A film director and writer, born 1957 in Łódź.
Kędzierzawska has made relatively few films up to this point, all of them representative of independent cinema. Non-commercial by definition, they grapple with difficult and painful issues. Her characters are people who have been pushed to the margins of society, who are poor, lonely, weak and helpless. They are awaiting love, help and human understanding, however hopeless the wait may be. For Kędzierzawska, this was a conscious choice.
Prior to graduating from the Łódź PWSFTviT Film School in 1981, where she studied directing, Kędzierzawska studied culture studies at Łódź University from 1976 to ‘78. She also spent two years studying directing at the VGIK in Moscow. The daughter of Jadwiga Kędzierzawska, a filmmaker who specialised in children's films, Kędzierzawska often accompanied her mother on film sets and became accustomed to them at an early age. In 1972 she appeared in one of her mother's films, Ucieczka-wycieczka, and in the 1980s she got her first directing experience as a part-time assistant and second director working alongside Jadwiga. Kędzierzawska's first big success was the nomination of her student film Jajko for a Student Oscar in Los Angeles in 1983.
Watch early films by Dorota Kędzierzawska and other classics
Kędzierzawska takes on the perspective of people overcome by the bitterness of old age, of a rejected child, or of a powerless yet determined woman fighting for her husband's love. Bożena Janicka wrote in Kino,
Kędzierzawska takes on topics that reflect her social sensitivity and are characteristic of involved cinema. What makes her films highly original is the poetry of their language, which is made of a different material. A concrete description of the heroine of Kędzierzawska's Nothing wouldn't get you anywhere near the film itself.
The same can be said of Kędzierzawska's other films. While they all address some difficult social or psychological problem, none delivers any easy, pat messages.
In an interview with Barbara Hollender for the Rzeczpospolita daily, Kędzierzawska herself explained, "I am not interested in strong people, those who have everything planned and who move from success to success. The weak ones look at life differently".
Kędzierzawska's film lexicon is unique. Each shot is carefully constructed, with careful attention paid to the details of set design, light and colour, as well as to the subtle gestures and looks that make up the art of acting. She creates a special atmosphere with each film and through each character portrait. To her, the visual is the most important and basic medium of communication, and she is remarkably frugal with her language. I am like that, she admits Kędzierzawska in the Rzeczpospolita daily in October 1998. I do not talk a lot, so why should my films be verbose?When she can convey a message through pictures alone, Kędzierzawska prefers to do away with words entirely. The characters in her films are taciturn, reticent and isolated, and she pares down the dialogue in screenplays. When talking about her work, she emphasizes the importance of accurate screenplays, and she will sometimes add so much to them that they expand dramatically.
Much of the credit for the meticulous cinematography in Kędzierzawska's films goes to Artur Reinhart, the cameraman who worked with her on her finest work: Wrony / Crows and Nic / Nothing. Many critics, although they appreciate the artistry of Reinhart's images, disapprove of its beauty. This beauty was still relatively easy to accept in Crows, a film about a lonely child, in which the gorgeously shot empty beach, the boundless sea and the birds were clearly symbolic. Shots filled with the vast expanses of water, sand and sky emphasized the particular sort of absence that was so painful to the heroine, wrote Katarzyna Jabłońska in Więź 2/1995. However, it was different with Nic. A number of reviewers pointed out that the contrast between the serene beauty of the cinematography and the cruel content produced a jarring and unacceptable dissonance. Bożena Janicka, on the other hand, drew attention to the unnatural origins of the beauty captured on film. She asserts that, since the beautiful images had been created out of ugliness, they were unrealistic and unnerving, which was a message in itself.
Although Kędzierzawska is indifferent to box office success, her films, often regarded as esoteric, have a devoted audience that she is unlikely to disappoint. She admits that she doesn't see herself as a commercial film director. However, she also declared a few years ago that it is not her goal to focus exclusively on morose subject matter and plans to make some more optimistic films in the future. Her latest films have been Jestem / I Am (2005) and Pora umierać / Time to Die (2007).
In I Am the tone is deeply sad, although with a note of optimism. The main character, a boy who escaped from the orphanage, could be a twin brother of the girl from Crows. Neglected and hungry for love, he takes on the role of an adult (so different from the cold and emotionless adults he knows) to face his loneliness. Alongside him is a girl named Kuleczka, with whom he has much in common.
It is a fairy tale about cruel, stupid and irresponsible adults who only know how tu humiliate. Awful, jelous degenerates. And about children that are capable of compassion. Kundel and Kleczka find each other because they are sensitive and open. I Am is a film about the sin of dessinteresment. And about egoism. Dorota Kędzierzawska was able to capture - in a fairy tale-like, unreal style - about this modern trauma. Kundel's mother doesn't even care if he exists.
In contrast, Time to die, which was shot two years later, is a warm, serene story. It's true that the main protagonist, played by Danuta Szaflarska, is lonely, has a disgraceful son and an insensitive granddaughter, but she still menages to be cheerful and open. She's not as taciturn as many Kędzierzawska's protagonists. On the contrary, she talks a lot, even with her dog. The title itself is a saying in theory quite grim in its substance, which has been functioning in Polish as a joke for a really long time. The old lady in Kędzierzawska's film doesn't die: she finds a way to cheat her heartless family and grant herself contact with people whom she likes and who truly deserve it.
The film is, as usual when it comes to Kędzierzawska's work, made very neatly, but the lack of any formal impetus, which makes it similar to a theatre play, is quite striking. One can only guess it is due to financial matters.
In 2010, she made Jutro bedzie lepiej / Tomorrow will be Better - also working with Artur Reinhart. In the film, three Russians boys who have no other home but a train station embark on a journey to Poland in the pursuit of a better future. They cross borders - both physical and metaphorical ones - in a rather naïve attempt to find a place where their dreams of a happy life might become reality. These three miniature heroes cling to the hope that anything is better than the present - even when it is obvious to the viewer that they are treading towards a hopeless reality.
Kędzierzawska's last film up to date is Inny świat / Another world (2012), a documentary about the Danuta Szaflarska. The actress is the narrator and a guide through history and culture which shaped her as a person. The documentary is quite simple, shot mostly in black and white.
In an interview published on www.kidfilm.pl, Dorota Kędzierzawska says heard the story from an acquaintance:
They say that this story really happened. I don't know whether there were two boys or three. I don't know if they were brothers. I don't know whether they were fleeing for the first time or had tried before. I don't know what happened to them along the way. All I know is that they wanted to change something about their lives. I know that there are good people and bad people everywhere, and that coincidence often has a key impact on our lives. I know that many of us hope that somewhere out there is a place that is different, better, and more beautiful. Wherever that might be…
I also know that as long as we have dreams, as long as we have faith, and as long as we keep hoping for the impossible, we find meaning in everything that surrounds us; we manage to lift ourselves above the ground just a little and rise above all that is ordinary, miserable, and sometimes just plain boring.
What really captivated me in the story of the little fugitives was their extraordinary willingness to break out of their lack of life, lack of existence. The stunning thing about it is their hunger for a better and more humane life, although nobody knows if they would ever find themselves in it… Where did these young, homeless, ragged and hungry boys get such determination? How much courage and strength did it cost them? Aren't they the great little heroes of the wicked times we live in?
Along with her work as a film director, Kędzierzawska directed José M. de Vasconcelos's play for children, My Orange Lemon Plant, for the TV Theatre (1992). She also worked on Jadwiga Kędzierzawska's films Rozalka Olaboga (1984), Dedykacja (1987), Józek (1987) and Próba (1987), as well as on Piotr Mikucki's Sekret (1983) and Par Avion (1985).
Student films and documentaries:
- 1981 - Agnieszka
- 1982 - Jajko [The Egg]. Awards: 1983 - Munich, European Student Film Festival, 1st Prize; 1984 - Sosnowiec, Łódź Film School and Silesian University Radio and Television Faculty Student Films Review mention in the feature film category;1984 - Łódź, Friends of Łódź Society Competition 1st Prize; 1986 - Warsaw, Sociological and Ethnographical Film Society 2nd Prize.
- 1983 - Początek. Awards: 1986 - Warsaw, Sociological and Ethnographical Film Society 2nd Prize.
- 1985 - Gucia
Feature films (director and writer):
1988 Koniec świata / The End of The World, TV feature. An intimate psychological study of the bitterness and loneliness of an elderly couple who have spent their entire lives together and who, at the end, have nothing to offer one another but hatred. Awards: 1989 - Mannheim Film Festival Golden Ducat, FIPRESCI Award, OCIC Catholic Jury Mention and Folk Higher Schools Jury Award.
1991 - Diabły, diabły / The Devils, The Devils . Kędzierzawska's first full-length feature film deals with issues of intolerance and rejection. When a gypsy caravan arrives in a small town, the population is curious, but feels threatened and rejects the gypsies. This rejection is also felt by a local teenage girl, whose fascination with the strangers inspires her to approach them. Awards: 1991 - Gdynia Polish Film Festival Direction Award; Cannes Youth Film Festival Youth Jury Mention; Bellinzona Children and Youth Film Festival Grand Prix of the City of Bellinzona; also 1989 - Andrzej Munk Studio Competition 1st prize for screenplay (awarded before the film was made).
1994 - Wrony / Crows (also editor). A drama about a lonely child whose busy mother has no time for conversation or affection. The nine-year-old girl, Wrona, finds her own way to satisfy her desire for intimacy: she kidnaps a young, trusting, happy child, intending to take care of it for a day and then return it to its parents. Wrona is not very good at childcare, but she tries her best to deliver what she cannot get for herself. Major awards: 1994 - Gdynia Polish Film Festival Special Jury Award, Journalists Award and Audience Award; Don Quixote Polish Film Debating Society Award; Bellinzona International Children and Youth Film Festival Bronze Grand Prix; Vevey International Comedy Film Festival Charlie Chaplin Award; Cannes IFF Coup de Coeur; 1996 - Poznań Children Film Festival International Competition Poznańskie Koziołki / Poznań Goats Grand Prix Award and Directing Prize. Also 1994 - Łódź Camerimage International Festival Golden Frog for cinematography (Artur Reinhart).
1998 - Nic / Nothing (also editor and co-producer). Based on a true story reported in a newspaper, this film is about a mother of three who kills her newborn in order to keep her husband, who doesn't want one more gob to feed. The woman's boundless love for an unfeeling and undeserving man leads her into a trap from which there is no escape. Unable either to see her situation for what it is or to extricate herself from it, the woman, addicted to her husband and a prisoner of her emotions, is too weak to help herself or to seek help from others. The lead parts are played by non-professional actors, although they clearly feel comfortable on camera: Anita Borkowska-Kuskowska, soloist at Warsaw's Teatr Wielki, and Janusz Panasewicz, the leader of the rock group Lady Pank. Major awards: 1998 - Gdynia Polish Film Festival Special Jury Award and Journalists Award; East European Screenplay Foundation Screenplay Award; 1999 - Denver Film Festival Krzysztof Kieślowski Award; Sochi Film Festival Special Jury Award and FIPRESCI Award; Łagów Summer Film Festival Bronze Brązowe Grono Award; Orzeł / Eagle 1998 Polish Film Best Director Award; Tarnów Grand Prix - Bronze Leliwita Statuette. Also in 1998 - Gdynia Film Festival Cinematography Award (Artur Reinhart).
2005 - Jestem / I am (also editing, together with Artur Reinhart). A story based on real events. A surprisingly mature 11-year old boy nicknamed Kundel escapes from the orphanage and lives alone on a boat. He tries to find a substitute of family love. He meets a girl from the neighbourhood, Kuleczka, who soon becomes his friend. Major Awards: 2005 - Gdynia, Polish Film Festival: Audience Award; Centeast Film Fair in Warsaw - Warsaw Screenings; Critics' Club Award for best film, Jury Kinderfilmfest Special Award at the IFF in Berlin; Free Zone Festival in Belgrad: Audience Award; International Childrens' Film and Television Festival in Tajwan: Award for Best Feature Film.
2007 - Pora umierać / Time to Die (also editing, together with Artur Reinhart). An intimate story of an elderly lady, Aniela, who owns a neglected wooden villa, which she has a soft spot for. After a long awaited moving out of the last tenant, Aniela hopes her son will come to live there, so that she is not alone. The son has no sentiment toward the house, has other plans, would prefer to get rid of it and take the money. Aniela learns it by accident and is deeply disappointed by him. Secretly she decides to give the house over to a shelter for children and signs a contract with their caretakers. People she doesn't even know, who take care of abandoned children, are more worthy of the house than her own egoist son. Major Awards: Journalists' Award and Radio Gdańsk Award for Longest Applause at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival; Grand Prix Golden Fish at the Optimistic Films Festival in Rzeszów, Special Jury Mention and Audience Award at the Triest Film Festival, Chris Holter Award for 'humour in film' at the San Francisco IFF; New York Polish Film Festival - Special Award; Malmö International Female Film Festival - Grand Prix and Audience Award.
2010 - Jutro bedzie lepiej / Tomorrow will be Better. A story of three homeless Russian boys who travel to Poland in search of a better life - full of dreams and hopes. The film won the Grand Prix for Children's Films from the Generation Kplus International Jury at the 61 International Film Festival in Berlin in February 2011.
- 2012 - Inny świat / Another World (documentary). A portrait of the legendary Polish actress Danuta Szaflarska, who tells her life story set on the background of Poland's difficult history and therefore shows a world that no longer exists.
Dorota Kędzierzawska has also received the Emerging Master Award (2000) at the Seattle International Festival for Crows and Nothing and Polityka Passport in 2008.
Author: Ewa Nawój, October 2003. Last update: NMR, November 2016.