She graduated from the Faculty of Graphic Arts of the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław and the Film and Television Direction Department of the Polish National Film School in Łódź. She was also awarded a scholarship from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Before she directed her debut film Tower: A Bright Day, she had created as many as 10 short feature films and documentary etudes in which she tackled different topics and practiced different film styles. In these etudes she told stories about female migrants, mourning after losing loved ones, and growing up.
In 2013 she directed the most important among her student etudes. Such a Landscape told a story inspired by actual events. Szelc touched upon, among others, the situation of a man who lost everything in a fire and the life of a woman who was cheated on, focusing on registering the feelings that her characters experienced.
In an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza the film’s director of photography, Zuzanna Pyda, said:
The script involved a significant role of camera in the film. Making a shooting script did not make sense, because both Jagoda and I knew that the camera would follow the characters, that it was supposed to describe emotions, not situations. Hand filming allowed for such sensitive storytelling.
In 2013 Such a Landscape was rewarded a Golden Tadpole in the Student Etudes Competition at the Camerimage International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography. The American operator Joseph Caleb Deschanel commented on the film directed by Szelc:
Such a Landscape is a beautifully told series of visual poems which submerge in a deep and significant mystery.
Two years later, in 2015, Szelc created another important etude: A Short Walk. A film made in the Ukraine told the story of a young deserter. Szelc and her small crew arrived at Donbass a day before the cease-fire and got stuck in a camp. There, she met refugees from Donbass and, among them, a boy who ran away from the front-lines.
In an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza Szelc said:
We managed to take him for a 45-minute walk, with no witnesses, and ask him to tell us about himself. A Short Walk is a record of a talk about why he decided to fight as a Ukrainian separatist and why he ran away from war. The tragedy of those people lies in the fact that they believe in one thing and have to do another. They are torn between two countries, they have problems with their identity.
Tower: Bright Day
The etudes by Szelc, always placed at the edge of a film experiment, bold and ambiguous, brought her closer to an early feature debut. Szelc created the film when she was still a student of Łódź Film School. It was possible thanks to Mariusz Grzogorzek, the rector of the school, who brought the studio Indeks back to life after years of inactivity. Indeks has since promoted films by the school’s students and graduates.
In an interview with the Polish Film Institute Jagoda Szelc said:
I had a big opportunity to make auteur films, to make them look as I want them to look, so how could I not use it?
Her Tower: A Bright Day told the story of a family reunion after years of separation. In her film the first communion of a young girl became an occasion for a meeting between two adult sisters who represent different life philosophies and different worlds.
This is what Szelc said about her characters:
They are two sisters. One of them represents the material world, the other – the spiritual world. One of them is a tower, the other is a phenomenon. From one sister, from her world, from one dimension we go through the whole film to the other sister, that is the film changes. And this film is different at the beginning and different at the end […]
In her debut film Szelc referred to the biggest authors of the contemporary cinema, and in Tower: A Bright Day the critics found references to the films of Yorgos Lanthimos, Lars von Trier, and Roman Polański.
When Tower: A Bright Day was screened at the 42nd Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, Szelc was hailed as one of the favourites of the event. Paweł T. Felis wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza:
At the beginning of the festival in Gdynia: a revelation, Tower: A Bright Day by Jagoda Szelc. An outstanding debut in which you can see a story of a spirit possession, a zombie march, but above all a family psychodrama haunted by a metaphysical question: where did we come from and where do we go to?
The critics appreciated the hybrid form of the film in which, quoting Adrian Luzar from Interia:
[…] forms and genres are mixed: one time we see a minimalist psychological portrait, the other time humour taken from an old Polish series and in the end we dive in the depths of a devious thriller as in the case of Demon by Marcin Wrona, where the line between reality and fiction is blurred.
They valued the fact that in her debut Szelc chose actors that were unknown at the time. Małgorzata Steciak wrote for Onet:
The director lets fresh acting blood into Polish film's bloodstream. The cast of her debut is almost full of unseen faces, which acts only in the film's favour. The actors starring in Tower: A Bright Day, very well guided, by the way, are not associated by the audience with any particular convention and they successively escalate the atmosphere of mystery.
The film by Szelc won an award for the best directorial debut; Szelc also received an award for the best script. In 2017 the director received a nomination for the Paszporty Polityki (Polityka Passport) in the Film category.
In the justification of the nomination for Szelc, Małgorzata Sadowska wrote that the young director:
[…] exorcises the family and Poland, conjures up ghosts, puts you in trance, wakes up the energies sleeping in people and landscapes, heals wounds. What she does is not directing, it a sheer shamanic ritual. Polish film has found its enchantress.
The director is already working on her next film – The Delicate Balance of Terror, for which Szelc received the second prize in the ‘Script Wars’ Mazovian Script Competition.
- 2017 – Tower: A Bright Day, a feature film (script, direction)
- 2015 – A short Walk, a student etude (script, direction)
- 2013 – Such a Landscape, a student etude (script, direction, editing)
- 2012 – Exit Point, a student etude (script, direction, editing)
- 2012 – Rite of Passage, a student etude (direction)
- 2012 – Überraschung, a student etude (direction, editing)
- 2011 – Apsiopoesis, a student etude (script, direction)
- 2011 – And Never Come Back, a strudent etude (script, direction, film set sound effects)
- 2011 – Kichot, a student etude (direction, film set sound effects)
- 2011 – Scream If You Want To, a student etude (script, direction)
- 2011 – Łódź from Dawn to Dusk, a student etude – a novel “Truanting” (direction)
Author: BS. Translated by MW, January 2018.