Aleksandra Terpińska, born in Wrocław and based in Warsaw, is a rising star of Polish cinema – she works predominantly as a director, and writes screenplays for her own films. Now in her final year of filmmaking studies in Katowice, she is already touring important film festivals worldwide - and won the Best Pitch Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013.
Film director born in Wrocław, now based in Warsaw, and a rising star of Polish cinema.
She experienced working on the sets of films such as In The Name Of / W Imię... by Małgorzata Szumowska (as casting assistant), Manhunt (Obława) by Marcin Krzyształowicz (as assistant director), and The Mighty Angel (Pod Mocnym Aniołem) by Wojciech Smarzowski (as set-production assistant).
In her own films she attempts to highlight psychological dilemmas of her characters, often generated by complex circumstances they find themselves in, and does so in a very manifest way. Terpińska says in an interview for the Polish Radio 3:
I am interested in stories that happen amongst people. Human beings inspire everything I do and every stage of my work. My passion for making films also comes from the fact that it is an activity that is based on a collective effort, and it always brings forth a possibility of meeting incredible people, and thus creating something completely new.
Before taking up studies in directing at the University of Silesia's Krzysztof Kieślowski Radio and Television Faculty in Katowice, she graduated from the Psychology Department at the University of Wrocław. She confesses that the desire to get involved in cinema came first, and does not hide the fact that she took up studies in Wrocław out of pragmatism. Soon, however, it turned out that she couldn't escape her hippy nature. Always interested in theatre, photography, visual arts, she now considers the other part of her education "merely an interim chapter."
All Souls’ Day
Having been involved in directing short films, she is already being recognized for her achievements on an impressive scale. Her film All Souls' Day / Święto Zmarłych in 2012 and 2013 has travelled the film festivals in Poland and abroad, including the San Sebastian International Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and Palm Springs International ShortFest, and earned awards at the Festival of East European Cinema in Cottbus, Camerimage, the Los Angeles Polish Film Festival and others.
The 18-minute film was produced as her Bachelor's degree piece at the University of Silesia in 2011. It tells the story of Lena, who celebrates her 18th birthday on All Souls' Day. This date has always been associated with both the candles on her birthday cake and on her mother’s grave – Lena is an orphan, sharing a home with her younger brother and grandmother. This year, she goes on a venture to find her father, who left her family years ago. Having eventually failed to bond with him, she still experiences a radical change of perspective on her everyday life, spontaneously learning about how her life can be fulfilled in this incomplete home.
Terpińska talks about the film:
This is most of all a story about searching for family and about how family is not necessarily a mother and a father. We can't always decide about how our lives will develop, which is why it is important to keep your eyes and your heart open to what fortune brings us – instead of getting frustrated with the fact that the world isn't living up to our expectations. In this regard, the main character has to grow up and re-evaluate her world - which certainly won't be easy for her.
All Souls' Day, apart from awards for direction, has also been recognized for the role of the main actress, Jaśmina Polak (2012 Węgiel Student Film Festival) and for its cinematography, created by Bartosz Bieniek (Polish Film Institute and Mastershot Award at 20th Plus Camerimage, 2012). Terpińska likes to emphasize the importance of the director-cinematographer duo, saying that, to her, finding the right person for this role, is "like a bolt from the blue, like a love relationship".
Terpińska has been acknowledged for her maturity in working with the film crew. Marcin Krzyształowicz, once her mentor and recently a member of jury in the Trójka's Talents (Polish Radio 3's awards for young artists) competition, in which she was a finalist, spoke of her promising debut:
In my opinion, Aleksandra has managed to capture something exceptional, that is, a kind of truthfulness of the relationships present within an fragmented family. Her film also proves her fluency in filmmaking, especially when it comes to mise-en-scène and guiding the actors. I noticed that straight away, and I also think that these areas may act as true trials of one's directing skills. I think that we should watch her next steps very closely, as my presumption is that soon we will be able to watch something even more interesting from what we have seen her do so far.
Tensions Across Genres
Terpińska, being very attentive and precise when it comes to a film script, is also keen on experimenting with other genres – mainly documentary. Her next film after All Souls' Day was Leszczu / Chicken (2013), made as part of the Munk Studio's 30 Minutes programme that supports young film directors in making their first professional productions in a real environment, and helping to open their way to make their first feature film.
Chicken is about a group of three friends – Tomek, Paweł ("Willo") and Adam ("Chicken") who go on a trip to the lakeside, but get into a series of troubles. A football gets lost, they manage to get into hot water with a group of bullies, and meet a beautiful girl, who turns out to be one of their girlfriends. On top of that, the janitor seems to be after them. The plot strikes a note of horror, but with both a touch of lightness – as a summer tale would be – and the gravity of a story about the coming of age, fate and friendship.
the czech swan
The film, being a feature production, at times also transpires as an observational documentary. Such indeed was the intention of its authors – the cinematography, this time shot by Marcin Łaskawiec, aimed to address this concept and give the impression of genuineness and spontaneity. As he said, he was making sure to stay close to the actors, and to introduce the camera directly into action. He explained that the purpose was to convince the viewer that the camera was "one of the guys".
Chicken is apparently based on a true story about an encounter of a bunch of students with hooligans, with a football involved. Terpińska claims to have "spiced it up" with the themes of crime, romance and adventure, in order to make it engaging for the audience. Even though the titular Chicken is the most openly dramatic protagonist in the plot – personifying the struggles of a young, fervent soul – the director also emphasizes the role of janitor, played by Wiesław Komasa:
When writing the script, I wanted to ask the question of who is responsible for the progress of events, who takes care of the situation. Is it some kind of fate, destiny, God, or maybe the camping keeper, who is my favourite figure in this story. He is the most mysterious actor in this story.
The Czech Swan – Cannes Success
Terpińska won the Best Pitch Award at Cannes Film Festival in 2013 – a section of the event, where young filmmakers compete for funding for their upcoming projects. Thanks to that, she now has the opportunity to complete her documentary film The Czech Swan / Czeski Łabędź.
The production will echo the director’s characteristic sensitivity to human relations and aspirations, with an added pinch of humour – she even brings up the writer Bohumil Hrabal as an inspiration for this film. The Czech Swan documents a group of retired ladies from a Czech village, who come together to create their own version of Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake. They welcome among them a professional soloist, whose figure introduces the spirit of oppressive work routine amidst their amateur efforts.
The film, co-produced by CoLab Pictures and Czech Television, and co-financed by the Polish Film Institute (PISF), is scheduled to be released in 2015.
American Dreams Going Wrong
Another Terpińska's film project to look out for is America / Ameryka – a feature she is shooting as her final MA diploma at the Film School in Katowice. The film, now being written, will capture two adolescent girls living in a Polish village called Ameryka, who decide to leave for the real America – or, rather, for their imagined America. The two girls run away from their everyday reality, although in fact seems to be one generated in their own minds.
America is going to depict the dark sides of fantasy.. As inspirations, Terpińska mentions Harmony Korine's films, as well as Fish Tank (A. Arnold), Sommersault (C. Shortland), or Blue Is the Warmest Colour (A. Kechiche). The list clearly implies an uneasy theme – the director is going to tackle difficult subjects of violently breaking boundaries between childhood and adulthood. At the same time, the audience will be transported to the non-existent landscape of Poland turned into America in our imagination, shot once again by Bartosz Bieniek. The picture, thus, will be a comment on the reality of Polish province, but also a universal portrait of the young generation and its disillusions.
Bez litości – No Mercy
Erynie – Furies
2010 Jaśmin – Jasmine
2012 Święto Zmarłych – All Souls’ Day
2013 Leszczu – Chicken
Ameryka - America
Czeski Łabędź – The Czech Swan
2009 – Everyone Has their Five Minutes – Kodak Student Commercial Competition – Best Script
2010 – 1000 Clashes – Kodak Student Commercial Competition – Best Director
2013 – Western – 13th T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival – Best Commercial
All Souls' Day
Film Festival Cottbus - Best Short Film
20th Plus Camerimage - PISF and Mastershot Award for Bartosz Bieniek
19th International Film Festival Etiuda & Anima - Honourable Mention
13th Los Angeles Polish Film Festival - Cinema Without Borders Award
9th Węgiel Student Film Festival - Special Mention for Jaśmina Polak
2nd Kyiv International Short Film Festival - Special Jury Award
59th OKFA - Grand Prix in Student Films Competition
The Czech Swan
66th Cannes Film Festival – Best Pitch Award
Sources: own materials, polishshorts.pl, www.polskieradio.pl, www.facebook.com, culture.pl, www.pisf.pl, www.studiomunka.pl, www.filmpolski.pl
Author: Anna Micińska, 7.08.2013