Andrzej Fidyk is one of the leading Polish documentary filmmakers and an ardent ambassador of the genre. He was born in 1953.
One of the leading Polish documentary film authors and an ardent ambassador of the genre. Born in 1953.
As a child, he didn’t even consider becoming a filmmaker. In an interview (Gazeta Wyborcza – Duży Format, no. 33/2009), he confessed that he used to want to become a… binman: ‘I was impressed by them riding on the back of the truck. Filmmakers formed a different, unattainable group, something like the great painters. And documentary? Even when I was going to start working for Polish Television, I wasn’t aware of its existence.’
It is no surprise, then, that Fidyk’s path towards filmmaking was filled with surprises and unexpected turning points. Having graduated from the Foreign Trade Faculty at the Main School of Planning and Statistics (presently the Warsaw School of Economics), he started working at the Bureau of Foreign Trade, which he left after two years, and in 1979 applied to a production managing course organised by Polish Television. The six-month long programme, taught by leading television figures of the time, was to prepare him for producing some TV co-productions which were planned at the time, but which nevertheless never came into being. Fidyk moved on to journalism and joined ‘Magazyn spraw pracowniczych’ (The Labour Issues Programme), making his first steps in production in the heated period between 1980 and 1981. He felt terrible as a talking head in front of a camera, and felt much better on a film set. In 1982, he debuted with the documentary Idzie Grześ przez wieś (Here Comes Little Gregory Through the Village), which touched upon the problem of theft in the railway industry. Based on the poem by Julian Tuwim (under the same title), the light, twenty-minute-long film earned Andrzej Fidyk his first distinction – a Brown Lajkonik Award for Best Début at the Short Film Festival in Kraków. The international career of the artist also started in Kraków: his film Prezydent (The President*) (1985) – a story about a pig farmer who decided to prove that he is able to heal the socialist economy – received an award at the international competition (having previously received recognition from the national jury), which resulted in invitations to many international festivals, from which both the film and its author would return with prizes. Nonetheless, the success of The President – as significant as it was – turned out to be minor in comparison to the acclaim which has accompanied The Parade since it came out in 1989.
It is an hour-long report from the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea: the official parade and the preceding preparations. In the book Historia kina polskiego: Twórcy, filmy, konteksty (The History of Polish cinema: Authors, Films, Contexts), Tadeusz Lubelski describes the phenomenon behind this film:
When it comes to The Parade, an hour-long documentary by Andrzej Fidyk, it ought to be thought of as an allegory – this is how unambiguously this film, shot at the end of the decade in North Korea, was received as an image of totalitarianism. The director applied an extreme method in its production: he showed an entire sequence (the titular ‘parade’) of incredible manifestations of the personality cult of Kim Il-sung, without any commentary, being sure that the film would be received similarly both in his own country and in the West: as a radical warning of the threat of the system. In North Korea, on the other hand, The Parade was seen as a eulogy to their leader. I would not believe it if I hadn’t seen it in person, but at the Kraków Festival, in early June 1989, the director was followed, step after step, by a loyal Korean delegation. Even the enthusiastic reaction from the Polish audience did not give them a hint.
After The Parade’s triumphant march across international festivals and prestigious documentary showcases, as well as its global tv broadcast, the film not only remains an especially thorough analysis of the pathologies of totalitarianism – which is how it was presented within the School Film Archives (a secondary and high school course on film knowledge recommended by the Ministry of National Education), but most of all, the flagship of the Central and Eastern European cinema, which in 1989 was liberating itself from totalitarianism.
Fidyk started a scholarship at the BBC, which turned out to be his pass to a bigger world. The first film he made for the British production company was The Devil in Moscow – a reportage about the traces of Mikhail Bulgakov in contemporary Moscow. The following one was The Russian Striptease, which, despite its humorous form (the action takes place at an erotic dance school), offers a deep insight into the social and political changes in Russia after the fall of the USSR. Ever since that time, most films realised by Andrzej Fidyk have been co-produced with international partners and broadcast worldwide.
When asked about the source of his success, Fidyk answers: ‘I am a good observer,’ after which he immediately adds – for instance in an interview with Polityka (51/2009):
It is much easier to shoot a film with an obvious journalistic thesis. One which addresses only the viewer’s intellect, but doesn’t move his emotional side. In my opinion, causing an emotional reaction in viewers in a documentary determines the fact that we are dealing with an art and not just journalism. It is necessary to dedicate time for shooting, research, coming up with formal concepts, in order to make the person in front of the screen interested in the topic. One needs to put a lot of work in this, because reality is rarely clear cut.
These are the rules permeating his output, which is surprising not only through its form, but also the selection of themes, which he scouts across the globe, as he said in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza (25.06.2009):
For me, the sole goal is to make a very good film, and that’s all. While working on it, I cannot have any baggage, any personal dilemmas. If I am going to India, Japan or wherever, even if I have any expectations, I am prepared to change that at any given moment, for the good of the film. […] I have always liked to find a theme at the end of the world and document to the extent that I would become one of the top experts within this discipline. I am perhaps the only Polish documentary film director who makes films like that.
The famous Battu’s Bioscope – a story about an Indian cinema on wheels, which in Europe is a forgotten relict of the bygone era of the indoctrinating cinema-ification, originated from the fascination with culture founded on the Bollywood – even before the West became infatuated with that genre. Reed Dance was supposed to portray the last absolute monarch in Africa, and instead became a touching story about Swaziland – an impoverished country ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. The documentation for the film on the carnival in Rio lasted about ten years, without the certainty that it would ever see a completion, which ended up happening, as the director admits, almost by coincidence.
A thorough documentation, topic appealing to broad audiences, a surprising perspective – these are the premises of Andrzej Fidyk’s artistic credo, which often brings unexpected results. One example of the latter is the conclusion of the Belarusian Waltz – a scrutiny of the phenomenon of the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who rigs every election, even though he would easily win without that. Another one is the touching climax of Yodok Stories – a documentation of a musical, which the escapees of a contemporary concentration camp in Yodok, North Korea, staged upon Fidyk’s encouragement.
Nonetheless, Fidyk’s merit for Polish documentary film goes far beyond his own output. In 1996, he became the head of the documentary department of Polish Television, which was related to a change in the approach to public television as a production unit. Fidyk led to a situation wherein documentary, thus far treated instrumentally by the policymakers, became a medium not so much aimed at observation of reality, but responding to the audience’s expectations. Furthermore, he managed to permanently introduce two interesting series to TV programming: Czas na dokument (Time for Documentary*), dedicated to the achievements of Polish filmmakers, and Miej oczy szeroko otwarte (Keep Your Eyes Wide Open*), showcasing films produced outside of Poland. As a producer, he supported the realization of such loud – and controversial – films as Arizona by Ewa Borzęcka and Ballada o lekkim zabarwieniu erotycznym (A Ballad with a Slight Erotic Tinge*) by Jerzy Morawski and Irena Morawska, and he also introduced documentary telenovelas to the Polish television repertoire – this genre guaranteed the Polish documentary a viewership of over ten percent, an exceptional achievement in Europe. As the head of the documentary section, Fidyk was nominated for the the TV industry's most prestigious award, the Wiktor, twice (in 1998 and 2002).
The director is keen on working with emerging film authors. His ‘Fidyk’s stable,’ a group of authors influenced by him as a producer, has been expanded by the group of students attending the Radio and Television Faculty of the University of Silesia, where Fidyk has taught since 2009. The phenomenon of ‘Fidyk’s school,’ which is becoming more and more discussed, is best illustrated by the directing début by Marcin Koszałka, Such a Nice Boy I Gave Birth To, which was produced under the artistic supervision of the author of The Parade.
Andrzej Fidyk also realizes commercial films; he won the Golden Eagles Grand Prix at the 2006 Polish Advertising Competition.
- 1982 – Idzie Grześ przez wieś (Here Comes Little Gregory Through the Village); Brown Lajkonik for Best Début at the 1983 Short Film Festival in Kraków
- 1983 – Optymistyczny film o niewidomych (An Optimistic Film About the Sightless)
- 1983 – Alibi na życie (Alibi for Life)
- 1984 – Oriano
- 1984 – Ich teatr (Their Theatre); Brown Lajkonik for TV film at the 1985 Short Film Festival in Kraków
- 1985 – Prezydent (The President); Joseph von Sternberg for the most original film at the 1985 International Film Festival in Mannheim; the Special Silver Lajkonik Award at the Short Film Festival and Main Prize Silver Dragon at the International Film Festival in Kraków in 1986, Grand Prix for Best Documentary at the International Film Festival in Murcia in 1986, First Prize for Best Short Film and Femis/Aaton Foundation Award at the Cinema du Reel International Film Festival in Paris in 1986.
- 1986 – Noc w pałacu (A Night in a Palace)
- 1986 – Praga
- 1987 – Królewna Śnieżka, telefon i krowa (Snow White, a Telephone, and a Cow)
- 1987 – W zupie włos (Hair in the Soup)
- 1988 – Paryż, miasto kontrastów (Paris, the City of Contrasts)
- 1988 – Wielka szansa (The Big Chance)
- 1989 – Defilada (The Parade); Special Silver Lajkonik Award at the Short Film Festival in Kraków in 1989, Golden Ducat at the International Film Festival in Mannheim in 1989, Villy de Luca Award at the Prix Italia International Film Festival in 1989, Golden Screen – Award from the Ekran weekly in 1989; Golden Dove at the International Documentary Film Festival in Leipzig in 1989
- 1989 – Kapikule
- 1990 – Ostatki (Shrove Tuesday)
- 1991 – The Devil in Moscow (production: Great Britain)
- 1993 – Sen Staszka w Teheranie (Staszek’s Dream in Tehran); award for Best Screenplay at the Festival of Polish Television Arts in 1993, Silver Sestertius and FIPRESCI Award at the Inernational Film Festival in Nyon 1993
- 1994 – Niebo oplutych (Heaven of the Defamed) – in collaboration with Mikołaj Nesterowicz and Stanisław Kolenda
- 1994 – Pocztówka z Japonii (A Postcard from Japan)
- 1994 – The Russian Striptease (production: Poland and Great Britain)
- 1995 – Carnaval. The Biggest Party in the World (production: Poland and Great Britain)
- 1997 – East of Eastenders (production: Great Britain)
- 1998 – Kiniarze z Kalkuty (Battu’s Bioscope) (production: Poland and Germany); Audience Award at IDFA 1998, Grand Prix at the International Film Festival in Strasbourg in 1998, Golden Spire at the International Documentary Film Festicval in San Francisco in 1999, Best Documentary Award at the International Documentary Film Festival E-PHOS in Athens 2001
- 2000 – Taniec trzcin (Reed Dance); Award in the Society category at the World Media Festival in Hamburg in 2002, Award from the Press magazine in 2003
- 2007 – Belarusian Waltz (production: Poland and Norway); nomination for Emmy award for Outstanding Arts and Culture Programming in 2009
- 2008 – Yodok Stories (production: Poland and Norway); Youth Jury Award at the Planete+ Doc Film Festival in Warsaw in 2008, Main Prize in the category In the Spirit of Freedom at the International Film Festival in Jerusalem in 2009
- 2009 – Balcerowicz. Gra o wszystko (Balcerowicz: Winner Takes All) – in collaboration with Anna Więckowska
Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, March 2010, update KM, February 2016, transl. AM, September 2016