A cinematographer and academic teacher born in 1931 in Warsaw, died on 15th January 2019.
He completed a course in cinematography at the PWSFTiTv in Lodz in 1956, obtaining his degree in 1979. Until 1959 he was an assistant and an assistant camera operator working with Kurt Weber. He worked with the cameramen Jerzy Lipman and Jerzy Wójcik on films counted as part of the "Polish school". In the early days of his career he was also a stills photographer, making the stills for Andrzej Wajda's Popiol i diament / Ashes and Diamonds, among others. Wieslaw Zdort's full debut as a cinematographer was Kazimierz Kutz's Tarpany / Wild Horses from 1961. Wieslaw Zdort worked on many more films by this director in subsequent years, and also on many films by his own wife, Barbara Sass-Zdort.
Wiesław Zdort has been a teacher at the cinematography department of his home school in Lodz (today's PWSFTviT) since 1987. He received the title of professor of cinematography in 1995.
He was the cinematographer for several Television Theatre productions, and often works as a lighting designer for stage theatre.
Wiesław Zdort received two cinematography awards at the Łagów Festival: in 1970 for Kazimierz Kutz's Sól ziemi czarnej / Salt of the Black Earth, and in1972 for Henryk Kluba's Słońce wschodzi raz na dzień/ The Sun Rises Once a Day. At the Gdynia festival in 1996 he won an award for Pokuszenie / Temptation by Barbara Sass. With Kazimierz Kutz in 2005, he won the award for the best Polish director and cinematographer duo at the "Camerimage" International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography in Lodz. He received two state awards first degree (1966, 1970), and an award of the minister of culture and art third degree (1962).
Wieslaw Zdort as a cameraman is linked mainly to two directors: Kazimierz Kutz and Barbara Sass-Zdort. He has made the largest number of films - 12 - with his wife Barbara, with whom he has worked since 1973, but his collaboration with Kutz, encompassing 9 films to date, is longer as it spans 30 years. It is Kutz's films that have brought Wieslaw Zdort major professional success.
In a way, Wiesław Zdort is the "creation" of Kurt Weber, the cinematographer whose assistant he was, who had earlier worked with Kazimierz Kutz. Janusz Skwara wrote an article on the filming method of the master and his apprentice, entitled "Weber i Zdort" [Weber and Zdort] ("Film" 25/1962), emphasizing their shared characteristics that had an impact on the shape of Kutz's films. Skwara notes that Kurt Weber had an unusual gift of observation and a journalistic flair that he used in feature films, thanks to which his camera recorded natural, sometimes minor, unimportant behaviours that inadvertently described the characters. Writing about Weber, Skwara also notes that this cameraman "tries to reach the most complicated psychological and moral situations", and calls this "observational realism". The critic believes that Wieslaw Zdort's work shows the same kind of journalistic realism, copied from Weber.
This quality of Weber's method adopted by Wiesław Zdort, which Janusz Skwara observed in his feature debut Wild Horses, is also visible in subsequent works, in successive films made with Kutz, Barbara Sass, or Janusz Majewski. In Wild Horses though, Skwara notices a trace of the influence of Jerzy Wójcik, Zdort's other teacher with whom he worked on Samson. The result is that, as Skwara writes:
"Zdort does not limit himself to observation, he maintains a distance in relation to events, shows concern for the film's visual composition. With its help he wants to describe the characters' inner experience, and he does so in an unconventional way".
The fact that Wild Horses is set in a wild horse reserve, on a picturesque island on a Mazurian lake, could have tempted the cinematographer to do no more than show the beauty of this wild landscape.
"Zdort meanwhile", writes Skwara, "does something else. He shows the atmosphere of Mazuria in a dull way, but this turns the story of the characters, once it is isolated from the surroundings, into a social drama, just as Kutz intended. Zdort does not hesitate to play out the culminating scenes against a background of 'blurred blackness' (a poorly lit room). We are forced to observe only the complicated relations between people".
The point then, is not simple aesthetization, but a visual concept that allows the viewer to watch the process of a character's internal transformation.
Not all critics thought Kutz's film so interesting. In his book "Moja filmoteka. Kino polskie" [My Film Library. Polish Cinema] (1983), Aleksander Jackiewicz called Wild Horses a pale film, accusing its formal aspect (which includes the cinematography) of excessive asceticism. He saw Kutz's film as a tale of a landscape, animals and people, "too static, rather like an illustration in a 19th-century book".
Divergent views on this film notwithstanding, one can accept that apart from a journalistic flair for observation, another regular element of Wieslaw Zdort's method is to use the visual concept to analyse psychologically determined situations. Zdort confirmed this in Milczenie / Silence, a film directed by Kazimierz Kutz a year later.
"We imitated a certain reality", Agnieszka Cwikiel quotes the cinematographer as saying, "paying attention to details, halftones, to express the right atmosphere, the psychological climate. Thanks to this kind of light we also achieved the illusion that the interiors were real, even though all the scenes were shot at a studio; the hospital, Nurse Kazia's room, the sacristy - these were all sets... We filmed the story of the blind boy who started to see with his hearing by using a special lighting set-up that exposed the mental states, but we also tried to show his surroundings by accentuating the texture of objects. For example, we painted the cellar walls in such a way as to make their crumbling, mouldy texture more visible in the film image, to make it even more disgusting and repulsive... In the case of this project, filming well meant building the space in a way that forced it to reveal the meaning of the unfolding story". ("Postscriptum. Kwartalnik Szkoly Jezyka i Kultury Polskiej - Uniwersytet Slaski", No. 1-2/2003)
Wiesław Zdort is undoubtedly one of those cinematographers whose interpretative contribution to a film's final shape is unusually important, while supporting the director's intentions at the same time. Aleksander Jackiewicz wrote about the aesthetics in Salt of the Black Earth:
"The shots look like paintings by Mediaeval artists. The world does not tempt the eyes with colours, it is serious and tangible, sometimes menacing. Dark red and sepia tones dominate. Objects take on a patina. The colours are not on the surface, but are an immanent part of the objects. That's how people used to paint. Hence the authenticity of the outdoor shots and objects, while at the same time this is tasteful, undisguised painting".
In Kutz's films Jackiewicz notices "an oscillation between realism, even a documentary approach, and stylisation". As a cinematographer Zdort was able to understand and fit into this kind of cinema.
In the above-quoted book the same critic has many words of praise for Wiesław Zdort's cinematography for Paweł Komorowski's Stajnia na Salvatorze / Stall on Salvator, voicing his appreciation for the role of the cameraman's work in the film's artistic value. The critic classifies Komorowski's 1967 film in a separate trend he describes as the "small occupation", contrasting it with the "Polish school" that dominated at the time.
Contrary to the Polish school which was "filled with rhetorical figures", as Jackiewicz described it, works such as the above film by Komorowski or the films of Stanislaw Różewicz showed the war and occupation with more realism in the way they presented not only human behaviour but also interiors and details, creating a believable atmosphere. Jackiewicz thinks Stall on Salvator offered an extremely good picture of the sense of temporariness that the Nazi occupation had brought into Polish people's everyday lives. In this, he notes, the film showed the external and internal chaos visible in places and in people.
"Komorowski and cameraman Zdort strongly extract this randomness of the outside world. And where is this? In solid Krakow. But this was characteristic of the whole country, which was a land of unending migration from September 1939. With the help of these signs, Komorowski also offers insight into the internal states of the people in the film".
In the 1970's Wiesław Zdort also worked with Janusz Majewski, at a time that was the best period in this director's career. It was largely thanks to Zdort's cinematography in Zazdrosc i medycyna / Jealousy and Medicine that the film managed to show everything that had been the asset of the literary original, preserving the most important qualities of the novel by Michał Choromański. They were, according to Aleksander Jackiewicz,
"The ambitions and the kitsch it contained, its coolness, its realism and almost fantasy-like quality". Ewa Krzyżewska in the female lead was enchantingly "disturbing, cheap and beautiful, reminiscent slightly of Podkowiński's 'Szal uniesien' [The Frenzy of Ecstasy], and slightly of paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec".
In 1973 Wiesław Zdort began his collaboration with his wife Barbara Sass, and has been the cinematographer for her films increasingly often in recent years. As he told Irena Gruca-Rozbicka in an interview ("Film & Telewizja. Kamera", 3/2005), his wife's psychological films, which he values for their particularly insightful analysis of female characters, opened up the contemporary world to him. This collaboration has resulted in cinematography awards, to mention the one for Temptation.
In the same interview Zdort reminisces about the start of his career, and says he always thought lighting to be his strongest point, and to this day light is a major means of expression for him, which he uses not only in films but also as a lighting director in stage theatre. Colour is another important means of expression he mentions.
"With regard to perception of colour and inspiration from colour - my trip to Japan with Krzysztof Zanussi was a breakthrough moment. I was filled with huge, rich impressions. The Japanese impressed me with their deeply rooted, philosophical approach to art... I think that in terms of colour proposals, the film 'Jak narkotyk' [Like a Drug] reflects my Japanese experiences".
It is worth adding that also in Zdort's earlier works as a cameraman, such as Paciorki jednego różańca / The Beads of one Rosary, an intentional use of colour is noticeable. This is what Wiesław Zdort told Irena Gruca-Rozbicka about working on this film:
"To achieve my aim, I divided the world into a warm part - Silesia and its people, and a cold world - personified by the Germans. It is simple to achieve this division with the cold-green German uniform and the brown and sepia in the costumes and sets of the Silesian world".
For the Polish soldier's uniforms, which should have been the same colour as the German ones, the cinematographer departed from historical truth, giving priority to artistic concept. This use of colour resulted in a legible but also poetic image of the world portrayed in the film.
Though open to technical innovations, which are so important in his profession, Zdort primarily declares that the source of inspiration for him are the experiences of his predecessors, sometimes as distant as silent movies, which despite their technical limitations he still finds interesting because of the way they use light. He reached for tricks from silent pictures in projects such as Henryk Kluba's The Sun Rises once a Day, in which he made use of natural light by building an open studio outdoors.
"This was youthful fun on my part, a rebellion against studio shoots. On principle, Henryk Kluba built artificial worlds to enable us to move away from the realism that we imitated and which we subjected to biased processing."("Film&Telewizja. Kamera", 3/2005)
Contrary to many of his fellow cameramen, Wieslaw Zdort remains faithful to his chosen profession, he is not tempted to be a director, he finds the meaning of his work in being a "translator" of the director's idea, as he called his work in an interview for "Film & Telewizja. Kamera" magazine.
"The fundamental task of a cameraman as the creator of images is a search for form - translating ephemeral thought, metaphors and concepts into the language of pictures. These problems definitely intersect with the tasks of a director, because a director also comes to us with something, but the skills involved, backed by easily recognizable predispositions, can contribute to creatively enriching a film work".
- 1954 - Ostatni wieczór [The Last Evening], dir. Stanisław Jędryka
- 1954 - Bandyci! [Bandits!], dir. Gerard Zalewski
- 1955 - Bez powrotu [No Return], dir. Gerard Zalewski
- 1955 - Stara cegielnia [The Old Brickyard], dir. Stanislaw Jędryka
- 1956 - Szcześć Boże dziadku Gumiela [God Bless, Grandfather Gumiela], dir. Janusz Kidawa
- 1960 - Zbieg [The Fugitive], dir. Stanislaw Jedryka
- 1962 - Tarpany / Wild Horses, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1963 - Milczenie / Silence, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1963 - Smarkula / Teenager [aka "A Chit of a Girl"], dir. Leonard Buczkowski
- 1964 - Upał / Heat, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1966 - Chudy i inni / Skinny and Ohers, dir. Henryk Kluba
- 1966 - Marysia i Napoleon / Maria and Napoleon, dir. Leonard Buczkowski
- 1967-72 - Słońce wschodzi raz na dzień / The Sun Rises once a day, dir. Henryk Kluba (awards: 1972 - Lagow, Lubuskie Film Summer, award for cinematography)
- 1967 - Stajnia na Salvatorze / Stall on Salvator, dir. Paweł Komorowski
- 1968 - Przekładaniec / Layer Cake [aka "Roly Poly"], dir. Andrzej Wajda
- 1968 - Molo / The pier, dir. Wojciech Solarz
- 1970 - Sól ziemi czarnej / Salt of the Black Earth, dir. Kazimierz Kutz (awards: 1970 - Lagow, Lubuskie Film Summer, award for cinematography)
- 1970 - Trudny wybór [Hard Choice], Cena lekcji [Price of a Lesson], Dwie prawdy [Two Truths], Stawka o życie [Life at Stake] in the TV series Doktor Ewa [Doctor Ewa], dir. Henryk Kluba
- 1971 - Okno zabite deskami [Boarded-up Window] in the series Klasyka swiatowa [World Classics] dir. Janusz Majewski
- 1971 - Pięć pół Bladego Józka / Five and Half of Pale Joe, dir. Henryk Kluba
- 1971 - System, dir. Janusz Majewski
- 1972 - Markheim, dir. Janusz Majewski
- 1972 - Ten okrutny nikczemny chlopak / This Cruel, Villainous Boy, dir. Janusz Nasfeter
- 1973 - Dziewczyna i golebie [The Girl and the pigeons], dir. Barbara Sass
- 1973 - Zazdrosc i medycyna / Jealousy and Medicine, dir. Janusz Majewski
- 1974 - Stracona noc [Wasted Night], dir. Janusz Majewski
- 1974-83 - Głowy pelne gwiazd / Heads Full of Stars, dir. Janusz Kondratiuk
- 1974 - Opowieść w czerwieni / A story in red, dir. Henryk Kluba
- 1976 - Tylko Beatrycze [Only Beatrice], dir. Stefan Szlachtycz
- 1976 - Brunet wieczorowa pora / Brunet will call, dir. Stanislaw Bareja
- 1976 - Szaleństwo Majki Skowron [The Madness of Majka Skowron], dir. Stanislaw Jedryka, TV series
- 1976 - Najlepsze w świecie / Best in the World, dir. Stanislaw Jedryka
- 1978-80 - Sowizdrzal Świętokrzyski [The Rogue of the Swietokrzyskie Mountains], dir. Henryk Kluba
- 1978 - Zielona miłość [Green Love], dir. Stanisław Jędryka
- 1978 - Zmory / Nightmares, dir. Wojciech Marczewski
- 1979 - Paciorki jednego różańca / The Beads of one Rosary, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1980 - Bez miłości / Without Love, dir. Barbara Sass
- 1980 - Ukryty w sloncu / Hidden in the Sun, dir. Jerzy Trojan
- 1981 - Debiutantka / Debutante, dir. Barbara Sass
- 1981 - Milość ci wszystko wybaczy / Love Forgives All, dir. Janusz Rzeszewski
- 1982 - Krzyk / The Scream, dir. Barbara Sass
- 1983 - Na strazy swej stac bede / I Shall Always Stand Guard, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1984 - Idol, dir. Feliks Falk
- 1985 - Dziewczeta z Nowolipek / The Girls of Nowolipki, dir. Barbara Sass
- 1985 - Rajska jablon / The Apple Tree of Paradise, dir. Barbara Sass
- 1985 - Wkroótce nadejda bracia / The Brothers Will Come Soon, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1986 - Nikt nie jest winien mojej smierci / Nobody is to Blame for my Death, dir. Ryszard Zatorski
- 1986 - Kino objazdowe [The Travelling Cinema], dir. Stanislaw Jedryka
- 1986 - Pies na srodku drogi [Dog in the Middle of the Road], dir. Stanisław Jędryka
- 1988 - The Decalogue I in the series: The Decalogue, dir. Krzysztof Kieślowski
- 1987 - W klatce / Caged, dir. Barbara Sass
- 1989 - Jeniec Europy / The Hostage of Europe, dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz
- 1990 - Pas de Deux, dir. Olivier Gerard
- 1990 - Historia niemoralna / An Immoral Story, dir. Barbara Sass
- 1993 - Pajęczarki [The Spider Women], dir. Barbara Sass (also co-writer of the script)
- 1993 - Straszny sen Dzidziusia Gorkiewicza / The Terrible Dream of Babyface Gorkiewicz, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1993 - Tylko Strach / Nothing but Fear, dir. Barbara Sass
- 1994 - Zawrocony / The Convert [aka, "The Recidivists", "Reverted", "The Turned Back"], dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1994 - Śmierc jak kromka chleba / Death as a Slice of Bread, dir. Kazimierz Kutz
- 1995 - Pokuszenie / Temptation, dir. Barbara Sass. (Awards: 1995 - Gdynia, Polish Feature Film Festival, award for cinematography)
- 1998 - Syzyfowe prace [Sisyphean Labours] - TV series, dir. Pawel Komorowski
- 1999 - Jak narkotyk [Like a Drug], dir. Barbara Sass
- 2000 - Syzyfowe prace [Sisyphean Labours] - cinematic release, dir. Paweł Komorowski (also collaboration as a producer)
Television Theatre productions
- 1996 - Vassa Zheleznova (Maxim Gorky), dir. Barbara Sass
- 1996 - Szklany klosz [The Glass Dome] (Leonid Andreyev), dir. Barbara Sass
- 2000 - Noc Helvera [Helver's Night] (Ingmar Villqist), dir. Barbara Sass
- 2003 - Grotesque Love Songs (Don Nigro), dir. Barbara Sass
Filmography - assistant or assistant cameraman:
- 1953 - Drugie sumienie [Second Conscience], dir. Stanisław Bareja, cinematography Borysław Punczew
- 1953 - Worek Węgla [A Sack of Coal], dir. Janusz Weychert, cinematography Jerzy Matuszkiewicz
- 1954 - Bukiecik fiołków [A Posy of Violets], dir. Anna Sokołowska, cinematography Jacek Korcelli
- 1955 - Lodzie wypływają o świcie [The Boats set Sail at Dawn], dir. Ryszard Ber, cinematography Witold Sobociński
- 1955 - Wiosenny wieczor [Spring Evening], dir. Anna Sokolowska, cinematography Jacek Korcelli
- 1957 - Legenda [The Legend], dir. Andrzej Brzozowski, cinematography Zdzisław Gronau
- 1957 - Eroica, dir. Andrzej Munk, cinematography Jerzy Wójcik
- 1958 - Orzeł / The Eagle, dir. Leonard Buczkowski, cinematography Seweryn Kruszynski
- 1958 - Popiol i diament / Ashes and Diamonds, dir. Andrzej Wajda, cinematography Jerzy Wójcik
- 1959 - Pociąg / Night Train, dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz, cinematography Jan Laskowski
- 1960 - Niewinni czarodzieje / Innocent Sorcerers, dir. Andrzej Wajda, cinematography Krzysztof Winiewicz
- 1960 - Rok pierwszy / Year One, dir. Witold Lesiewicz, cinematography Czeslaw Swirta
- 1960 - Szklana gora / The Glass Mountain, dir. Pawel Komorowski, cinematography Krzysztof Winiewicz
- 1961 - Samson, dir. Andrzej Wajda, cinematography Jerzy Wojcik
- 1965 - Faraon / Pharaoh, dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz, cinematography Jerzy Wojcik
Author: Ewa Nawój, June 2006