of the period, were indeed akin to political and social essays. One could venture a statement that Łoziński was particularly vocal in manifesting his views - and paid a high price for that. Krzysztof Kornacki, author of a comprehensive review of Łoziński's films (Polityka, psychologia i czlowiek - twórczość Marcela Łozińskiego / Politics, Psychology and the Man. The Films of Marcel Łozinski), "Kwartalnik Filmowy" 23/1998), points out that only four of Łoziński's twelve films made before 1980 (Wizyta / A Visit), Zderzenie czołowe (A Head-On Collision), Film nr 1650 (Film No. 1650) and Dotknięcie (The Touch) were distributed in a more or less regular way. The rest were stopped from release or interfered with by the authorities, often without Łoziński's knowledge, as in the case of Koło fortuny (Wheel of Fortune). This, as well as Łoziński's choice to grow silent under the martial law, accounted for a very poor awareness of his achievement when 1989 brought the change of the system, and it took two resounding documentaries made in the early 1990s (89 mm od Europy (89 mm From Europe) and Wszystko może się przytrafić (Anything Can Happen)) to raise it.
The afore-mentioned Krzysztof Kornacki considers 1989 the key milestone in Łoziński's work and observes that the evolution of his interests was typical of his generation of documentary filmmakers, stemming from the
'involved commentary' of the critical documentaries of the 1970s to 'an attempt to speak straightforwardly in the brief period from August 1980 to December 1981', followed by an 'absence' in the decade of the martial law and by a sudden revival with very important and very good 'accountability films' after the breakthrough of 1989, to small-scale, intimate documentaries about the human being.
As a matter of fact, there was no period of 'straightforward speaking', even though Łoziński played a major role during Solidarity's heyday, his banned films such as Jak żyć (Recipe for Life aka How to live?), Egzamin dojrzałości (Matriculation) and Próba mikrofonu (The Microphone Test) finally released and winning prizes at Kraków and Łagów festivals. Próba mikrofonu, shot at the Warsaw Pollena-Uroda cosmetics factory, seems particularly important. A company radio broadcaster asks workers if they feel that they own the plant and then confronts what they have said with what the management says. Made in 1980, this documentary seems to be ahead of its time. Showing the relationship between the ruled and the rulers, it reveals the truth about who really runs the country. Incidentally, this theme was taken up in many other films made in the wake of events of August 1980 using the formula of Krzysztof Kieślowski's famous Gadające glowy (Talking Heads).
In general, Kornacki has a point, also when he lists the topics raised by Łoziński before 1989: the individual versus unifying social and political mechanisms (Zderzenie czołowe, Happy End), collective mentality (Jak żyć, Egzamin dojrzałości, Król, Moje miejsce / My Place, Dotknięcie) and the role of the media in the mechanisms of political indoctrination (Próba mikrofonu, Ćwiczenia warsztatowe / Workshop Practice and, partly, Wizyta). According to Kornacki, these films are "not so much about man as about the individual", yet he discerns "deep footprints of humanity" in Wizyta, an interpretation confirmed by Łoziński himself in Żeby nie bolało (So That It Doesn't Hurt). Made twenty-four years later, this documentary has the same protagonist, Urszula Flis, a woman living in the country partly by choice and partly by necessity, her interests and intellectual standards setting her apart from the locals. These "footprints" were, however, missed by Tadeusz Sobolewski, the noted film critic, who made a rather unfortunate comparison between Wizyta and Proóba Mikrofonu ("Film" 15/1981). Reporting on the Kraków Festival in 1981, Bożena Janicka wrote aptly that Próba mikrofonu was about the attitude of "the authorities to public aspirations" ("Film" 26/1981). Yet Sobolewski was right about most of Łoziński's films: they tell us nothing about "the filmmaker's soul, but a lot about the collective soul". One could add that they sometimes tell us a lot about social schizophrenia. Take Egzamin dojrzałości, in which Łoziński confronts the students' answers in the exam room - all in line with the propaganda - with the spiteful comments they make with regard to the same propaganda in the corridor.
Łoziński's period of "account-settling", though brief, resulted in films which, however similar to those made by others, will without doubt remain an important insight into the Polish history and collective trauma of the nation faced with the challenge of evaluating its past. These films include Świadkowie (Witnesses), made in 1988 and showing the views of the inhabitants of Kielce, participants and witnesses of the so-called Kielce pogrom of 1946; Las katyński (Katyń Forest), a 1989 documentary treating of the hushed crime, the trauma of relatives unable to bury their dead, and the people who had to live in the shadow of the crime scene, a place symbolic of the communist empire; and 45-89, an early 1990s vision of history of communist Poland as seen by the non-partite, defiant left which tried to change the system.
In a paper 'Film dokumentalny wobec transformacji ustrojowej w Polsce' (The Documentary Film and Transformation of Poland's System) delivered at Jagiellonian University (published in 'Dokument po przelłomie' / The Post-Breakthrough Documentary, ed. J. Glłowa, Kraków 1999), Jerzy Uszyński pointed out the shift of the centre of gravity which occurred in the Polish documentaries in the 1990s. He used Łoziński as a an example. The shift was from socially-involved to philosophical (I would rather go for "existential") themes, from focus on the individual to focus on man. Uszyński observes that some of Łoziński's films of that time could have been made anytime and anywhere. The flagship films of this trend were Wszystko może się przytrafić (Anything Can Happen) and the aforementioned Żeby nie bolało (So It Doesn't Hurt). Uszynński adds the Oscar-nominated 89 mm od Europy (89 mm from Europe), a documentary showing the enduring gap between the West and the East.
This inclusion is debatable, for 89 mm od Europy reminds one more of the metaphorical socio-political films from the communist times, the human dimension of the bonding of the six-year-old Tomaszek and the Belarusian worker replacing chassis at a border train station providing the only link to the other two films. Well, not really the only one, for the same Tomaszek appears in Łoziński's deepest and, possibly, best film Wszystko może się przytrafić, a story of life, death, hope-filled curiosity of a young boy and the bitter experience of old age.
To Łoziński, like to many filmmakers of his generation, it is not only the "what" that matters, but also the "how". It is a hallmark of their films that they are conceived, staged and artistically provocative. While it was Wojciech Wiszniewski who went furthest in this regard, Łoziński also applied broadly understood creation, for instance in Zderzenie czołowe and Moje miejsce, and provocation, like in Happy End made with Paweł Kędzierski, or in his other resounding films, such as Próba mikrofonu and Jak żyć. Łoziński himself spoke a number of times about his search for a catalyst to help with or accelerate the extraction of truth about people and situations. He would use this catalyst not only when tracking down the negative features of the system or putting together a rather unfavourable portrait of the Polish society, but also at a later stage. Take Las Katyński, in which the daughter of a Polish officer murdered in Katyń encourages the confessions of Russians living in the shadow of that crime, or Wszystko może się przytrafić, where the catalyst is Łoziński's s six-year-old son.
When interviewed by Tadeusz Sobolewski while shooting Jak żyć, the acclaimed film made in the Zespół X Studio (headed by Andrzej Wajda) as a full-length feature (and quoted as such in film encyclopedias), yet - significantly - considered a documentary by Łoziński, he confessed:
"I am interested neither in pure documentaries nor in features. When making a 'pure documentary', you just watch. In features you use pre-conceived outlines. I try to benefit from both genres. … Someone said that to make a film is to find the moment of balance between your own idea and what the reality suggests. I try to influence the reality and then treat openly the situation which has been created." ('Film' 36/1976)
This statement was reinforced with his comment on the making of Jak żyć (Recipe for Life):
The best thing ... is that finally you do not really know what has been staged and what is life.
These comments are true of almost all of Łoziński's films, though his interference ranged from limited, as in Jak żyć, to substantial. At times it was so substantial that it was found too far-reaching. Łoziński, though, would say he did not want to bend life to suit his directing intentions, to simplify or to manipulate. Yet because of his interference certain of his films have lost the characteristics of the documentary. Referring to the controversy around Lozinski's method of "opening the reality", Krzysztof Kornacki calls Jak żyć "a documentary with a large number of staging tricks". This does not resolve the controversy, though. The protagonists of Jak żyć, staying at a Union of Young Polish Socialists camp, did not know that Lozinski controlled several of the key campers, that they were acting and that, consequently, the situations they provoked would be more in place in a feature than in a documentary. Naturally, this does not change the metaphorical message of the film, with its vision of a system suggestive of a penal camp in which everybody is constantly watched and assessed by the invisible management and by one another. Nor does it diminish the artistic merit of Łoziński's films. He uses his method in a masterly fashion, applying it as a tool to help extract what he considers of primary importance. After all, what really matters is to get down to the truth about the people or the mechanics of political and social systems, and, ultimately, of history.
In 2008, Łoziński realized a 14-minute documentary Poste Restante, telling the story of one letter picked out from the millions that reach the Undeliverable Mail Office in Koluszki. The letter, written by a child, addressed to God, was found among the numerous misaddressed envelopes. The film, featuring music by Wojciech Kilar and Jacek Petrycki’s cinematography, received many awards and was pronounced one of the best Polish documentaries of 2009.
Poste Restante inspired figures such as Ewa Błaszczyk, Sister Małgorzata Chmielewska, Otylia Jędrzejczak, Stanisław Sojka, Muniek Staszczyk, Stanisław Obirek, and Jarosław Lipszyc to put together their own reflections in the forms of letters to God, which build up to a book entitled God. Heaven.
Two years later, Łoziński created one of his most personal and poignant films. Tonia and Her Children (Tonia i jej dzieci) is a story about the mother of the director, her involvement in the communist activities and the family’s life after the war. It also partly focused on Marcel Łoziński’s childhood, part of which he spent at an orphanage (as a 9 year old). The arrival of the 11-year old Werka and her younger brother to the Wrocław orphanage met with the remark: “They only ever send Yid-Commies (Żydokomuna) to us”. In 1949 their mother, a communist before the war, was arrested following an accusation of collaborating with US Intelligence and spent five and half years in prison. During that time, Marcel and his sister would move from one orphanage to another.
Tonia and Her Children is a story about children whose lives were stigmatized by their parents' ideological choices. The film was awarded with a Golden Lajkonik (Złoty Lajkonik) at the Kraków Film Festival.
In 2013, Łoziński and his son Paweł presented another documentary family project at the Kraków Festival. Their initial idea was to make one film – a record of their mutual trip to Paris. They got into a camper van and on the road, during which trip they would discuss their family history, mistakes of upbringing, discomforts and harms. After their return, Paweł Łoziński used the footage to create the film Father and Son (Ojciec i syn). Łoziński the elder, however, didn’t want to sign it with his name, so he edited his own documentary – Father and Son on a Journey (Ojciec i syn w podróży).
The camera works like a scalpel here, which is about to cut the abscess of mutual charges accumulated throughout the entire life - Bartosz Staszczyszyn wrote in the film’s review. – the son keeps on asking about his parents’ divorce, which had a significant impact on his life. He criticizes the educational methods of his father, and tries to find reference points. There are also questions and fatherly advice – although bitter and infused with pain. Marcel answers his son’s questions about searching for love, building a relationship with children, and at the same time tries to identify the justifications for his parental success.
Father and Son on a Journey received a Golden Horn (Złoty Róg) for Best Directing at the Kraków Film Festival, as well as won the audience’s hearts.
Łoziński lectures at Andrzej Wajda's Master School of Film Directing and is a member of the American Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Academy.
Marcel Łoziński was involved in the making of Krzysztof Kieślowski's Fabryka [The Factory] (1970) and of Andrzej Wolski's KOR [Workers' Defence Committee] (Paris, 1988).
Author: Jan Strękowski, March 2004, update AM February 2014