Among fifteen films from all over the world, we’ll be able to see a Polish representative in the Documentary Competition of the 29th Warsaw Film Festival, a joint documentary by Krystyna Krauze and Jacek Petrycki called “Returns of Agnieszka H.”. This is an interview with Jacek Petrycki.

Daniel Stopa: Agnieszka Holland mentioned in one of the interviews, that together with Krystyna Krauze you’ve gathered so much material, that you can make literally anything out of it. What strategy did you follow during the selection process?

Jacek Petrycki: There was quite a lot of material, because we’ve spoken to every single person from Agnieszka’s student years at the FAMU Film School in Prague. Later on, we decided to stick to the Polish friends’ stories only. These stories seemed to be the most vivid and Agnieszka’s political activity was also connected with Poland. We’ve rejected the classic, dull interviews of purely informative character. The selection came out to be good, it made the film warmer.

But we also see the Czech friends. Arita Hucková, Eda Kriseová or Jaroslava Pokorná, who played in the “Burning Bush”…

Arita and Eda helped Agnieszka to feel at home in Prague, they introduced her to the new city and culture. At that time, they were very close to each other, although they were very critical of her wedding with Laco for instance. Arita, Eda and Jarka appear in the film, because they were the only ones who met with Agnieszka after all those years. Unfortunately, we haven’t managed to get other of her  friends to meet with her. Besides, she didn’t feel like seeing all of them (laughter).

Her recent return to Czech Republic, connected with the shooting of the “Burning Bush”, has become an opportunity to look again at her time in Czechoslovakia. Did you plan to make a film about Holland before that?

No, not until Krysia [Krystyna Krauze] came up with the idea when she realized, that Agnieszka is coming to Czech Republic to make a film. Her return after over forty years was a big impulse for us. At the end of the film, you can hear me say how much respect do the Czech people have for her, how they ask Agnieszka at a restaurant for an autograph. They really appreciate that she came and that she wanted to tell the world about what happened and what has never been filmed before.

In Czech Republic the film is presented as “Return of Agnieszka H.”. In Poland you’ve used the plural form. Why the difference?

We’ve been using the title “Returns of Agnieszka H.” from the beginning. Krysia came up with it and she’s got very attached to it. The difference is a pretty complicated thing, as the producers and distributors in Czech Republic decided, that it seems to be the one, last return of the heroine and that this word should be used in the title. But there were more comings, for shooting, editing, for the opening of an exhibition “Faces of Agnieszka Holland – Poland, Europe, the World”, and for the first public screening of the “Burning Bush” in Lucerne, which was in fact an amazing event, worthy of Agnieszka’s film.

The title “Returns of Agnieszka H.” seems to be more appropriate, since that last return starts a number of others. Not all of them are mainly about her student years. You talk about her later work, which has been influenced by the Czechoslovakian events, you talk about her work in the film “Interrogation” directed by Ryszard Bugajski…

Not only that, as the inspiration for the film “Fever” [Polish title: “Gorączka”] were her authentic experiences during the Prague Spring and its’ defeat. As for Bugajski’s “Interrogation”, Agnieszka was the artistic supervisor of the film, which was basically a feature film debut for this director. The script was incredibly inconvenient for the government, but Wajda really wanted to make it with his team and he made Agnieszka the artistic supervisor. What’s more, she played the role, which nobody wanted to take. What she experienced in prison in 1970, she brought in full to the “Interrogation”.

When she talks about Her arrival to the prison in Prague, it reminds us viewers about specific scenes from “Interrogation”…

Actually, the scene where the heroine comes to Rakowiecka Prison wasn’t Agnieszka’s idea. That scene was put in the script a year before, when no one had known yet that Agnieszka would have something to do with this film. The information we needed to write it was given by professor Podgórska, who was the historical consultant for the film and she’s been to Rakowiecka herself.

Together with the heroine, you’ve visited the prison and the cell. Was that the most difficult return for her?

The most emotional and painful one, as nothing’s changed there after all these years. The time has stopped, cracked walls, the same stench. When I came to Czech Republic for the first time for documentation, I went there with a small, personal camera. Later I showed the footage to Agnieszka and Krysia. Agnieszka has remembered the arrest and the arrival to the prison in a photographic way, she remembers the images perfectly. Even though she’d been brought to interrogation many times before, it was still a shock, as this time she arrived at a big, dispiriting prison, where for starters she was humiliated by a Gestapo-like-wardress.

You also went to other places. FAMU, the dormitory, the apartment…

We went back to all the most important places from that time. FAMU stirred the least emotions. Maybe except for the room, where the student strike took place. The building has been renovated in a modern fashion and it’s hard to find any traces of Agnieszka’s student years there. They’ve renovated the dormitory as well, but at least the architecture is the same. Same with Agnieszka and Laco’s first apartment. There’s a scene in the film, where Agnieszka is talking to some students in a big hall. It’s a hall at the Faculty of Philosophy at Charles University, where Palach studied. That’s the place where the biggest strike took place and that’s were they shot the scene in “Burning Bush”, where an MBP agent comes to listen to Kryl.

Holland makes her returns in the company of her friends from FAMU, the cameraman Andrzej Koszyk and the documentary filmmaker Andrzej Zajączkowski. Their constant presence almost makes them equal to the main heroine.

Yes, they’re with Agnieszka through the whole story. It’s important to confront their memories, as at times they complement each other, and in other moments it appears, that their recollections of the same event are completely different, for instance Koszyk claims that their student meetings were very serious and engaging, while Zajączkowski says they were just parties. On other occasion, Laco doesn’t remember carrying the Polish flag during the manifestation. It’s a dialogue of equal memories, but also of different points of view, as we were filming each other.

Besides, Holland jokingly adds, that most probably she’s the most talented cameraperson of you all. She often gives you instructions about the art of photography. You’ve mentioned you were scared of her, when you worked together back in the day. How was it this time?

This time I was completely relaxed, because I knew that the film is going to succeed, that we’re telling a story about such an interesting person, who’s going to make the story almost by herself. What’s more, Krysia provided us with her beautiful apartment in Hradczany, where we used to sit every morning after breakfast and talk about a single subject. All the scenes, where Agnieszka talks directly to the camera  are from these morning sessions. We talked about pretty much everything, about trivial things, like the love for computers or travelling, but also about our views on the world.

And was there a final collaudation in the presence of the heroine? What was her reaction?

No, Agnieszka didn’t want to see the film just yet. But I think we don’t have to worry about anything (laughter).

You’ve mentioned the warm and friendly vibe during the shoot. It came through to the film. The very special triangle: heroine-camera-cameraman is one of the most interesting elements in this film. You’ve also managed to talk about your long friendship…

We’ve been making films in Poland for years, we’ve made a good, friendly team. Later we were separated by the martial law. I couldn’t get a passport for a long time, until Kieślowski finally negotiated it for me, so I could go with him for a workshop in Berlin. At the time, Agnieszka was shooting „To Kill a Priest” and she said I have to come and see how it’s done abroad, because until then we were making films using sticks and stones. It was an incredible experience. The shooting of “To Kill a Priest” was hard, demanding and I learned a lot. I also met Adam Holender, a very warm and open man, who was willing to teach me. And three years later we made “Europa Europa”, and our most recent big meeting took place on the set of Kasia Adamik’s “The Offsiders”. We just wanted to be together, to hang out, to talk and take a stroll down the memory lane. Agnieszka was willing from the start, she knew this project will be all about friendship

A few years back, you shot the film “Krzysztof Kieślowski: I’m so-so…”, now a documentary about Agnieszka Holland. Out of your closest co-workers you have only Marcel Łoziński left film?

I have to admit, I’ve already been thinking about it. Not so long ago, Marcel and Paweł decided to reveal their family matters in front of a camera. But I’d rather tell the story of Marcel’s work.

Thank you for talking to me.

Thank you.

Interview by Daniel Stopa