For Entangled, her documentary about paedophilia, she was named Best Director at the Prague Documentary Film Festival; for Hercules she was awarded at festivals in Moscow and Kraków. Her work reveals her intrepid capability to listen to people and silently transcribe their world to the screen.
Her work reveals her intrepid capability to listen to people and silently transcribe their world to the screen.
Lidia Duda, photo: Maciej Biedrzycki/Forum
"I don’t have the ambition to be a famous artist. I’m a woman of a certain age who likes what she does", Lidia Duda says in an interview for Culture.pl, "I live away from the noise and the bustle of the big world, I don’t feel I belong in it. I simply make documentaries and I am very happy that I can do so".
She entered the world of cinema late. After finishing cultural studies at the University of Wrocław, she worked in a jazz club, at the Wrocław Opera house and taught art. She got involved in the media when she started working in TV advertising. She learned the craft of documentary filmmaking in the newsroom of the TVP channel in Katowice and the Reporter’s Express programme in the 1990s.
"I was lucky to work with Blanka Danilewicz, who let us tell stories through images and avoid being too literal". She made 60 reports for Reporter’s Express. "I’m not ashamed of a single one of them but I would have to smile if I saw one today. The more I made, the more experience I gained. I learned what to do, what not to and how to get the cinematic effects I was going for".
Grand Press from the village of Pietrasze
Television taught her that not every topic is worth talking about. In making documentaries, she looks for something mysterious. When she doesn’t understand the situation her protagonist is in, she wants to take a closer look. "Those are the only kind of films I make, I don’t know how to make others. I don’t know how to make lukewarm films. When I spot the protagonist’s inner conflict I know that this is a topic for me and a film which will also have a piece of me". She is not afraid of simplicity. She knows that looking into the eyes of a protagonist and listening to his story is more important than the form and the style of the film.
Empathy is her strength. A letter from a 9-year old boy from a poor family in the Masurian region came to Reporter’s Express in 2001. Karol and his brother decided to make a present to their mother - they wanted someone to show their family and help them. Duda traveled to their small village and made the reportage U nas w Pietraszach / At Home in Pietrasze.
The young boy, who told through tears about his mother, poverty and the lack of hope, touched the whole of Poland. His episode reached 4 million viewers, and the reaction of the public exceeded all the director’s expectations. People reacted, and a minister of the President’s Chancellery, Barabara Labuda, set up a special team that wrote a strategy to help villages that had been subject to communist-era collective farming in the People's Republic of Poland. The 8-minute report received the prestigious Grand Press Award in 2002. Duda says, in the Culture.pl interview,
I don’t believe that filmmakers are able to change the world, I believe that you can change one person. In filming, the most important thing is the relations between humans.
In her reports, she talks about the oppressed, the grieving, the marginalised. In the documentary telenovela Tylko tato / Only Dad (2003), she told the story of a single father who couldn’t cope with loneliness. In Młode rekiny / Young Sharks (2004-2005), she presented a dramatic story about young people hoping to make it big.
While working for television, she met Agnieszka Bojanowska, a film editor who became her mentor and one of her most important co-workers. "She is the person who formed me profesionally, she inspires and shows where I could improve. Working with her is a trip into the unknown. She 'listens in' on the material and searches for meanings". Together they worked on Only Dad, Herkules / Hercules, Uwikłani / Entangled and Duda’s newest film Wszystko jest możliwe / Everything Is possible.
I don’t agree that the world has to be this way
Her cinema grows out of her opposition to reality.
The documentary Entangled tells the story of two men, a paedophile and his victim. Years after the sexual abuse, the child takes revenge on his molester. The roles are now reversed: The paedophile is afraid of his victim. Duda explains her motivation to deal with such topics,
I made the film because I couldn’t understand what happens to a 14-year-old child that he decides to kill. I shot Nie zgadzam się na świat, w którym żyją moi bohaterowie / I Don’t Agree With the World in Which my Protagonists Live, a film about homeless children in Bytom, because I couldn’t understand how it is that they live on the street just under the windows of their homes. I made Hercules because I suddenly discovered incredible links between the parents and their child in a very pathological family. I wouldn’t be able to make a film about global warming, but I will gladly talk about a person who is personally affected by global warming. In my film I go into the detail and individual stories, but they always shed light on something more universal.
She takes her camera into places we would rather forget: She visits Silesian housing estates inhabited by alcoholic families, accompanies a sick 12-year-old boy who despite his handicap is making the money for his parents, shows drug-addicted twins, attempts to present both sides of the story linking the paedophile with his victim. She cannot be satisfied with one-sided stories, she has to look under the carpet and searches for fissures. "The important thing is whether one has a certain gift, which is one of having people want to talk to you", she says. "Some have it, others don’t. People often tell me their stories and I must be a good listener".
Everyday life gives her new topics for filming. That was the case with the protagonists of the film Brothers. The twins are from a dilapidated district of the city of Bytom. She met them in 2002, as the leaders of a group of homeless children she had filmed in I Don’t Agree With the World in Which my Protagonists Live. Six years later, in 2008, she came back to their story to tell about a pair of 20-year-olds facing the choice of a new and better path, or repeating their patterns and mistakes.
She always keeps in touch with her protagnists. She talks about them,
They have been abused by life, they often live on the borderline of pathology. But in each one of them there is some good and it is for that piece of them that I make a film about them. I feel that since they let me film a documentary about their life, I owe it to them to be interested. I am not able to just turn around and walk away. I sometimes call them, sometimes they are the ones calling me. That makes my work more human, it absolves it.
Her films can change the lives of the protagonists. That was the case with Hercules (2004), about a 12-year-old boy named Krzyś from a pathological family. To make a bit of money for them, he gathers scrap metal and, together with friends, steals coal. His parents are home, waiting – constantly drunk and unemployed. Duda talks about them without anaesthesia. She films the dirty apartment, shows the drunk father and unkempt mother. But in this pathological world, she notices something more than pathology – the love binding parents and child.
Hercules was one of the best films screened at the Kraków Film Festival in 2005. It brought Duda the Golden Lajkonik, the main prize of the Polish documentary films competition. Duda’s film won because of its lack of pretentiousness, and received recognition from the most prestigious Polish documentary-film festival
When Hercules screened on TV, a couple saw the film and decided to help Krzyś. A year later, they took him to the seaside. Duda went along and shot a second part in which Hercules leaves his hometown for the first time. At the Kraków Film Festival, Herkules wyrusza w świat / Hercules Ventures Into the World (2005) received the Maciej Szumowski Award, and was awarded at the Houston, Banff and Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festivals.
Entangled in evil
Her biggest success to date came several years later. Entangled, made in 2012, is "a complex and ambiguous story of two men who both carry some blame". Duda says of the film,
It’s hard to define my protagonists unambiguously. You can’t say that one is good and the other bad. They both waver between good and evil. They swap roles, at one point one is the victim and suddenly turns into the executioner.
It’s the confession of two people full of sorrow, lonely and abandoned. The paedophile, searching for absolution, talks about the harm that was done to him - the orphanage, being molested when he was a child. The teenager, who ended up in a correctional institution for attempted murder, doesn’t try to justify himself yet gives reasons for what he did.
Through the symmetrical depiction of the fates of the potential executioner and his victim, Duda accuses the system of being indifferent to human fate: Strong enough to punish but not efficient enough to help victims. "In the world in which both my protagonists live there is a tacit agreement to allow evil to grow. No one reacted to the evil inflicted on the boy by the paedophile. Everyone waited passively".
Both of Duda’s protagonists are victims of people’s indifference. No one listened to their story, no one lent a hand. Before the director knocked at their door, she thought about how she would convince them to tell her about their lives. She was sure they would slam the door in her face. But the first thing she asked was "Has anyone ever wanted to listen to you?".
Entangled was awarded a Golden Lajkonik at the Krakow Film Festival 2012 in the Polish films section, for "touching on a difficult topic and choosing the most appropriate form to portray it". At the 9th International Festival of the Art of Reportage Camera Obscura in Bydgoszcz, the film took the Special Prize in the international competition and the Prize for Special Input in the Development of Reportage. With stunning cinematography by renowned cameraman Wojciech Staroń,, it brought Duda the award for Best Director at the International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival "One World" in Prague in March 2013.
A hunger for joy
"I really need positive energy", Duda says. Though she portrays people from the margins of society and shows brutality in our world, she searches for rays of light.
She tries to film lighter topics after the difficult ones. After At Home in Pietrasze in 2003, she made Witaj bracie w cygańskim taborze / Welcome Brother to the Gypsy Camp, a documentary about five generations of a gypsy family. After the moving Hercules, she made Co widzisz, jak zamkniesz oczy / What Do You See When You Close Your Eyes (2006), about two brothers who, in their amateur film, ask whether there is room for good people in the world. After the dramatic Brothers (2007), she shot Całe życie z radiem / A Whole Life with the Radio [editor’s translation] (2008), recording a day in the life of an elderly couple who listen to the religious radio station Radio Maria all day.
She needed the positive energy after Entangled, and decided to make Everything Is Possible, intended as a story about how it is never too late to make dreams come true. Her protagonist, Teresa Bancewicza, lost her job at age 65 and fell into depression. The doctor advised her to begin hospital treatment, or to change scenery. Bancewicza hitchhiked north, on a journey to Scandinavia. In the same way, she saw North America, South America, Asia and Africa. Duda tells Culture.pl,
When I met her I thought: Finally a film with no tones of grey, full of spontaneity and joy. I started going deeper into the topic. Today, my protagonist is still smiling but the film isn’t that positive anymore. The film became a confession: for the protagonist and her husband. There is also him, Mrs Teresa’s new love. The film is no longer that cheerful, but I think it’s wiser.
She hasn’t stopped creating since she encountered documentary filmmaking. She makes a new film every year, comes back to intriguing topics, talks about newly met protagonists. Her films are modest, her work reveals her intrepid capability to listen to people and silently transcribe their world to the screen. She talks about herself,
If I have an appetite for doing something, I do it. It’s not important if it works out or not, it’s about the joy of trying. But I have something of a pitbull in me: I won’t let anyone stop me from making another film. I don’t make them to prove something. I have nothing to prove: I am not a master and never will be, but that dosn’t stop me from taking pleasure in telling people’s stories. So I fight, and quietly weave together my little films.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by MJ 25.04.2013