Hanna Polak is a director of documentaries and a director of photography born in Katowice in 1967. She was nominated for an Oscar for The Children of Leningradsky.
She graduated from the cinematography department of the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. She also opened a foundation which helps homeless children in Russia.
In the 1980s and 1990s, she studied acting in Wrocław and Warsaw, but she didn’t graduate. ‘I was struck off from the students’ list and I have to admit, it was very difficult for me back then’, she said in an interview with Culture.pl. She travelled through Western Europe, and then she went to Russia.
It was an extraordinary time – after the end of the communism, Russia opened to the world, she recalls.
Together with her Russian friends she started helping elderly and disabled people. They organised meetings, and film screenings, and collaborated with nursing homes.
In 1999 at the Moscow Kurskaya Railway Station, she met three small children who were sniffing glued.
I started talking to them and learned that they lived at the station. The children told me to come back at night and then I’d see that there were many more. When I did, I was shocked. There were a few dozen children, some of them really small. I couldn’t understand how it was possible – that nobody needed those children, nobody looked for them, nobody cared. They just lived on the streets – lived and died.
– she recalled in the interview with Culture.pl.
This meeting changed her life. In Russia she opened a foundation to help homeless children, and together with Andrzej Celiński she made the film The Children of Leningradsky. She told the story of homeless children’s lives, whose reality consisted of alcohol, drugs and violence. She was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary in 2005, and a year later – for two Emmy awards. In the meantime, she studied cinematography at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography under Tarkowski’s cinematographer, Wadim Jusow.
It’s thanks to the children of Leningradsky station that she met the protagonists of her next film – Something Better to Come, which was the most awarded Polish film of 2015. She tells the story of the inhabitants of the biggest rubbish dump in Europe, a dozen kilometres from Moscow. As she said in a conversation with Culture.pl:
This is a country inside a country. At the rubbish dump, there are no laws. When somebody dies, no one calls the police. When someone gets raped or run down by a truck, nobody calls the hospital, nobody gets alarmed. The inhabitants disappear without a trace and nobody cares.
SOMETHING BETTER TO COME - Official Full Trailer from Hanna Polak on Vimeo.
The main protagonist of the film is Jula, a 10-year-old blonde girl. Something Better to Come becomes the story of her growing up and attempting to escape the hell of the dump. Polak visited the inhabitants of this place for 14 years, brought them medicine and took them to the doctor when sick, shooting the film at the same time. Years later, out of collected materials, she made a story about human dignity that cannot be broken, and also about the hypocrisy of those who close their eyes at suffering.
Something Better to Come was awarded at festivals in Moscow, Munich, Amsterdam, Warsaw and Madrid, and was mentioned among the best documentaries of 2015 in the American edition of Newsweek.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by N. Mętrak-Ruda, December 2015.