INTERVIEW WITH LIDIA DUDA – AUTHOR OF "EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE"
Interviewed by Daniel Stopa, Lidia Duda tells us about her latest documentary that she's been with at the 53. KFF, "Everything is possible". Read on below.
Daniel Stopa: Last time, when we discussed artistic inspirations, you have claimed that it always happens the same way: 'I notice something intriguing about a story and I want to dig into it right away'. What was that thing about the story of Teresa Bancewicz that attracted your interest? How did you stumble on her?
Lidia Duda: I was offered to make a documentary about being old, so I started to seek people who would be a good fit for the topic. I did some snooping around on the Internet and found a small mention about Teresa. It immediately seemed like a very uplifting, optimistic story. Then I visited Teresa to do research. I asked questions, observed, left and then came back for further asking and observing. I already knew that I was going to make a film about breaching boundries – of age, affluence, language, morality and also those of the least importance, boundries of territory.
So originally it was meant to be a warm and joyful story?
I must say that this is exactly what I expected before I met Teresa and Jan: that it is going to be a serene and optimistic story, but I always tend to look deeper into the subject, that's probably the way I am. Bartek Staszczyszyn once noted very aptly when writing about my films, that 'I look for cracks in stories'. Very quickly did I realise that "Everything is possible" will not be a tale about an elderly lady hitchhiking, but rather about people who once were close and grew apart, about escaping, about Jan and Teresa's stories of life. I was more interested in what was going on in the tiny little town of Przejęsław than in what was happening in Vietnam. But then, without travelling I would be unable to show what Teresa was looking for in this big world, how travelling changes and enriches her.
And that looking for cracks in stories has brought you to Jan…
Jan and Teresa share a very profound bond. They have lived together for over 60 years. He was the love of her life and she was the girl of his dreams. Today, there is silence between them – and it is probably the worst outcome I could imagine. Of course, I could have told only the optimistic part of the story about Teresa-the traveller, but then, what about Jan and their life together in Przejęsław? Should I just omit that? If either one of them refused to cooperate, I would have quited this project. The shooting process was very much unlike others, as I worked with the two of my protagonists separately. On one day we were filming with Teresa, on the other with Jan, then we would switch to Teresa back again. They were both unaware of what the other person was saying and doing. So I worked in a kind of split, while trying to make these 'two films' merge. As a result, their narratives complete one another and bring us closer to the truth. For them, my film has turned out to be a form of coming to terms with the past.
So it was a form of therapy ?
To some extent it certainly was. After seeing the film, Teresa said: 'It will be easier for us to forgive one another now'. It took a camera to make them have a real conversation for the first time in many, many years. They were truly listening to what their life partner was saying, not to what they had to say. It was incredible.
You said before that you have been quick to realize it is not going to be a film about hitchhiking. The assumption turned out to be valid, as hitchhiking and travel play a rather minor part. There is more of everyday life in Przejęsław. Why is that?
Of course, I could have treated the 'big world' and the provintional backwater as equals, but Teresa spends ten months in her countryside house and only travels for the rest of the time. So this day to day life in Przejęsław is more important. The audience must know where the protagonist is embarking from, who she leaves behind and where she is supposed to return every time. And there is the most vital thing: who she is coming back to. Without this countryside reality there would be no film, only 'travelling on screen'. It makes the proportions closer to what they really are.
There is also another silhouette in the background – it's Teresa's new love, Janis. Weren't you tempted to extend the two-voice narration and add a third voice? To let Janis also have his say in the film?
I think that more important and more interesting is how Teresa and Jan have dealt with, or still deal with the presence of the third person in their lives. It tells much more about their relationship than a statement from Janis possibly would. After all, he comes and he goes. Indeed, it has been going on like this for 14 years, but Janis leaves after his one-month stay in Poland, leaving the 'problem' for the couple to fix. If there was more of Janis in the film, it would become a story of romance in old age, and that in turn would oversimplify the matter. Janis appearing in Teresa's life is the result of what happened earlier in her marriage with Jan. He did not break their bond and that's precisely why he should not play an equal part.
In terms of style, the scenes in Przejęsław are somewhat similar to "Entangled" (2012). There are confessions by the protagonists, an off-screen narration and a very selective editing, a series of images. If it was not for the off-screen commentary, we would end up with a silent film, with merely frames filled with drama.
I got protagonists who don't talk to one another, that was my lot. There are quite a few silent scenes in the film and by the way, they are my favourite. So, even though I'm not a huge fan of off-screens, it just comes out naturally that most of the narration is a voiceover. I don't ever reinvent the form of my film, I adjust it to the story I have to tell. I adjust it to my protagonist. If I have a topic but fail to 'see' good shots for the film, I quit the project. I need to see these scenes early on during the documentation.
What kind of scenes did you see during the documentation for "Everything is possible"?
Most importantly, I saw Teresa and Jan engaged in a 'silent ballet': how they passed by one another without a word, careful to avoid any accidental brush-by. I remember thinking that this detachment clashing with involvement in travel would make a good beginning of the story. Plus the countryside, plus Jan's sea, plus Teresa in travel with a beaming smile on her face, plus Jan alone under his oak tree...I saw a series of images. I had to fill it all with meaningful content. Unless I know how to tell the story, I don't go out for shooting. A topic is one thing, an idea for a film is another. The underlying meanings conveyed by different scenes are most vital. I need to be sure that I and my operator 'see' the same thing, that we read into these meanings in a similar way. It is important that we are on the same wavelength. Then the only remaining issue is how the cameraman decides to actually show it. Some do it extremely skillfully, some just well enough.
We are talking about good communication between the director and the cameraman but in your films, a touch by the editor, Agnieszka Bojanowska is very clearly visible. You often stress that you come from 'the school of Agnieszka Bojanowska'.
Agnieszka Bojanowska has taught me virtually everything I know. I actually don't think of her as 'the editor'. Working with her extends way beyond just that. Agnieszka is my mentor. She teaches me how to stay open-minded about film, constantly pushes me to progress professionally and influences deeply what kind of person I am. It is Agnieszka with whom I discuss my new ideas, plans, artistic forms, an interesting article I've read... about everything. For Agnieszka, every film is a new challenge. I never know, where my new project is going to eventually lead us in terms of editing. She's extremely hardworking. I don't know of any other person who does their work with such precision and stays so incredibly open for new solutions at the same time. She often says that the most important thing is to 'see' what form does the film want to be told in. Although we've been working together for so many years now, she still surprises me with her ideas. It's always nice to have someone who we try to 'catch up with', who inspires us.
You tackle difficult topics interchangeably with those somewhat lighter in mood: after a diptych of films about little Krzyś from Bytom ("Hercules" (2004) and "Hercules ventures into the world" there was the documentary "Co widzisz, kiedy zamkniesz oczy" ("What do you see when you close your eyes") (2006), afer "Brothers" (2007) came "Living in the shadow radio" (2008), and finally after "Entangled" (2012) there was "Everything is possible" (2013). Now time came for a difficult story, I gather?
When looking for topics, I always try not to force it, I patiently wait for them to appear. I guess after making difficult films, I'm just subconsciously more drawn to more serene stories. Generally speaking, I simply enjoy observing people, so sooner or later I'm bound to spot a topic. Lately I have been working on a new project, too. It has been a longer while now that I think about making a documentary that is 'unmakeble' for a variety of reasons. I didn't want to miss out on this story and I couldn't let go of it. Recently I've been racking my brain to figure out how to get past all these obstacles. I've been working on the screenplay already. I like challenges and this one looks promising.
In that case I wish you good progress with your work and thank you for the interview.