Polish cinematographers go further afield than just Hollywood. They shoot in South America, in the Himalayas, in Ethiopia, in Bollywood and in the Kazakh desert.
They’re the very best in their field. Polish cinematographers have been conquering Hollywood for decades. Adam Holender and his followers, including Janusz Kamiński, Dariusz Wolski, and Sławomir Idziak, have had impressive careers. But Hollywood is not the only place where Polish cinematographers can flourish: Adam Sikora’s career took off in the Czech Republic after he charmed audiences with his work on W cieniu / In the Shadow; Bogumił Godfrejów has been co-operating with Hans-Christian Schmid for years now; Paweł Edelman works on Roman Polański’s French productions. Sometimes their professional paths take them to more exotic places. Allow us to present the most interesting film projects by Polish cinematographers.
Wojciech Staroń and Pod ochroną: from the eyes of a child
Wojciech Staroń's path has always led outside Poland. Just after graduating, he left to Russia, where he made the Siberian Lesson documentary. A few years later, in Bolivia and in Argentina, he created the documentaries El Misionero and Argentinian Lesson. This is when he met Diego Lerman and Paula Markovich, two directors with whom he later cooperated.
He began by filming Paula Markovich’s Nagroda / El Premio / The Prize, a story about childhood and the fascist Argentina of the 70s. His work was awarded with a Silver Bear at the 2012 Berlinale.
Another Argentinian film with Staroń’s cinematography entered Polish cinemas in March 2015. Pod Ochroną is the touching story of a woman who runs away with her son from her brutal partner. Staroń told this story from the point of view of the young boy, and the camera became a line transmitting his emotions, fear and hope to viewers. Once again, as in Argentinian Lesson and The Prize, he shows the world from a child’s perspective.
As a cinematographer I like everything that is unique to the camera. A child is unique, you can’t train a child with scene doubles. You must strike whilst the iron's hot, because it's a one-off thing
– he said in an interview with Filmweb.
There was another hindrance – the boy who starred in the film was selected from a group of children suffering from ADHD, and proved to be difficult to control in front of the camera.
The film has launched a social discussion about violence and women rights, with non-governmental organisations and foundations taking a stand in it. On 12th March 2015 Diego Lerman’s film was presented during an ONZ session in New York. It surely wasn’t Staroń’s last Argentinian project.
Right now I get more propositions from there than from Poland. From Argentina, Mexico, Columbia… I could make film after film back there, but Poland took a hold on us too; we would like to make fine films here as well
– Staroń said in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza.
He has recently finished a Latvian project, Świt / Dawn, directed by Laila Pakalnina.
Monika Lenczewska and Difret: Ethiopia’s battle for an Oscar
Although she’s a graduate of the Faculty of Radio and Television of the University of Silesia in Katowice and of the American Film Institute’s Cinematography Faculty, her biggest success so far is a production made in… Ethiopia.
She landed on the set of Difret by accident. Its producer saw her previous works and sent them over to the director, Zeresenay Mehari. He contacted the Polish cinematographer, and while Lenczewska was preparing a visual concept for the film, Mehari asked her to make the film with him.
It was a meeting of two intuitions and sensitivities. A cinematographer has to execute the director’s vision – they have to share an idea of the image. This is an absolutely basic connection.
– Lenczewska said in an interview with Culture.pl.
Difret is the story of a fourteen-year-old kidnapped and raped by her future husband. When she attempts to escape, she kills her assailant and thus stands trail. An empowered and tenacious young lawyer arrives from the city to represent the girl in court.
Movies filmed in Africa are often saturated with vivid colours and hard light. Lenczewska decided to follow a different path. Inspired by Bergman’s films with Sven Nykvista’s cinematography, she used discreet lighting and restrained colours. As the result the images are subtle and softly lit. They focused on people, not on the exotic surroundings.
The film was welcomed enthusiastically in Ethiopia. The story about violence against women was acknowledged by the media, and the tickets sold out in no time. Difret is also the first Ethiopian film since the 70s that has made it to cinemas worldwide.
In 2014, at the 30th Sundance Film Festival, Difret received an award for the best foreign drama, while at the Berlinale it was presented with the Audience Award. Lenczewska also took Difret to the cinematographic debut competition at the Camerimage festival.
Mehari’s film wasn’t Monika Lenczewska’s last involvement with African cinema. Right after she finished work on Difret, she left for another film set in Nigeria. Altogether she has spent 7 months in Africa. She will soon work with Zeresenay Mehari again – this time the production will take place in the U.S., Europe and Africa.
Paweł Dyllus and Mirzya – Bollywood, but different
Bollywood has discovered Polish cinematographers. One of them is Paweł Dyllus, a graduate of the Radio and Television Faculty of the University of Silesia in Katowice and cinematographer for Maciej Pieprzyca’s Chce się żyć / Life Feels Good, a production which opened the doors to foreign projects. It fascinated audiences in Montreal and the Indian state of Goa. At first Dyllus arrived on the set of the Armenian film Bari Luys about the Nagorno-Karabakh War as seen from the eyes of a little boy. Soon after that he was offered a job on the set of Bollywood super-production Mirzya.
The film is directed by Rakeysh Mehra, one of the most interesting directors of the Indian cinematography, who was nominated for a BAFTA award in 2007 for his Rang De Basanti. Mirzya is a story of forbidden love between a rich girl and a poor boy, who fall in love as children and meet again years later.
Rakeysh Mehra wants to change Bollywood a bit. There won’t be any dancing or singing in Mirzya, and the film – although it’s fairy-tale-like – will be told in a more realistic way.
– said Dyllus in an interview with Culture.pl.
This high-budget production starring Harshvardhan Kapoor is a new kind of a challenge for the Polish cinematographer, but also a comfortable experience working in a large team:
Sometimes there are 250 people on the set. I can hire five lighting producers in Poland; on the set of Mirzya there are twenty-five.
Up until now, Paweł Dyllus has shot 60 out of the planned 90 shooting days. In March 2015 the Polish artist will leave for India to film the remaining part in the Himalayas.
Artur Żurawski and Mardaani: a feminist crime film from India
Paweł Dyllus isn’t the only Polish cinematographer working in Bollywood. The career path of Artur Żurawski, a photographer, cinematographer and graduate of the Łódź PWSFTViT (National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre), has taken him to India as well. He has worked in Poland, India, the USA and Switzerland on films, documentaries, commercials and series. In 2007 he was awarded at the Cronograf International Film Festival in Moldavia for his work on Maciej Adamek’s W drodze / In the Way.
After being the second cinematographer on the set of the Bollywood super-production Azaan in 2011, he continued to work in India more often, mainly on music videos and commercials. In 2014 he worked on the set of Mardaani – one of the most interesting Indian films in years. The director, Pradeep Sarkar, decided to drop the aesthetics of Bollywood fairy-tales and create a dark story about violence against women instead.
Mardaani (which translates into 'The Manly/Masculine She') tells the story of a policewoman from the criminal department of Mumbai Police who declares war on child-traffickers.
Sarkar’s film has been enthusiastically received. It referenced one of the biggest social issues in India, which is the world’s centre of human trafficking (each year nearly 40 thousand children are being kidnapped). In an interview with Anna Wróblewska from the Polish Film-makers Society, Artur Żmijewski discussed the caste system on the film set:
I’ve heard that if a focus puller can’t maintain image sharpness, he’s paternally hit in the face and no one gets offended. I was white, from the West, that meant greater trust. When I offered a hand to a light producer, greeted him before we started working, he was embarrassed that I paid him any attention.
Mardaani was Sarkar’s first film recorded without storyboards, as the director wanted to catch the spontaneous reactions of the actors. Żurawski’s role was therefore invaluable, and the Polish cinematographer managed to impress his fellow co-workers.
Coming from another land, Artur has a different way of looking at light and using it. As the story of Mardaani is dark and edgy, his innovative way of using light in different hues made for some fantastic visuals. (…) Shooting with Artur was a huge learning process.
– the director said in an interview with the Indian Express.
Jolanta Dylewska and Tulpan: four years among scorpions
Before Jolana Dylewska came to the set of Tulpan, its director Sergey Dworcewoj thought that a female cinematographer wouldn't be able to handle working in the 50 degree Celsius heat, among scorpions and venomous snakes. Dylewska wasn’t afraid of them. After four years of work in the Mirzacho'l Steppe in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan with Dworcewoj, they had made a notable film about a soldier who returns to the Kazakh steppes to settle down and find a wife after leaving the army.
They begun shooting in 2004 and ended in 2007 (post-production took them another few months). Initially, they were meant to film for three months only.
However, when the rehearsals were still happening in the second month of work and we hadn’t filmed a single shot, we knew that we wouldn’t make it on time
– the cinematographer said in an interview with Łukasz Maciejewski.
Works on the film stretched on and some team members left: its German producers, a Swiss scenographer, French sound technicians, Polish cinematographers and make-up artists, Kazakh actors. At the end there were only some actors, Dworcewoj and Dylewska left.
The four years of work in extreme conditions paid off. The film was awarded with numerous prizes on the world festival circuit, and the cinematography was awarded with an Asian Film Award, often referred to as an Asian Oscar.
Meeting Dworcewoj was a remarkable experience for Dylewska. In a 2009 interview with Łukasz Maciejewski of Film magazine she recalled:
Suddenly, it turned out that there are directors who will still do anything for a movie. They can lose their health, fall into terrible financial difficulties, even starve, as long as the piece of art which they really want to make is realised. The film is the most important thing. (…) I’m not about career, I want to make good movies. Work in this field is often difficult. On set, separated from our loved ones, we give away part of our lives, a substantial piece of ourselves. Doing it simply for money or potential praise is plainly absurd.
Michał Englert and The Valley of Flowers: Himalayas, love, reincarnation
Michał Englert has also taken part in an exotic film project. Before he stood his foot on the set of 33 Scenes from life, Lasting and In the Name of, he joined one of the most exciting projects of his career so far. In 2007, Karl Baumgartner, a famous Italian producer, asked Englert to meet with Pan Nalin, an Indian-born director, now living in Paris. In a few weeks time he was to start shooting The Valley of Flowers, but he was still seeking the right cinematographer.
We looked into each others eyes, and decided that we would go along this path. Fate decided: Two people met and found that you need to trust each other and make a film.
After a few weeks, Englert left for India. For five months he worked on set in the Himalayas and then in Tokyo for another month. His cooperation with Nalin resulted in a spectacular melodrama, in which adventure cinema is coupled with a mystical tale of love, passion and reincarnation.
In retrospect, I believe that work of Valley of Flowers was an interesting life experience. I have a few reservations about the film, but the opportunity to learn a new culture and work with an international team was an amazing experience.
– Englert told Culture.pl.
Today he’s one of the most sough-after Polish cinematographers – only in recent years he’s worked on the sets of Ari Folman’s The Congress, Marcin Kryształowicz’s Kindergarten Lady and Małgośka Szumowska’s Body/Ciało.