The first Polish mega production about the fate of Poles deported to Siberia during the Second World War, a story about people forced to relocate to the "inhuman land", Janusz Zaorski’s film melts historical truth and human suffering into images of Siberia's vast territories.
Adam Woronowicz and Marcin Walewski in Janusz Zaorski's "Polish Sibiriad", photo: Kino Świat.
A testimony to a chapter in Polish history that informs the identity of Poles and remains engraved in the collective memory, Syberiada Polska / Polish Sibiriad portrays the true story of village inhabitants in Czerwony Jar (Red Jar), who were deported to Siberia in February 1940. It was the latest wave of historical deportations to Siberia of Poles and peoples of other nationalities. The first large deportations had been undertaken by Russia under the Tsars in the 18th and 19th centuries, and Russian history showed that the policy continued to be used in Soviet Russia in the early 20th century. Stalin's regime used forced transfers of ethnic groups as a means of repression. Along with Polish people the policy affected Romanians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Volga Germans, Ingrian Finns, and Finnish people in Karelia and other peoples. "It must be noted that while the tsarist authorities wanted to colonise the lands of Siberia," the catalogue of the Sybir Memorial Museum in Białystok states, "the Stalinist system of resettlement was purely repressive, aiming at destruction of social groups or nations deemed hostile."
The 1940-1941 deportations to Siberia was a topic that remained taboo in the communist era, and Polish Sibiriad is the first large budget Polish production to brings it to the silver screen. Premiering in 2013, the film can still be appreciated by survivors and direct participants in these deportations - the so-called "Sybiraks". Differing from the geographical name Siberia, the term "Sybir" is unique to Poland and symbolises the fates of hundreds of thousands of people over the centuries who suffered repression and forced relocation from their larger eastern neighbour. A film of national importance, Polish Sibiriad pays tribute to Sybiraks who made it back to Poland, and to those who didn't.
After the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was signed in 1939, lands east of the Narew and Vistula rivers were considered part of the USSR sphere of interest. Mass arrests and forced exiles began after the Red Army invaded Poland on the 17th of September 1940. According to Polish estimates, over 1.2 million people from Poland's eastern regions were either put in camps or prisons, incorporated into the Red Army or forced to resettle in the Soviet Union in the first two years of the war. The deportees were granted amnesty and allowed to join Polish military units being formed in the Soviet Union after the signing of the Sikorski-Mayski pact in 1941.
Ordered to evacuate their homes in the middle of the night on the 10th of Febuary 1940, the inhabitants of Red Jar are given half an hour to pack. They have been ordered to resettle in Siberia, some 4,000 kilometres away. They are locked in freight wagons, pulled by a locomotive with a red star. Each wagon carries no less than 30 people and the journey lasts 2 to 3 weeks. They were taken away and didn’t know if they would ever come back.
Sitting side by side, trying to keep warm, Jan Dolina (Adam Woronowicz), his wife (Urszula Grabowska) and their two sons (Paweł Krucz and Marcin Walewski) try to maintain hope together with their neighbours, they pray. Upon their arrival at the Kalucze camp in Siberia, Soviet guards apply a rule of thumb to their new labour force – "who does not work shall not eat". Stuck in the middle of the boundless taiga, the endless land and the Russian climate serves as natural fence for the new settlers. The inhabitants of Red Jar try to stick together, but their numbers start to decrease. They face cruelty from the guards, hunger, hard physical labour, unbearable winter cold and summer heat, and sickness. Zaorski's film depicts the universality of human emotion and experience, as the characters continue to show ingenuity, initiative and determination to survive.
The film is a source of knowledge and a powerful visual aid in illustrating historical events, and fosters audience sensitivity to the troubling topic. Entirely shot in the plenary, the production brought the entire crew to Siberia to film the most important scenes. Polish Sibiriad is the first European feature film to be shot in Siberia. Cinematographer Andrzej Wolf captured the historical wooden district of Krasnojarsk, the frozen Biriusin Reservoir and the old Siberian village of Barabov. An attempt to depicrt the beauty and frightening endlessness of the Russian lands, the director resorted to attaching a camera to a powered hang glider. Siberia is shown for what it is: a land of immense space and harsh climate. The film's producer says,
Polish Sibiriad is above all a difficult historical production that involved 48 shooting days spread throughout the four seasons of the year between January 2012 and July 2011. The total budget was 3.5 million euros, the crew was made up of 100 people, although there were days when there were 250 people working on the set. Most of the pictures were taken in Poland [...]. The Kalucze camp was constructed with the use of 480 cubic meters of wood in the middle of the forest. The decorations, produced by carpenters from the Polish mountains are one of the biggest cinematic undertakings in Poland in recent years.
While Zaorski’s cinematic concept is the result of year-long research through diaries, memories, and testimonies of "Sybiraks", the script is based on a book by an author who lived through the deportations and returned to tell his story. Zbigniew Domino's book gave its title to the film, and is third in a series of books he wrote on the topic, which have been translated into French, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Slovak, and Georgian. In the film, he is Staszek Dolina (Paweł Krucz) - taken to Siberia as a young boy, he came back to Poland six years later as a young man. "In Polish Sibiriad - the book," Zaorski says, "the author depicts the symbiosis between the Poles and people of other nationalities - Polish Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Buriats and Chechens, with great sensitivity". To mirror this aspect, Zaorski cast Ukrainians, and actors from Kazakhstan and Japan alongside the Polish cast. Speaking their native tongues, they set Polish Sibiriad apart from international films depicting Siberian deportations, such as Peter Weir's The Way Back. This authenticity and credibility also stems from the director's personal connection to the subject matter. Zaorski's family on his mother's side had been affected by the deportations. "Almost every one of us has someone or knows someone who was deported" – said one of the Ukrainian actors during a press conference after the press screening. Polish Sibiriad is a means of passing on stories of the filmmaking's team's own families.
Polish Sibiriad marks Janusz Zaorski's return to historical cinema which had brought him to international recognition. He received a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for Mother of Kings (1982) and the Grand Prix of the Locarno International Film Festival for Lake Constance (1985).
The film is the first comprehensive, large-scale production on the subject, and comes to Polish cinemas as the latest important production to reveal or reassess historical truths - Katyń, The Secret of Westerplatte, Rose and other such films. Polish Sibiriad invitates further exploration of the complex topic, whether by means of Zbigniew Domino’s strong and revealing book Polish Sibiriad or by a visit to the Sybir Memorial Museum, which opens soon in Białystok (see more: www.sybir.com.pl).
The film's Polish premiere takes place on the 22nd of February 2013. On the 7th of March 2013, the film will also be shown in Krasnojarsk.
- Syberiada Polska / Polish Sibiriad, Poland, duration 126 minutes. Director: Janusz Zaorski; producer: Mirosław Słowiński, script: Michał Komar and Maciej Dutkiewicz, cinematography: Andrzej Wolf, set design: Janusz Sosnowski, interior decorations: Michał Sulkiewicz, music: Krzesimir Dębski, sound: Michał Zarnecki, editing: Milenia Fiedler, costumes: Hanna Cwikło, producer: Satchwell Warsaw, distributor: Kino Świat. Cast: Adam Woronowicz (Jan Dolina), Paweł Krucz (Staszek Dolina), Andrii Zhurba (Sawin), Sonia Bohosiewicz (Mrs Irena), Igor Gniezdilow (Barabanov), Urszula Grabowska, Marcin Walewski, Agnieszka Wiedłocha (Cynia), Natalia Rybicka (Sylwia), Jan Peszek (Korcz), Valeria Guliaiewa (Lubka), Dmytro Sowa (Pashka), Aleksandr Krizanowski, Menditaj Utepbergenow.
Sources: based on an interview with Janusz Zaorski, Sybir Memorial Museum in Białystok www.sybir.com.pl), press conference
Author: Marta Jazowska