In 2010, Joanna was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She started her blog in the hope of sharing her daily life and her conversations with her son, Janek. 'I appreciate simple things', she says in one entry. Joanna was reluctant at first—she had already turned down several other filmmakers—but Aneta Kopacz’s captivating vision for the story changed her mind. The film became Poland’s first fully crowdfunded documentary.
With great visual poetry, the documentary portrays the simple and meaningful moments in the life of the family. The very few words spoken and the ones never uttered in the film make the message ultimately powerful and extremely subtle at the same time. It is a story of close relationships, tenderness, love and thoughtfulness.
I was very fortunate to spend many months with these beautiful and sensitive people. In this film, I tried to show this very particular time they went through together, as well as to transmit the emotions I've felt from my very first meeting with Joanna and her family. It is a film about the simplest but most important things in life – says the director.
The reason why so many people followed Joanna’s blog is because it taught them how to be thoughtful and joyful. She described her daily life with overwhelming honesty and accuracy. Her goals were as simple as a family trip to the lakes, her planning was as short-term as to witness her little son riding a bike for the first time. Diagnosed with untreatable illness, Joanna promised her son that she would do her best to live for as long as possible. She wrote down everything she might want him to learn from her when he grows up.
Aneta Kopacz decided to make a documentary about Joanna because:
she was unique: beautiful, intelligent, wise, with an interesting attitude. Because she loved life and despite or because of being seriously ill, she seemed closer to the essence of life than anyone else. (...) I tried so hard to avoid telling a sob story. Joanna was not like that and the time I spent with them wasn’t like that either. During editing, the biggest difficulty was to extract the emotions I felt while filming. I wanted the movie to be emotionally touching but not maudlin or sentimental. I wanted it to be a universal story about life. I wanted to provoke the audience to consider the fundamental topics so I knew the movie had to be true. There was no space at all for any clichéd sentimentality... It had to be faithful to what I observed, especially on the emotional level.
For the score, Kopacz contacted the Academy Award-winner Jan A. P. Kaczmarek who was moved by the request and by Joanna’s life and so he composed a quiet, introspective score that features solo piano and soft layers of electronic tones. In an interview the composer revealed his approach to the task as follows:
I was as careful as possible. When there is such a topic, you don’t want to be overly expressive or sentimental. The movie already has such a strong emotional impact on the viewer. The music had to be very careful, very sensitive and by no means trying to go too far. I was creating a combination of piano and different, gentle electronic sounds, which were a perfect vehicle for those emotions—for kind of a careful penance and helping us move from one step to another, being a good friend of the whole situation.
Joanna is said to be one of the most beautifully filmed Polish documentary films of recent years. The documentary's cinematographer, Łukasz Żal, was the winner of the Golden Frog Award at the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Plus Camerimage for the films Paparazzi directed by Piotr Bernaś and Ida directed by Paweł Pawlikowski. He is regarded as one of the most talented young cinematographers in Poland. The images with which he depicts the story of Joanna are set in pastel tones. Such a visual effect works as a time capsule; a means to arrest the passage of time and hold on to life a bit longer. Little details and gestures captured by Żal’s camera show the sensuality with which the protagonist interacts with the world in the last moments of her life.
Aneta Kopacz – director, screenwriter, editor. Graduate of Wajda School’s Documentary Program. She also graduated from Psychology Department of Warsaw University and Post-Graduate Reportage Studies in The Institute of Journalism. She acquired professional experience in film in Poland and abroad. She has made a number of independent documentaries, including Spacer (A Stroll) for which she has been repeatedly awarded, as well as nominated for The Juliusz Machulski Polish Independent Cinema Award in The Best Documentary category. Her latest film Joanna won over 20 awards, including the Cinema Eye Honors nomination, Best Documentary Short award in Palm Springs, Silver Eye Award in Jihlava, Prize of the Youth Jury in Leipzig, Special Mention at DocsBarcelona, Audience Award at Warsaw Film Festival and many others. It was nominated in the Best Documentary Short category for the 2015 Oscars.
Source: press materials, ed.& transl. GS, January 2015