"JOANNA" AT THE 56. DOK.LEIPZIG – INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
"Joanna" by Aneta Kopacz is one of the films representing Poland at the 56th edition of the DOK.Leipzig festival. The film has qualified for the International Documentary Films Competition and is going to see its international debut in Leipzig.
Daniel Stopa: Most people heard about Joanna for the first time only after she started her blog called „Chustka”. How did you meet her?
Aneta Kopacz: Back then I was a new mom, my whole world revolved around my daughter: I fed her and changed diapers, rinse, repeat, all day long...Contrary to what many people say, that a baby coming to the world is a huge joy, I was not exactly overjoyed. I felt exhausted, both physically and mentally, horrified with how radically my life had changed. A while spent on scanning through the news on the Internet was a true luxury. And this was how I stumbled on a picture of Joanna on one of the portals. I felt strangely, even magically drawn to that photograph. I looked at her face and her eyes for a long time...Than I've read an article about how this young woman struggled with her lethal disease, even though I mostly try to avoid topics like that. I've also learned that Joanna keeps a blog, I started reading and I lost myself in it.
Why? What was so special about it for you?
The way Joanna has seen the world was very sensual, she was able to see beauty in simple everyday life. It appealed to me. And that writing style of hers: short, witty sentences that really nail an idea. Reading the blog helped me get back on my feet. I felt that was all right again, that I was recovering. I think we both had a passion for living, that we savoured life with a similar kind of sensibility and that our paths were meant to cross, sooner or later.
When did the idea to make a film of Joanna's story come into being?
I had long wanted to make a film about a wise and beautiful woman, a film that would be simple, direct and sensual. Joanna was a perfect fit, so I mailed her, asking if we could meet. She agreed, but than I haven't heard from her for long. I did not give up, I was determined to meet her. I knew that she was going to be a guest at the Bookseller's Club in Warsaw, and that a radio reportage featuring Joanna and her son Jaś was going to be presented. The moment she heard Jaś's voice in the recording, Joanna couldn't bear the weight of the emotions and left. I followed her. Barely visible, she stood in the dim, empty room, facing away from me. The sound of the reportage was coming from the speakers: the reader was delivering a fragment of Joanna's blog. I went up to her, introduced myself, we looked at one another in silence, shed tears. I felt a mutual closeness, a strange thing to feel during the first encounter but that's what happened. I asked her to give me a minute just to outline how I would picture her story in my film. 'Wait for me' she said. Two days later, we started shooting.
You were obviously familiar with Joanna's blog. Was the idea to tell the story with the use of everyday routines and the poetics of the film inspired by her blog posts?
It wasn't my intention to adapt the blog for screen, I had my own vision and I was consistent about implementing it from the very beginning. The blog is literature, while being with Joanna and her family, witnessing their life as it is here and now, is a different cup of tea. The way Joanna wrote made me become fascinated with her world and I wanted to depict it my own way. I've imagined specific scenes and frames but I was fully aware that the end result cannot be taken for granted. With documentaries you never know what will come, it's impossible to align a situation with some kind of a script. You need to be flexible and alert, ready to embrace change and seize the fleeting impression. It can be just as stressful at times and just as fascinating. Additionally, while making the film I was aware that, given Joanna's disease, I might as well never wrap it up, be it because she might grow tired with our presence or have enough of it all at some point. Certainly, I would have respected such decision.
On television we can see a number of formulaic documentaries about people struggling with lethal diseases till the end. Does Joanna evade mimicking this kind of cliches?
I wanted to show the simplest idea: that it is possible to savour life, to be touch with it, enjoy ordinary everyday things and relationships, and that this is more precious than anything else. This was crucial to me. I remember Joanna asking me again and again: 'But what is this film supposed to be about, really? Nothing at all happens here, I paint my nails, I cut bread and you're filming me doing it? Boring!'. I replied by saying that this is exactly my point, this is were all the beauty lies. And she would ask me that same question some time later. I guess she was teasing me a little, because she knew and understood very well what I was doing. Once, we were having a long, heart-to-heart conversation when outdoors in Polish Mazury, and I asked: 'If you were supposed to make a film about yourself and your family, what would it be about?' Surprised, she didn't say anything for a while, then replied: 'I would show our everyday life. I would like to preserve images, because you can't talk about love with words.' And so everything became clear.
Projects like yours often inspire discussion about boundries in documentary film, about what can be shown and how. Joanna revealed to you her intimacy, her private life. Did this require a special approach?
What Joanna did was letting me, a total stranger come into her life practically overnight, she placed a great amount of trust in me, and I did my best not to compromise it. I suggested a few rules. The first was to make the filming crew as small as possible in order to avoid unnecessary distraction and give as much intimacy as we can. Another rule said that Joanna had the right to say 'Enough, the film is over!' at any time. I edited the material along the way and showed the results to her. I wanted her to feel safe, to know that we try to be very gentle, that the shots are discreet, just as I had promised. She was delighted.
Did she suggest any rules?
She did introduce one rule: 'no filming inside the house, film anywhere you want but not in the house, it's our asylum.' It upset me, as I couldn't imagine the story deprived of scenes in the house, it was all about them after all. But as the time passed, and as we came to know one another better, the situation changed. One day we got the permission to film in Jaś's room, later in the kitchen, and eventually we were allowed to film everywhere. Joanna's husband said to me, jokingly: 'She trusts you so much she will agree to anything you ask for'. I think Joanna came to to like all of us. A great rapport she established with Łukasz Żal (cinematography) made her stop feeling self conscious in front of the camera very quickly.
You mention Łukasz Żal. His cinematography is very impressive: the blurred frames, sometimes a glimpse through a transparent item, ensure much discretion. How was your cooperation with him?
Since the very first day I was convinced that Łukasz has a very good sense and understanding of everything I had in mind. We talked a lot, discussed different situations, commented on each day of shooting. The way he engaged in every little detail gave me a sense of security, I knew that the film is truly in the right hands. Joanna is largely a produc of Łukasz's talent and sensibility.
When in the beginning you said that the filming started as early as two days after you first met Joanna, I was wondering how you've handled the whole project financially. Often it is necessary to wait a long time for support, submit the screenplay and apply for funding.
We started with no budget at all. First, I got the equipment from the Wajda Studio and a green light. After some time, small sums of money started flowing in. I kept looking. Quite soon, we were granted support by the National Audiovisual Institute. The manager, Michał Merczyński had no doubt the project was worth it. Later on, during the post-production I've found a sponsor – Codemedia. The menagers of this media house have seen the film and signed a contract a few days later. Then threre was the portal wspieramkulture.pl. In less than a month we've managed to collect the target sum of 30 000 zlotys. The response from internet users was indeed incredible.
Due to this success it was possible to engage some of the great filmmakers into the project. We've already mentioned Łukasz Żal, but there was also Jan A. P. Kaczmarek who composed the music and Paweł Laskowski who edited the film...
I was very lucky about the people aspect during the whole production and post-production process. We've worked either for free or for very little money. Yet the credits inlude big names. It's amazing, given a budget so small. Jacek Hamela put in a tremendous amount of work and always found the time when the film needed it. He said that he would be a hypocrite if he expected to get any money. I have no words for this. We've managed to make the film the way I intended it to be. It was possible thanks to all of them. And I thank them so much for this.
Thank you very much for the interview.