Cinematographer, responsible for camerawork in movies such as Strange Heaven, Difret and LAbyrinth
She graduated from Radio and Television Department of University of Silesia in Katowice, as well as Cinematography Department of American Film Institute in Los Angeles.
Before she started working as a cinematographer, she was responsible for production of movies and TV series. She was a head producer for, among others, Kill Them All and Louder than Bombs, directed by Przemysław Wojcieszek.
She took her first steps in managing camera crew in the United States. There, while still studying at Cinematography Department of American Film Institute, she worked on various short feature films, as well as documentaries.
In 2013 she began working on Ethiopian Difret, which proved to be a huge breakthrough in her career, however she was hired for the movie by a complete accident. Zeresenay Mehari, who was the director of the movie, saw the movies that she had worked on and called her up. After being presented to her visual concept of the movie, he immediately asked her to cooperate with him on the project. In her interview with Culture.pl, Lenczewska said:
It was like two similar intuitions and sensitivities coming together. Cinematographer has to execute the vision of the director, they absolutely have to think alike about the picture, it is an elementary bond.
Difret is a story about a 14-year-old girl who is kidnapped and raped by her husband-to-be. She later runs away from him, but, during her escape, she ends up killing her oppressor. For that she is to be tried, but a young, aspiring lawyer Meaza Ashenafi (played by Meron Getnet) comes forth to try and defend her from what she thinks is unjust prosecution.
While filming in Africa, many cinematographers are tempted to use saturated colours and sharp lights. Lenczewska broke away from these methods, instead choosing smooth, delicate lights and toned down colours, inspired by Bergman’s movies with cinematographer Sven Mykvist. This approach resulted in subtle, smooth pictures, which do not focus on exotic sceneries, but only the people from the story.
The movie met with a very warm welcome in Ethiopia, where the media were keen on reporting on it, and reporting very kindly for the matter, and movie theatres were swarmed by visitors, breaking viewership records in the country. Difret became the first Ethiopian movie in 70 years to be released on international markets. It was also nominated as an Ethiopian candidate for an Oscar.
The movie was a ladder to career in the US for Lenczewska, winning awards at Sundance and Berlinale. However, before getting back to the States to pursue higher-grossing projects, she took up one more project in Africa. B for Boy, Chiki Anadu’s movie shot in Nigeria, is a story of women discriminated against with the approval of religion and culture.
Lanczewska’s talent, as well as her tremendous work ethic, came into light with subsequent movies, shot already in the US. In 2014 Imperial Dreams was released. The movie, directed by Malik Vitthal, is a story of a young mobster, who get out of jail and tries to get his life and family relations together. The main character in the movie is played by John Boyega, who is now an incredibly recognisable actor, due to him starring in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and 24: Live Another Day.
In 2016 Monika Lenczewska was included in the list of 10 cinematographers honoured by Variety newspaper. 'Mystical connection with the world led Monika Lenczewska out of Poland and set her on a journey around the countries of the world.' – that’s how editors’ board motivated their choice to include Polish cinematographer in their list of professionals whose work is worth checking out and following.
Before that honour, Lenczewska had managed to realise one more movie. She was a director of photography of Dariusz Gajewski’s movie Strange Heaven, which was also her first feature-length movie shot and produced in Poland. The film tells a story of Polish immigrants living in Sweden. They have to fight with the state to reclaim their custody rights from social services. It is an intimate drama with heavy social commentary, and there Lenczewska once again proved to be extremely talented and sensitive in her camerawork.
Lenczewska did not slow down with her work, as 4(!) more movies in which she was responsible for photography are scheduled to be released in 2017. Park, a Greek movie directed by Sofia Exarhou should be released on 9 March, and soon after that Message from the King by Belgian director Fabric du Welz, and Undir trénu by Icelandic director Hafstein Gunnar Sigurðsson. One more, this time star-studded film is to be out by the end of 2017. LAbyrinth, directed by Brad Furman and starring, among others, Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker, is also a cinematographic achievement of the Polish director of photography.
Sources: Variety, Filmpolski, own materials; edited by BS, translated by AS