Still from the "Beats of Freedom". Participants of the Jarocin Festival

Beats of Freedom tells the story of rock music during the Communist era in the People's Republic of Poland through the eyes of Chris Salewicz, a British journalist of Polish heritage. It's a film about the sound that gave people a dose of freedom, about one of few aspects of everyday life that gave a bit of elbow room in an otherwise constrained society

Directed by Leszek Gnoiński and Wojciech Słota, the film is the first installment in the Guide to the Poles series. The narrative traces several plots, beginning with Chris Salewicz's meeting with three individuals who were essential to the burgeoning rock music scene. Tomek Lipiński, frontman for the groups 'Tilt' and 'Brygada Kryzys', manager and journalist Piotr Nagłowski, and photographer and historian Mirek Makowski. The three recounted their stories about the meaning behind the music of those times, along with descriptions of what Poland was like life for the everyday man - all against the background of the history of the past half century. Interviews and archive materials compose a broad vision of the Polish struggle for political, social and individual freedoms.

It turned out that the 'Iron Curtain' wasn't quite as impenetrable as the authorities would have hoped and a number of major acts new to the international scene made their way over from the west. Legendary bands took the stage in Warsaw and Jarocin, such as The Rolling Stones, who played two concerts in April 1967 at the Palace of Culture's Congressional Hall - an event that became fixed in the collective musical memory for many decades following.

The venue itself - an unwelcome gift from the Soviet Union - was inscribed into Rock-n-Roll folklore, taking on a more favourable aspect as its negative associations were counterbalanced by symbols of a subtly shifting reality. The venue also served as the setting for the official premiere of the film on March 11, 2010, which followed several months of screenings in Poland and around the world. It continued to be shown at various festivals through the end of 2010 across Europe and the United States.

 

Director Wojciech Słota on Beats of Freedom:

Music is everywhere... I wake up in the morning and turn on the radio. In the car I choose out a record. Then in the shop - apparently shoppers buy more when they're surrounded by positive melodies. In the meantime, I log on to the Internet. Websites command my attention with their advertisements and sounds. I walk through the city. In the main square, someone is playing an instrument. If I had a smartphone, I could load it with my favourite tunes and set one as my ringtone. I was ten years old when Martial Law was instated in Poland. Soon afterwards, the hit list appeared and I got to know Polish rock music. Following my sisters' example, I recorded my favourite songs on the tape player. Was this the music of freedom? Looking back, I can say it was. The reality of that time gave music an incredible power. I was too young then to understand the lyrics of all the songs, but all those musical fascinations from the '80s strongly influenced what I do today. And, after all, it's worth talking about those things that are important to us.

Director Leszek Gnoiński on Beats of Freedom:

In today's world of the Internet, MP3s, computer games and hundreds of television programmes, rock music has been moved into the background, becoming on of many entertainment options up for sale. Rock doesn't fight anyone anymore, doesn't fight for anything and most song lyrics by Polish artists today are jarring in their banality - making no reference to the trials and tribulations of any generation at all. This is in contradiction to the character of rock, which from the outset has faced off with stale mainstream realities of culture, politics and society - this is how it was in the '60s, '70s and especially the '80s. Rock never fought with the communist system and it was never even intended to. It described those tough times in simple, at times strong, words, although they never skimped on sharp metaphors. These songs broke through stereotypes, created bonds between young people, giving us the chance, even for a moment, to feel free. They showed that aside from the entertainment that was touted by the authorities, there was an underground movement with a life of its own, far from the political cynicism of the government and oppositional uprising.

Video Interview with Director Leszek Gnoiński

Beats of Freedom

Production: Adam Mickiewicz Institute, 2011
Screenplay and direction: Wojciech Słota, Leszek Gnoiński

The film is part of the Guide to the Poles series of documentary films produced within the framework of the International Cultural Programme of the Polish Presidency of the EU Council in 2011