An acclaimed writer and director of animated films, he is also a set designer. He aims to make films that resemble narrative features and has a tendency to compose shots in a cinematic manner.
Born in 1930 in Wilczogęby, Daniel Szczechura is one of Poland's most famous makers of animated films. His name evokes memories of the greatest successes of Polish animated film, especially during the 1960s.
Szczechura studied for one year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (1951-52). In 1958, he graduated from Warsaw University with a degree in Art History. In 1962, he obtained a second degree, this time from the Cinematography Department of the Łódź Film School. He was one of the co-founders of the Studencki Teatr Satyryków (STS - Student Theatre of Satirists) in Warsaw and designed the scenery for many of the group's theatrical productions.
During the 1950s, he made over a dozen films on 16 mm stock. Of these a handful earned the filmmaker awards, including Spojrzenia / Gazes, made in collaboration with Andrzej Błasiński. His diploma film was Konflikty / Conflicts (1960). In 1961, Szczechura began producing his films at the Studio Małych Form Filmowych Se-Ma-For / Se-Ma-For Studio of Small Film Forms in Łódź.
Watch early films by Daniel Szczechura and other classics
In 1970, he became a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he heads the animation workshop of the Graphic Design Department. He has also taught abroad, at the Royal Academy of Art in Ghent and at the Emily Carr College in Vancouver. A member of the Stowarzyszenie Filmowców Polskich (Association of Polish Filmmakers), he sat on the organization's National Board from 1970 to 1973. He is also vice president of ASIFA (Association Internationale du Film d'Animation - International Animated Film Association).
Daniel Szczechura has won awards for his animated films that include the Zlote Grono (Golden Grapes) medal for lifetime achievement at the 4. Wystawa i Sympozjum Plastyki "Złote Grono" / 4th "Golden Grapes" Visual Arts Exhibition and Symposium in Zielona Gora (1969), the Zenon Wasilewski Award (1975) and the Award of the Minister of Culture and Art 2nd class for lifetime achievement in animated film (1975). In 1990, he received the ASIFA Special Prize for "invaluable contributions to the art and development of animated film", and a Gemma Award from the Italian Animated Film Association.
Szczechura's debut films borrow elements from the aesthetics of Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk. As Szczechura acknowledged:
I see no reason to hide that I was inspired by the films of Borowczyk and Lenica, which suggested the cut-out technique that allowed me to rid myself of the baggage of additional animators, phase designers, assistants. This technique generally revolutionized animated film, (...) because the subject scope of animations expanded with the introduction of cut-outs. (quoted from M. Giżycki, Nie tylko Disney: rzecz o filmie animowanym / Disney Was Not Alone: On Animated Film, Warsaw, 2000)
While classic animated film proved incapable of venturing beyond "cat chases mouse" situations, cut-out films allowed artists to broach far more important issues. In an interview with the editors of Kwartalnik Filmowy / Film Quarterly, Szczechura said:
Their [i.e. Borowczyk and Lenica's] early animations made a big impression on me precisely because they were serious. (Kwartalnik Filmowy, 19-20/1997)
As Szczechura himself wrote in a different text in the same issue of the magazine, Lenica and Borowczyk and the cut-out technique they used "imparted a wisdom on animated film".
Szczechura created his debut film, Conflicts (1960), almost accidentally, while completing an internship at the film school where he was studying to be a cinematographer. Although something of an afterthought, the film was in no way accidental in terms of technique. It combined cut-outs with live-action scenes, giving the artist an opportunity to play with the film's substance. One element of this game, embodied in scenes reminiscent of old film melodramas, involved using footage of live actors for the segments occurring 'on screen' while presenting the cinema audience as a cut-out, suggesting that the film being watched by the audience was more real than life.
This was accurately read as an allusion to the realities of the 1960s, a time when the political censorship of art was widespread in Poland, and when the authorities decided what would be shown to the public, with most of their choices going completely against popular taste. The film was also in some way a product of Szczechura's experiences with the Student Theatre of Satirists and this group's relations with censors.
Szczechura's next films also drew on his experiences with the satirical theatre. They included his professional debut, Maszyna / The Machine, the film, Litera / The Letter made one year later, and above all, Fotel / A Chair (1963), which was his most renowned film of this period and remains Szczechura's best satirical film.
In the first of these, the filmmaker poked fun at the mania for giant projects that reigned in the Polish People's Republic, showing the construction of a vast and complicated machine designed for... sharpening pencils. In The Letter he directed the viewer's attention to the concept of ideology that - enigmatic as is the letter "N" in his film - attracts throngs of people only to prove a mockery, a joke, a prank. A Chair was, however, the strongest of his gibes at the system in Poland at that time. A treatise about methods of gaining power, the film features characters who are shown from a bird's eye view and resemble pawns on a chessboard more than people.
A Chair, The Machine and The Letter all caused Szczechura to be compared to Slawomir Mrozek. Even today, some commentators - for example, Jerzy Uszyński in Film Quarterly 19-20/1997 - view the filmmaker as a chronicler of Polish reality, someone capable of accurately capturing and ridiculing the absurdities evident in abundance in the Polish People's Republic. As satirist Antoni Chodorowski once said in commenting on his own drawings of Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science, in this country "everything was ridiculous." However, such a reading of Szczechura's films applies to only some of his works.
Another of his celebrated achievements was Hobby, a film he made in the year of the student revolt against totalitarian rule (1968). Though it can also be read as a metaphor of enslavement and liberation, it simultaneously surpasses any such interpretations. Psychological or psychoanalytic readings defining the film as a picture of female precocity and male naiveté prove equally insufficient. The situation is quite similar with the earlier film, Wykres / A Graph, whose hero chases an unachievable goal. A Graph can easily be read as a satire - "this is how all of us, during Socialist Realist times, chased after the unattainable goal that was supposed to be the happiness of humankind under Communism."
But the film can also be seen as expressing the hopelessness of human endeavour, i.e. read in a philosophical manner as possessing an existential message. Jerzy Armata wrote in summarizing the artist's creative development,
Daniel Szczechura's films began as descriptions of reality - satirical, overstated, sneering, but nevertheless descriptions of reality. Soon after, the flippant tone was replaced by a far more serious perspective; the desire to document external reality gave way to explorations of issues hidden deep within us. (Hobby - Daniel Szczechura, Kino 2/2002).
The director himself had had enough of producing films that were purely satirical in spirit.
When I made 'A Chair' in 1963, I was inundated with requests for films that would continue to 'beat issues with the whip of satire' (...). Something prevented me from accepting them, and in retrospect I see that this helped me avoid the trap of off-handedness, illustration. (Reżyser / Director magazine 1/1998)
Kazimierz Żórawski (Kino 8/1971) created a classification of Szczechura's films in terms of their subject matter. He identified a group of works that explore mechanisms operating within human society (The Machine, A Chair, Karol / Charles), a series that illustrates operations of the human mind (A Graph and Hobby) and finally those in which the director sought new areas of interest (The Letter, Podróż / The Voyage, Pierwszy, drugi, trzeci... / First, Second, Third... and Desant / The Landing). It is difficult to agree completely with these choices, because The Landing or The Letter, and even First, Second, Third... have more in common with The Machine or A Chair than they do with The Voyage. The latter film, in turn, has indubitably more to do with Skok / The Leap, as both films attempt to illustrate the absurdity of life.
Yet another reading emerges from the two-film series consisting of Fatamorgana / Mirage and Fatamorgana 2 / Mirage 2 (produced ten years later and thus not encompassed by Żórawski in his analysis). Both feature stories that are surrealist in spirit and governed by the logic of dreams. Finally, there is Gorejące palce / Burning Fingers, also based on a dream-like concept, though one that is nightmarish rather than joyous. Titled Dobranocka / A Good Night Story, Daniel Szczechura's last film is also strongly evocative of the dream world.
The filmmaker strongly believes that animated film needs to renew its narratives constantly. Thus, in his later films, he abandoned clear anecdotes with a punch line and a linear narration in favour of producing open-ended, enigmatic stories. As he said of Mirage:
What did the poet mean by this? I'm incapable of verbalizing it. (Kino 11/12/1990 - in conversation with M. Giżycki)
Daniel Szczechura has stated many times that his films resemble narrative features. He attributes this to his education: as someone who studied cinematography, he is less skilled than colleagues like Witold Giersz as a painter or graphic artist - a fact he readily admits. He exhibits a tendency to compose shots in a filmic manner rather than in a manner characteristic of the visual arts - as a cinematographer, not as a draughtsman. Szczechura believes that animated films are not visual art, because their individual scenes cannot be contemplated to infinity.
Films are series of images and each of these images has a meaning in its series (Kwartalnik Filmowy / Film Quarterly 19-20/1997).
He sees animated films as being closely related to poetry.
To me, a good animated film is the analogue of a good song, one by Agnieszka Osiecka, Wojciech Młynarski or Brel. I would love it if animations were shaped just like that, if they were abbreviated, closed forms that included both content and emotion. (Film monthly, 8/2002).
He is also someone who placed great emphasis on investigating new avenues and who proved capable of abandoning developed formulas that brought him success in favour of exploring the unknown. Podróż / The Voyage, a kind of anti-film in which seemingly nothing happens, serves as an example. The focus of this film falls on the rhythm of the telegraph posts that pass by, on the monotony of the sounds that customarily accompany travel. A leaf that falls to the ground in a park alley proves a special event. Marcin Giżycki believes that this film marked a turning point in Polish animated film, a turning point as significant as the debuts of Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk. Giżycki writes that The Voyage was a harbinger of "several other exceptional works that described phenomena as simple as that leaf that descended to the ground in the park alley" (Film Quarterly 19-20/1997).
- 1955 Spojrzenia / Gazes (in collaboration with Andrzej Błasiński), narrative film
(Awards: 1955 - Ogólnopolski Konkurs Filmów Amatorskich / Polish National Competition of Amateur Films, Warsaw, Grand Prix)
- 1957 Stadion / The Stadium (in collaboration with Andrzej Błasiński), narrative film
(Awards: 1957 - Ogólnopolski Konkurs Filmów Amatorskich / Polish National Competition of Amateur Films, Warsaw, 2nd prize)
- 1960 Konflikty / Conflicts, thesis project, mixed media (live action and drawn animation)
A parody of early cinematic conventions and a mockery of the movie audience, which is shown as getting excited about a bloody melodrama featuring a love triangle and a revolver, and as protesting when the animator, at the request of some commission, changes the finale into one deprived of blood. As the author stated, he intended to ridicule censorship that interferes with the content of art.
(Awards: 1961 - 4. Festiwal Etiud Szkolnych PWSF / 4th Student Film Festival of the State Higher School of Cinema, Warsaw, Social Film Award and Audience Award)
- 1961 Maszyna / The Machine (written with Mirosław Kijowicz), cut-out film
Workers build a colossal machine that is then used to sharpen a pencil. The film ridicules industrial monumentality, and above all that which characterized life in the Polish People's Republic.
(Awards: 1962 - 2. Ogólnopolski Festiwal Filmów Krótkometrażowych / 2nd Polish National Short Film Festival (PNSFF), Krakow, Brązowy Smok Wawelski / Bronze Wawel Dragon for an Animated Film)
- 1962 Litera / The Letter (written with Andrzej Błasinski), cut-out film
The film focuses on the letter "N", which appears high above the crowds and upon landing becomes the focus of everyone's desire, causing the throng to chase after it. The film ends in a gag as the letter becomes part of the word "KONIEC" (Polish for "END"). Szczechura produced several endings of the film in various languages: FIN, ENDE, END. "An ironic mockery of human stupidity and excessive zeal" (Andrzej Kossakowski, Polski film animowany 1945-1974 / Polish Animated Film 1945-1974, Warsaw, 1977).
(Awards: 1963 - 3. OFFK / 3rd PNSFF, Kraków, Brązowy Smok Wawelski / Bronze Wawel Dragon for an Animated Film)
- 1963 Duet (made by Szczechura under the alias 'Karol Wirten,' screenplay by Emil Saski)
- 1963 Fotel / A Chair (screenplay by Szczechura and Emil Saski), cut-out film
The story of a power struggle. In a grand hall reminiscent of Warsaw's Congress Hall, a gathering takes place - perhaps of the Polish United Workers' Party. One seat at the chairman's table is vacant and everyone gathered in the hall attempts to get to it, using all manner of trickery, including tripping up their competitors. When a figure finally succeeds in getting to the seat and occupying it, the struggle ends and all those gathered applaud. A satire on the Polish People's Republic, told in a manner that is graphically clear, with the figures shown from above resembling wheels in a machine. "This is practically a representation of the mathematical formula for an electoral gathering - merciless in its ironic comedy" (A. Kossakowski, "Polski film..." / "Polish Animated..."). "A humorous and wise story about careerism, accurate in its telling, modern in its abbreviated draftsmanship that is simplified to the maximum degree possible" (Aleksander Jackiewicz, "Życie Literackie" / "Literary Life" monthly, 24/1964).
(Awards: 1964 - Syrenka Warszawska/ Warsaw Mermaid, Nagroda Klubu Krytyki Filmowej SDP / Award of the Film Critics Club of the Association of Polish Journalists for 1963; 10th Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Grand Prix for an Animated Film and honorable mention and distinction of the jury of the Association of People's Universities; 1. Międzynarodowy Festiwal Filmów Krótkometrażowych / 1st International Short Film Festival (ISFF), Kraków, Grand Prix - "Złoty Smok Wawelski" / "Golden Wawel Dragon"; Cordoba Short Film Festival, special mention; 4th Buenos Aires International Short Film Festival, honorable mention; 1965 - Biennale of Youth, Paris, distinction; 6th International Festival of Documentary and Experimental Films, Montevideo, Grand Prix)
- 1964 Na jezdni / In the Street (directed by Szczechura under the pseudonym 'Karol Wirten', written under his own name)
The story of a driver who does not follow road regulations.
- 1964 Pierwszy, drugi, trzeci... / First, Second, Third... (screenplay by Emil Saski), mixed media film
The story of a ski jumper who takes off and... flies around the world, encircles the globe, and lands back at the ramp only to learn that he took third place. "Szczechura seems to say that the world and human acts have been classified and codified; even an unusual achievement can be crammed into some drawer of classification. (...) This is the director's appeal for fantasy and imagination" (S.J., "Film" monthly, 10/1965).
(Awards: 1965 - International Festival of Mountain Films, Tridente, distinction)
- 1966 Karol / Charles, satirical cut-out film
(Awards: 1967 - Viennale International Week of Entertaining Films, Vienna, Honorary Diploma)
- 1966 Wykres / A Graph, mixed media film
An almost abstract parable of human fate about a man who hopelessly chases an unattainable goal.
(Awards: 1966 - 6. OFFK / 6th PNSFF, Krakow, Brązowy Lajkonik / Bronze Lajkonik for an Animated Film; Bergamo International Film Festival, honorary diploma)
- 1968 Desant / The Landing (written by Szczechura with Andrzej Warchał), mixed media film
A humoresque based on a text by Andrzej Warchał previously staged at the "Piwnica pod Baranami" / "Cellar Under the Rams" in Kraków. A private and a corporal leap out of an airplane. When it turns out that they have both forgotten their parachutes, they engage in a discussion about how to fall and land safely. The discussion continues until they suddenly hit the ground.
- 1968 Hobby, combined cut-out and drawn animation
A macabre tale about female possessiveness, this film lends itself to multiple interpretations. It can be seen as being about cruel women who ensnare naïve men, or as a story about enslavement and liberation.
(Awards: 1968 - 14th Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Grand Prize and distinction of the jury of the Association of People's Universities; 2nd Philadelphia International Short Film Festival, distinction; 2nd International Animated Film Festival, Mamaia, "Silver Pelican" and FIPRESCI Prize; 1970 - International Film Festival, Adelaide-Auckland, First Prize for an Animated Film; 7th Buenos Aires International Short Film Festival, First Prize for an Animated Film; Przegląd Filmów SMF "Se-Ma-For" / "Se-Ma-For" Studio of Small Film Forms Film Review, Łódź, Grand Prize)
- 1969 Zbrodnia Stelli / Stella's Crime (5), Sindbad pogrzebany / Sinbad Buried (6) in Przygody Sindbada Żeglarza / The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor (screenplay by Katarzyna Latałło)
Cut-out films in a series made by various directors based on Bolesław Leśmian's "Przygody Sindbada Żeglarza" / "The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor."
- 1970 Podróż / The Voyage, mixed media film
A monotonous return rail journey. "For six minutes we watch the still silhouette of a traveller framed by a train window. The sole movement on screen, visible behind the traveller, is the rhythmic passing of telegraph posts in a monotonous, unchanging landscape" (A. Kossakowski, "Polski film..." / "Polish Animated...).
(Awards: 1970 - 10. OFFK / 10th PNSFF, Kraków, Brązowy Lajkonik / Bronze Lajkonik for Best Animated Film)
- 1971 Differenzen, produced in Austria
- 1971 Jeśli ujrzysz kota fruwającego po niebie / If You See a Cat Flying across the Sky (written by Szczechura with Andrzej Krauze), cut-out film
Designed as a children's film, this humorous, grotesque story is based on a sentence by Andrzej Krauze: "Jeśli ujrzysz kota latającego po niebie, nie dziw się, to kot, który lubi ptaki" / "If you see a cat flying across the sky, don't be surprised - it's a cat who likes birds."
(Awards: 1973 - 3. Ogólnopolski Festiwal Filmów dla Dzieci i Młodzieży / 3rd Polish National Festival of Films (PNFF) for Children and Young People, Poznań, Brązowe Koziołki / Bronze Goats)
- 1971 Zamek w lesie / The Forest Castle (6) in Klechdy polskie / Polish Tales (screenplay by Maria Achmatowicz and Alicja Kowalska)
Film in a series of shorts made by various directors based on well-known old Polish tales. A story about the beautiful Princess of Varmia.
- 1972 Lamus / The Junk Heap, mixed media film
- 1972 Ogrodnik / The Gardener, mixed media film
- 1973 Arena / The Arena, entertaining mixed media film
- 1973 Mysia wieża / The Tower of Mice, produced in Italy
- 1973 Poema de fumetti, produced in Italy
- 1974 O królu Popielu / King Popiel, film from the international series Bajki narodowe / Tales of Nations.
(Awards: 1975 - Nagroda im. Zenona Wasilewskiego / Zenon Wasilewski Award for Best Animated Film for Children; 4. OFF dla Dzieci i Młodzieży / 4th PNFF for Children and Young People, Poznań, Srebrne Koziołki / Silver Goats)
- 1975 Gorejące palce / Burning Fingers, mixed media film
A dark, nightmarish tale about a forest robber who exacts revenge on the killers of his friend. The burning fingers of the title are the hand of the murder victim, which burn like a candelabra. The candles extinguish one by one as each murderer dies. However, one is left burning...
(Awards: 1976 - 16. OFFK / 16th PNSFF, Kraków, distinction)
- 1977 Problem / The Problem (screenplay by Janusz Weiss), mixed media film
A humorously-toned burlesque about an average man who asks himself questions about the meaning of life.
- 1978 Skarpetka / The Sock (screenplay by Kazimierz Żórawski), film joke
A man finds a banknote and attempts to use the lines from which the bill is drawn to draw himself a house. The lines, however, prove enough to draw only a single sock.
(Awards: 1978 - Linz International Film Festival, Lifetime Achievement Award)
- 1978 Skok / The Leap, mixed media film with the director himself lending the protagonist his face
The average morning of a middle-aged man: he prepares to go out by bathing, dressing, reading the newspaper and eating breakfast. The finale is tragic - instead of going out the door, he heads for... the window. A remake of Ryszard Czekała's narrative film etude entitled Wypadek / The Accident (1972).
(Awards: 1978 - 20th Barcelona International Film Festival, Silver Medal)
- 1981 Fatamorgana / Mirage, mixed media film combining live action and animation
Part one of a two-part series whose second installment is titled Fatamorgana 2 / Mirage 2. A surrealistic grotesque resembling a dream. A vast concrete skyscraper traipses across a meadow and into a lake, in which it ultimately disappears. During this trek, its inhabitants go about their lives, unaware of what is happening outside.
(Awards: 1982 - Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Award of the FICC International Film Club Federation)
- 1983 Fatamorgana 2 / Mirage 2, mixed media film combining live action and animation
Part two of the story about the walking skyscraper. This time the building emerges from the lake. Its inhabitants spend the day on the beach, and then return to the skyscraper before it once again disappears beneath the water.
- 1986 XYZ, mixed media film
A dream-like, grotesque story of the peculiar voyage of an office worker. While reading a newspaper he levitates along with the chair he occupies. He floats among the clouds, meets various people and then finishes reading and exits the room.
- 1988 Rybką być / To Be a Fish, two-dimensional drawn animation
A filmed burlesque in which a fish demands to see an angler's fishing licence. It then gets together with another fish, they get drunk and unruly, are arrested and put in jail, where they watch TV. They continue to watch until they are chased away by a cat who emerges from the television set.
- 1991 Novi Singers, mixed media musical film
The music of Chopin as performed by the band, Novi Singers, visually arranged by Daniel Szczechura.
- 1991 Grande Valse Brilliante, musical film
- 1992 Odgłosy wiosny / The Sounds of Spring, musical film
- 1992 Humoreska Dvořáka / A Dvořák Humoresque, musical film
- 1997 Dobranocka / A Good Night Story, animated film
A fairy tale about the search for happiness (embodied in a house and a door with a matching key) based on original drawings by Stasys Eidrigevičius and a poem by Jan Wołek.
(Awards: 1997 - 34. MFFK / 34th ISFF, Kraków, Radio Kraków Award for Best Soundtrack; 15. MFF dla Dzieci i Młodzieży "Ale Kino" / 15th "What a Movie" International Festival of Films for Children and Young People, Poznań, Srebrne Koziołki / Silver Goats for Best Animated Film and Honorable Mention by the "Marcinek" Children's Jury)
- 2002 Hobby - Daniel Szczechura. Subtitle: Kilka filmów animowanych jednego autora / Several Animated Films by One Author.
A full-length animated film composed of ten films made previously by Daniel Szczechura: Konflikty / Conflicts, Fotel/ A Chair, Wykres/ A Graph, Hobby, Podróż / The Voyage, Gorejące palce / Burning Fingers, Skok / The Leap, Fatamorgana / Mirage, Fatamorgana 2 / Mirage 2 and Dobranocka / A Good Night Story. These films are linked using supplementary footage created contemporaneously. Linking sequences include views of the inside of a movie theatre and an operating projector. At the film's end, the cinema is occupied by a single viewer - the director himself.
- 1995 Henryk Tomaszewski - A filmed portrait of the renowned poster artist.
Daniel Szczechura was also the director of photography on the student films STS 58 (1959) and Plakat z drewna / A Wood Poster (1961) by Agnieszka Osiecka, Ułan i dziewczyna / The Lancer and the Girl by Krzysztof Zanussi (1961), and Śmierć i dziewczyna / Death and the Maiden (1960) and Świat na nas czeka / The World Awaits Us (1959) by Wojciech Solarz.
In addition, he has acted as creative guide on such films as Joanna Żamojdo's Program (1980) and Ewa Ziobrowska's W murach / Within the Walls (1987).
Szczechura authored the animations included in Marek Piestrak's film Test pilota Pirxa / Pilot Pirx's Test (1978) and appeared in Marek Nowicki's feature film Miłość z listy przebojów / Music Hit List Love (1984).
Piotr Dumała, one of Poland's most renowned makers of animated films, was a student of Daniel Szczechura's.
Author: Jan Strękowski, August 2004.