Screenwriter and documentary filmmaker, director, born in 1930, in Wilno, she passed away on the 3rd of September 2009 in Łódź.
Screenwriter and documentary filmmaker, director, born in 1930, in Wilno, she passed away on the 3rd September 2009 in Łódź.
She graduated from the Screenwriting Faculty of the S.A. Gierasimov Russian Federation State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK; diploma obtained in 1955) in Moscow. On her return to Poland, she began working at the Documentary Film Production Company in Warsaw, making her debut as an independent director in 1959. Her work has been recognized with numerous festival trophies. She has received the Golden Lajkonik Award at the National Short Films Festival in Cracow.
Krystyna Gryczełowska has not been recognized frequently by international film festival juries, although she did receive the Silver Dragon at the Cracow festival for her film Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in 1965. The majority of her laurels have been won on the national stage. This is not without significance: her work often touched on important and painful subjects and, although it often related to wider, more universal, dimensions, it was received overwhelmingly as part of the Polish national context.
She began her career tellingly, as part of the "Black Series" movement in Polish documentary filmmaking. As a screenwriter, she worked with Jerzy Ziarnik on the prominent 1956 film Miasteczko / Small Town, which documented the depopulation of a town collapsing from unemployment. Four years later, she independently produced Siedliszcze (1960), which told the story of a rural physician. Both films exude the unmistakable brand of "Black Series" activist filmmaking, which emerged in reaction to socialist-realist cinema's sugarcoated depictions of Polish reality.
Kazimierz Karabasz remembers:
In early spring of 1956, a group of Łódź Film School graduates arrived at the Documentary Film Production Company in Warsaw [...]. Together with filmamkers coming out of the Moscow VGIK, who had arrived a year earlier, we were looking around with a kind of trepidation, wondering: what would we be allowed, and able, to change here? [...] At the time, the Company produced only formulaic films for the propaganda apparatus. The movies aimed to show what reality ought to be (or what the ruling Party's executive committee thought it was) – we wanted to make films about the reality that was all around us. We succeeded, largely because October 1956 was upon us: previously taboo themes and subjects were suddenly open to discussion. Where earlier there had been only prohibitions, suddenly there was the possibility of projecting onto the screen a reality that was harsh, unjust and filled with painful experiences – a reality that until then had been diligently suppressed.
The first instinct was to show what until then had been unmentionable, such the profound dislocation and demoralization of the young generation, the fallacy and hollowness of state slogans, the degeneration of workmanship and private property, the degradation of rural life, the dissimulation of acute social ills (alcoholism, prostitution, the falsification of productive work). [...] This was our spontaneous reaction to years of suppression, conformity and the propaganda-driven fabrication of Polish documentary film. ("Odczytać czas / Telling the Time", Łódź 1999)
Among the young filmmakers that Karabasz remembers coming out of the Moscow film school was Krystyna Gryczełowska.
Krystyna Gryczełowska was born the same year as Kazimierz Karabasz and is two years younger than Irena Kamieńska, another prominent member of that generation of documentary directors. Both her date of birth and the timing of her debut place her squarely within what is sometimes called the "Karabasz school" of the classics of Polish documentary film, particularly those produced during the 1960s. Gryczełowska's work during that decade undoubtedly has much in common with the principles introduced by Karabasz. Yet both Gryczełowska and Kamieńska are more readily identified with the preceding generation of directors whose impact was first felt at the Cracow film festival of 1971. Gryczełowska's filmography does include works that echo and compare artistically to Karabasz's Rok Franka W. / The Year of Frank W., for example 24 godziny z życia Jadwigi L. / The 24 Hours of Jadwiga L. or Nazywa się Błażej Rejdak / His name is Błażej Rejdak. However, the majority of her films made before the turbulent 1970s has much in common with the "Black Series" movement and with ideas popularised by young filmmakers at the dawn of "Gierek's decade" (so named after Edward Gierek, Polish head of state in 1970-1980).
Jerzy Hoffman has said that "Black Series" films were "problem-focused [...] simply put, activist films." ("Without Fiction", Kazimierz Karabasz, Warsaw 1985). Gryczełowska's films were similarly received by reviewers at the time. That is also how the director and screenwriter herself seemed to feel about her films: "I like this kind of documentary. It is true that it is undervalued; it's seen as an inferior genre, as some kind of cinematic variety of journalism." ("Film" 3/1969)
This choice of approach to filmmaking iss informed by something else than film itself and iss the result of a utilitarian approach to film. The goal is to help those who invite the camera into their lives – then the camera becomes more than simply an instrument for communicating a truth about the world, it becomes an instrument of change.
In another discussion, Gryczełowska talked about how she enjoyed seeing that problems exposed in her films had found practical solutions. "That's how it was with 'Wola Rafałowska', which showed the pitiful condition of abandoned and neglected rural households. Some time after the film was released, the government introduced legislation on heirless property" ("Film" 13/69).
When asked, in the same interview, why so many of her films touched on rural issues, she answered that the rural population "tends to be distrustful and reluctant towards change, which often makes helping them difficult. Their lives are not easy and city residents often treat them uncharitably. A documentary filmmaker's help can be indispensable for them."
Gryczełowska sees her work as a service to others. In 1975, she said that she perceived this as a national characteristic of Polish documentary films: "Polish directors at the time knew how to seek out people, subjects and events that, although they weren't necessarily a reflection of everyone's reality, were nevertheless immensely important. Our films threw light on those who needed help, on situations that cried out for intervention" ("Film" 22/75).
Many parallels can be drawn between Polish documentary cinema in the 1960s and the emergent "little realism" movement in prose writing, which was driven by a desire to give every "little person" their due, to demonstrate the meaning of their work and existence. It was not difficult for Gryczełowska to adopt this perspective. Many years later, she recalled her first reaction to neorealist Italian films during her studies in Moscow: "So it was possible to make a beautiful film about people in desolate circumstances" ("Film" 16/75).
One such "beautiful film" about individuals in difficult conditions was Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, whose elderly subjects are united in their "struggle against the loneliness and emptiness of old age" ("Film" 32/1965). "The ideal approach would be to begin with a particular, even trivial, topic and then to show its importance on a wider scale, to recognize the element that makes the subject relevant for each and every one of us" – said the director ("Film" 3/1969). That was her approach in her next film, Wola Rafałowska, which depicted a village devoid of young people whom the city had drawn into its orbit.
The film 24 godziny Jadwigi L. / The 24 Hours of Jadwiga L. (1967) was closer still to the director's stated principles. Many years after its release, the young documentary filmmaker Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz wrote that the film: "is fairly characteristic of the dominant trend among documentary filmmakers at the time – showing ordinary people, like the people you pass in the street, showing small life, with its small joys and small sorrows" ("Kwartalnik Filmowy", 25/1999).
Everyday responsibilities, troubles and problems rather rarely become the subjects of films, even documentary films. Authors generally look for subject matter that is unusual, dramatic, disconcerting. Yet everyday life can also be a moving subject, filled with significant themes. [...] The camera begins to follow Jadwiga L. when she leaves for work late in the evening, it observes her at her factory job, records her conversations during breaks and her fatigue when the sun comes up. Then at home – getting the children off to school, groceries, cleaning, laundry, getting supper ready, a short nap, then a family meal [...], dishes, rest and then it's time to go back to work. Not an easy existence. [...] It has been a long time since we had a socially relevant documentary that was so decidedly editorial in its opinions – enthused a reviewer at the time ("Magazyn Filmowy" 1/68).
Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, analyzing the film with the perspective of time, points out the degree to which the film's central figure is nondescript and, thus, unattractive:
Nothing comes easily to this woman – she was blessed with neither beauty, nor charm, nor a captivating personality.
She does not complain about her life. It is as if she were not conscious that it would be possible to live otherwise. [...] And the reality that surrounds Jadwiga L. is filled with women who resemble her. They don't even have the time to wonder whether life could be different. It is we, the viewers, who look at this brave woman with unease. The intensity of 24 hours is encapsulated in a fifteen-minute film – adds Zmarz-Koczanowicz.
Gryczełowska's much-discussed follow-up film, Nazywa się Błażej Rejdak, mieszka w Rożnicy w Jędrzejowskim Powiecie / His name is Błażej Rejdak, he lives in Rożnica, Jędrzejowski District, was perhaps closest among her works to the vision of Kazimierz Karabasz. Elżbieta Smoleń-Wasilewska aptly remarked that "for a less inquisitive director, devoid of sociological interests" the information in the title itself "would have been enough to persuade against making a movie about a man so described." Rejdak is, according to Smoleń-Wasilewska, the negation of conventional imaginings of the cinematic hero. A rural worker and railway employee wearing a mangled beret and haggard clothing. Krystyna Gryczełowska went beyond the unattractive exterior, because she "tried to portray Rejdak – in his natural environment, to be sue – but not limiting herself to a superficial portrait." She was thus able to capture "an important social phenomenon – changes in the countryside, where the rural met the urban [...], when smallholder peasants became the laborers and workers of an industrial state."
Gryczełowska's success is thus based on capturing events that are characteristic and important for Polish society, but also on the fact that, having found a goodhearted and cheerful central character, she avoided platitudes. It's an outwardly simple, unpretentious portrayal of the world, a film that seems positivistic in spirit. [...] Gryczełowska's work [...] sometimes recalls Ślesicki's "Rodzina człowiecza / The Human Family". But its innovative qualities lie in its excellent choice of subject, which, in a sense, condenses a series of fundamental issues within her lens, in the person of the central subject: a cheerful, bright man from the Polish countryside, conscious of his own social progress. (Elżbieta Smoleń-Wasilewska, "Film" 28/29/1969)
In the text devoted to Krystyna Gryczełowska and Irena Kamieńska, cited above, Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz talks about how surprised she was that these films resonated with American students for whom she screened the works in the United States.
I feel that these films employ a method of observation that is based on the perception of details and minutiae, as well as a certain attitude towards the female subjects that sets them apart from others; in a word, it's evident that they were made by women."
Those words can certainly be applied to Gryczełowska's later film Nasze znajome z Łodzi / Our Friends from Łódź (1971). Produced at the beginning of "Gierek's decade", the film blends seamlessly into the contemporary wave of documentaries by young, debuting directors and, in some ways, it was a precursor of their work.
Our Friends from Łódź presents three women textile workers from the Marchlewski textile plant in Łódź: Urszula – a fetching young woman, who wants to study, graduate, marry and build a better life; Helena – a single mother of three children who are her brightest hope for a better future; and Genowefa – sickly, resigned and dejected at only 44 years of age.
According to Zmarz-Koczanowicz the foremost quality of Gryczełowska's and Kamieńska's films is their adoption of their subjects' perspective onto the world.
The heroines of these films are victims of circumstance. They do not struggle against their position. They are passive and reconciled with fate [...] they are lonely. They are without help or support. [...] They don't attempt to seek help in their contacts with the documentarists. They are already closed off, devoid of hope. I think that there are very few Polish documentaries that are so evocative and yet filmed with such masterly simplicity.
It is worth noting that Our Friends from Łódź was made immediately following the so-called "December events" and the following textile-worker women's strikes in Łódź in early 1971, which forced Edward Gierek's incoming government to rescind the socially disruptive price increases brought in by his predecessor, Władysław Gomułka. At the same time, they exposed both the political strength of the workers as a group and the desperate condition of the individual women who made up its membership.
After the movie had been completed, Krystyna Gryczełowska commented that, in its intent, it was an activist film.
At the beginning of that year  I resolved to make a film about the life conditions of women textile workers; this was right after the "December events" – it seemed a singularly relevant subject ("Film" 36/71).
Gryczełowska's modest objectives resulted in a multi-dimensional work that touched on social, as well as existential, themes. Alongside Robotnice 1971 / Female Workers by Irena Kamieńska, Our Friends from Łódź became and remains one of the most important depictions of female textile workers' lives in the self-declared "worker-peasant" state that was the PRL (People's Republic of Poland).
Alicja Iskierko has commented on the documentary films that came to the fore at the beginning of the 1970s:
there was a succession of films that dealt with dramatic social problems, such as "Our Friends from Łódź" by Krystyna Gryczełowska, "Ojcowie miasta / City Fathers" by Danuta Halladin, "Psychodrama" by Marek Piwowski, "Skansen / Open-air Museum" by Zbigniew Raplewski, "Zanik serca / Atrophy of the Heart" by Krzysztof Gradowski and "Sezon / Season" by Ewa Kruk (Alicja Iskierko, "Znajomi z kina. Szkice o polskim filmie krótkometrażowym / Our Friends from the Cinema. Essays on Polish short films", Warsaw, 1982).
Another Gryczełowska work that followed in the wake of the "December events" made a lasting impression in its own right and, in some ways, was ahead of its time (and ahead of the "angry" young documentarists): the film ...W lutym 1971 / ...In February, 1971, produced at the beginning of the title year. In the book "Chełmska 21" (titled after the Warsaw street address of the Documentary Film Production Company) the director describes the film's creation:
The title could, and even should, say: "Five Weeks after December" but it's almost certain that the government censors wouldn't have liked that, because after those few weeks things were just beginning to feel "OK" in the PRL. There was a new "Number One" [head of state, Edward Gierek], who travelled across Poland and made surprise appearances in the countryside or in the factories, and he'd ask workers: "Will you help?" and they would answer "We will help!". This meant that what had been should be left in the past and that it was time to throw ourselves headlong into "the new". The very word "December" became something unseemly, along the same principle that in a house where someone has hung himself you shouldn't speak of rope. And that was the beginning of the new, "post-December" era. I was overcome with the desire to show even just a fragment of this new reality, but without stalling, to do it quickly, while everything was still fresh in the memory, while it was still right "after the battle". And I thought that I would make a short little piece about how a government representative comes to the countryside, with nothing but good intentions and only sweet promises on his lips, as if it were the First Secretary [Gierek] himself. ("Chełmska 21", Warsaw 2000)
"Magazyn Filmowy" wrote:
The opening credits list only the production house – the Documentary Film Production Company – but the author's implicit signature is unmistakable. Rural workers complain and enumerate their difficulties, in response to which they receive only roundabout reassurances delivered "in the old, discredited style". But the film reaches further, going beyond the immediate problems that the farmers denounce during their meeting with the official. It reveals the jarring disproportion between the population's attitudes, justifiable hopes and real demands on the one hand and, on the other, the predictable, dogmatic and paternalistic attitude of officials at all levels of government authority. ("Magazyn Filmowy" 30/71)
Asked what role the Polish documentary film fulfills, Gryczełowska answered that, just like non-fiction prose, documentary film allows us to "touch life".
I think that once in a while we all need a moment to reflect, to think about the world and the reality that surrounds us. A good, profound documentary allows us to have these moments of inspired perception of something new in life and in the world, something that was hidden to us until our eyes were opened to it. ("Film" 22/1975)
The periodical "Polska" published an interview with the director conducted by... herself, in which Gryczełowska described herself as a "documentary filmmaker by choice".
When do I plan on making a fiction film? I find the question offensive [...]. That question conceals a supposition that directors of documentary films see their brand of filmmaking as a temporary job, perhaps even a sad necessity, and that they dream of the Promised Land of fiction. That – when and if they grow up – they'll elbow their way into fiction as if it were a higher class. Well, that is a fiction. ("Polska", 9/1970)
Documentary films - screenwriting:
- 1952 - "O Amonicie i 14 harcerzach / The Ammonite and the 14 scouts", script with Bogusław Rybczyński, dir. Bogusław Rybczyński;
- 1954 - "List z kolonii / A Letter from Summer Camp", dir. Bogusław Rybczyński;
- 1956 - "Miasteczko / Small Town", dir. Jerzy Ziarnik, "Black series" production on the unemployment-driven depopulation of a town;
- 1957 - "Wyspa Wielkiej Nadziei / The island of Great Hope", dir. Bohdan Poręba, co-writer;
- 1960 - "Ciszej / Quiet", dir. Lucjan Jankowski;
- 1961 - "Ballady z podwórka / Ballads from the Yard", dir. Bogusław Rybczyński, co-writer;
- 1961 - "Płyń pieśni, płyń / The Flow of Song", dir. Bogusław Rybczyński, co-writer;
- 1961 - "Ziemia Lubuska opowiada / Stories from the Land of Lubusz, dir. Bogusław Rybczyński, co-writer;
- 1962 - "Trzecia młodość / Thrice Young", dir. Bogusław Rybczyński, co-writer;
- 1964 - "Na naszej ziemi / On Our Land", dir. Bogusław Rybczyński, co-writer;
- 1967 - "Junacy / Junaks", dir. Danuta Halladin, co-writer;
- 1967 - "Uwaga dziecko / Watch Out for Children", dir. Jerzy Jaraczewski, co-writer.
Documentary films - direction and screenwriting:
- 1955 - "Wyprawa na Czarcią Wyspę / Voyage to Devil's Island", dir. with Witold Leśniewicz;
- 1959 - "Urodzaj / Harvest Yield - ten years in the life of the Kokoszowa Production Collective;
- 1960 - "Siedliszcze" - a physician's work in the village of Siedliszcze;
- 1962 - "W klubie na Woli / At a Club in Wola" - A community culture centre attached to the Kasprzak radio factory in the Warsaw neighborhood of Wola;
- 1963 - "Pierwsze pokolenie / The First Generation", dir. with Bogusław Rybczyński. Depicts the work crew of a the rising Huta Warszawa industrial works;
- 1963 - "Słoneczne Wzgórze / Sunny Hill" - a new housing development in Lublin;
- 1965 - "Przed wyborami / Before the Elections" - preparations for elections to the District National Council in the town of Jędrzejów;
- 1965 - "Wtorki, czwartki i soboty / Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays" - depicts a retirees club, jokingly called the "Jovial Club", at a Warsaw community culture center and the people who participate in its activities. Struggle against loneliness and old age. Awards: 1965 - 2nd International Short Film Festival] 2. MFFK in Cracow, Main Prize "Silver Dragon";
- 1966 - "Rożnica 65/66" - Public University in the village of Rożnica in the Kielce region. Awards: 1966 - Agricultural Film Festival, Lublin, award;
- 1966 - "Treflowy dzień / Clover Day", dir. with Danuta Halladin, advertisment film for Polish-made footwear;
- 1966 - "Wola Rafałowska"- the lives of elderly people in desperate strais in a village in the vicinity of Warsaw. Awards: 1967 - Warsaw MermaidAward of the Polish Journalists' Association Film Review Club;
- 1967 - "The 24 Hours of Jadwiga L." - depicts the story of a working woman who keeps house and raises her children; 24 hours in her strenuous life;
- 1968 - "90 dni w roku / 90 Days a Year" - an agricultural produce facility and the difficulties faced by producers attempting to sell their stocks there. Awards: 1968 - 8th National Short Film Festival in Cracow, "Bronze Lajkonik", 2nd National Agricultural Films Festival in Lublin, honorary diploma;
- 1968 - "His name is Błażej Rejdak, he lives in Rożnica, Jędrzejowski District" - portrait of agricultural worker, or peasant-worker, from the village of Rożnica, who also works on the railways; during train rides across the countryside, he recounts fantastical (perhaps fantasized) adventures. Awards: 1969 - 9th National Short Film Festival in Cracow, Grand Prix "Golden Lajkonik";
- 1969 - "Zawsze rodzi się chleb / The Bread Always Rises" - the village of Jaronowice in the Kielce district, in August 1969. Elderly subjects reminisce about a life spent in two very different historical epochs. Awards: 1970 - 10th National Short Film Festival in Cracow, Grand Prix "Golden Lajkonik";
- 1970 - 'Pegeerowcy / The PeeGeeR-ers" - The "Łankiejmy" State Agricultural Farm (Państwowe Gospodarstwo Rolne - PGR) in the Olsztyn region;
- 1971 - "... in February, 1971" - a government representative meets with village residents in February, 1971, on the heels of the "December events." The clash of the paternalism of the ruling authorities with the position of the agricultural workers who demand pragmatic solutions;
- 1971 - "Our friends from Łódź" - profiles of three women textile workers from the Julian Marchlewski textile plant in Łódź, their work and their life difficulties. Female workers of varying ages, levels of education and aspirations. Film made shortly after the "December events" and women textile workers' strikes in Łódź, in 1971. Awards: 1972 - National Short Film Festival in Cracow, "Bronze Lajkonik";
- 1972 - "A ten majątek miał Hrabia Czarniecki / Now, This Estate Belonged to Count Czarnecki - New World agricultural cooperative in the town of Pleszew, on the former lands of the Czarniecki family. Portrait of an exemplary agricultural plant and the people who made it that way - former estate employees;
- 1972 – "Krzeczowice. Jesień / Krzeczowice in the Fall" - a village in the Rzeszów district, its past and present conditions;
- 1973 - "Przeżyć dobrze jedno życie... / To Live Well for Just One Lifetime" - biographical portrait of the actress Wanda Bart-Geberthner, who for many years has run a community club;
- 1973 - "Władza / Authority" - the authority and functions of the National Council (Rada Narodowa) in the People's Republic of Poland;
- 1974 - "Siostry / Sisters" - the nursing profession, its highs and its lows;
- 1974 - "Ślady na mapie, ślady na taśmie / Traces on the Map, Traces on the Tape";
- 1975 - "Taki pejzaż / Just Such a Landscape", co-writer with Januszem Festynem - a contemporary Polish village;
- 1976 - "Powiązania / Links" - Moscow and Warsaw residents and their mutual professional and personal relationships;
- 1977 - "Akademik / Dormitory" - life in a student dormitory Szczecin;
- 1977 - "Pani Halina / Mrs Halina";
- 1978 - "Dla sześciu tysięcy ludzi w szesnastu wsiach / For Six Thousand People in Sixteen Villages - a day in the life of a Regional Health Care Center in Skórc;
- 1979 - "Wizerunek pewnej historycznej gminy u schyłku lata 1979 / Snapshot of a Historical Municipality at the Twilight of Summer, 1979" - regional council deliberations during harvest in the historical community of Nagłowice, birthplace of 16th century poet, Mikołaj Rej;
- 1981 - "Fragment większej całości / Fragment of a Greater Reality";
- 1983 - "Plener ze świecami / Candlelight Picnic";
- 1986 - "Studnia Mazurska / The Mazurian Well" - a village of tranquil old age. A place that has been abandoned by outsiders (and, apparently, by God) and left to aged, lonely, sickly agricultural workers. Elderly people without care or support from the outside world, waiting to die.
Krystyna Gryczełowska is also the author of commentary for films such as:
- 1957 - "Na drogach Armenii / On Armenian Highways", dir. Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski;
- 1957 - "Pierwsze odwiedziny / First-Time Visit", dir. Jerzy Jaraczewski;
- 1958 - "Noc minęła spokojnie / The Night Passed in Peace", dir. Jadwiga Plucińska;
- 1958 - "Sami na świecie / Alone in the World", dir. Danuta Halladin;
- 1963 - "Nieobecni / Absent", dir. Danuta Halladin;
- 1964 - "Dwie naprawy / Two Repairs", dir. Danuta Halladin;
- 1968 - "Rzeczna", dir. Irena Kamieńska;
- 1969 - "Lekcja polskiego / The Polish Lesson", dir. Maria Kwiatkowska;
- 1969 - "Tutejsi / Locals", dir. Maria Kwiatkowska;
- 1974 - "Ich miasto / Their Town", dir. Bogusław Rybczyński;
- 1976 - "Ziemia Lubuska / Lubusz Land", full-length feature, dir. Maria Kwiatkowska;
- 1979 - "Udana wizyta / The Good Visit", dir. Zygmunt Adamski.
Krystyna Gryczełowska has co-directed such films as:
- 1964 - "Dwie naprawy / Two Repairs", dir. Danuta Halladin;
- 1976 - "Ziemia Lubuska / Lubusz Land", dir. Maria Kwiatkowska.
Author: Jan Strękowski, September 2008.