Warsaw Uprising is the first ever film whose plot was constructed entirely out of documentary footage. It was created for the 70th anniversary of the titular event.* A special version has been prepared for the film’s American release in autumn 2014.
Warsaw Uprising is made up of selected fragments of 6 hours of original footage filmed in August 1944 by a crew from the Bureau of Information and Propaganda (BIP) of the Headquarters of the Home Army. The identifying and organising of this expansive material that preceded the editing required the work of a group of historians. Every single frame had to be described in detail, according to the place where it was shot, who was present in it, etc. What proved especially valuable was the identification of the names of approximately 30 of the protagonists.
After the initial selection, the originally black and white excerpts were edited and colourised. The latter process was supervised by the acclaimed cinematographer Piotr Sobociński, Jr. Each little detail was taken care of: the creators of the film even tracked down the fabric dyes used at the time and the type of food served at the resistance canteens.
The film also features newly written dialogues – since it was originally silent, the producers invited experts in lip-reading to take part in this process. This job was done by Joanna Pawluśkiewicz, Michał Sufin, and Władysław Pasikowski. The dialogues were read by such actors as Piotr Adamczyk, Józef Pawłowski (who also starred in Warsaw 44), and Jeff Burrell.
The original version of the film, which was directed by Jan Komasa, is the story of two brothers, cinematographers from the Bureau of Information and Propaganda, who are commissioned to document the course of events of the Uprising. As the film description explains, they want to show the “real” war and will do anything to accompany one of the divisions. That’s not an easy task, however, as they’re chased away by the soldiers – the army had hardly any tolerance for journalists. The brothers first portray life away from the front: baking bread, kitchen work, gun manufacture. Gradually, they enter deeper and deeper – metaphorically and literally – into the heart of the Uprising.
A few months after the Polish premiere, the Warsaw Uprising team began working on the English version of the film, which, they figured, needed to consist in more than just translating the script. They decided to modify the narrative, by adding another character to the plot – an American pilot and journalist, who is guided by the Polish journalists around the events in Warsaw.
We decided to base this character on a real person: the BIP had a British soldier working for them – his task was to write reportages and reports about the events in Warsaw and pass them on to London via the Błyskawica (Lightning) radio station. The Polish army believed that such information would be more comprehensible abroad if broadcast by a foreigner. In our film, we turned Cpt. Howard into an American. – Jan Ołdakowski, the director of the Warsaw Uprising Museum, explained.
The film was produced by the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The screenplay was written by Jan Ołdakowski, Piotr Śliwowski (head of the history department of the Warsaw Uprising Museum), and directed by Jan Komasa, who is also responsible for Warsaw 44, a feature film about the younger participants of the Uprising. Warsaw Uprising’s editors are Milenia Fiedler and Joanna Bruhl, while the music was composed by Bartosz Chajdecki.
We made this film because we wanted to tell the story of the Uprising to the international audience, as we are aware that it is often confused with the Ghetto Uprising. […] We want people to remember that there were two Uprisings in Warsaw – Ołdakowski stresses.
*The Warsaw Uprising broke out on August 1, 1944 at 5pm (the so-called “W” hour – for wystąpienie, which translates as “outbreak” in Polish). It was the largest armed initiative organized by resistance armies in occupied Europe. It was planned to last two or three days, but ended up stretching to two months. The Uprising resulted in the death of approximately 20 thousand insurgents and 200 thousand civilians. Those who survived (around 500 thousand people), were cast out of the city, which was methodically destroyed by the German forces.
Sources: PAP, Culture.pl; ed. & transl. Ania Micińska; 24.10.2014