TOMASZ ŚLIWIŃSKI’S „OUR CURSE” AT THE IDFA FESTIVAL – AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
The 26th edition of the IDFA Festival is starting on 20 November. The audience in Amsterdam will be able to watch four Polish documentaries. One of them is “Our Curse” by Tomasz Śliwiński. The film will be presented in competitive sec-tion for student films. Here’s an interview with the author.
Daniel Stopa: I guess your son’s disease was a sudden and a big blow. Where did you get the idea and the strength to document the first days of young Leo’s life?
Tomasz Śliwiński: At the beginning, I didn’t intend to document anything. The situation was too painful, too intimate to even think of recording it, not to mention making a film about it. My first film, „The Curse” took a symbolic and rather impersonal form, as it showed the state of affairs in a synthetic way, avoiding the emotional aspect. Later I also had a plan to film Leo in the same way, when he’d finally be at home. It was supposed to be a triptych: the pregnancy, the curse and the attempt to tame it. That’s when I met Paweł Łoziński, who was persuading me to start recording what was happening with us, the parents. I’ve been resisting for quite a long time, I didn’t want to share my private emotions with anyone, but in the end, we decided with Magda, my wife, that we would try to film ourselves and we would see what comes out of it. We put the camera on a tripod, sat on the couch and started talking. The first take was in March 2011. Leo was 2.5 months then and he was still at the hospital. I showed Paweł our first trials and he began to encourage us to continue. And that’s how it started.
”Our Curse” presents a very personal story. The film has been shown at many different festivals already. Were there any allegations that the tale is too intimate?
T.S: From the very beginning I've never wanted to tell only our story and the story of our misfortune. Only after we went through the process of getting used to the disease ourselves and I realized that it's possible to create a universal story about dealing with adversity from the recorded material, I decided to make a film about it and show it to an audience. Obviously, after the first screenings there were people saying that it's too intimate, that it's not appropriate to illustrate such things, that we've crossed a certain line of exhibitionism. But at the same time, many people who had similar experiences were approaching us, and they were thanking for the film, for showing the truth that is so often hidden by others. We've heard many times that someone has seen themselves in it. It gave us the confidence that the film was needed. I don't want to generalize, but the discussion in Locarno for instance was very much on a different level, nobody was afraid to speak out and to take part in a substantive conversation about the film and its construction. I've got an impression, that in Poland a very intimate story still makes people feel uncomfortable.
You’ve mentioned, that you both had to get used to your son’s disease first. Your film carries a big auto therapeutic charge. I mean the night talks on the couch when you‘re trying to explain it all to each other…
These couch sessions have become very important to us. It was like a psychoanalyst’s couch, a moment when we can talk at ease, analyze the situation. The sessions turned to an essential ritual: we used to sit in the evening in front of a camera, especially on the days when something bad was happening. During the day we were trying not to talk about the hospital or about Leo at all. The first words used to come out in front of the camera only. This way, we wanted to keep the first true emotions intact.
It helped us survive the initial period, because there was some bigger purpose in it. Even when it was completely hopeless, we felt that we’re doing something with it, that we weren’t breaking down, because we had to record. It lasted for about five months. At a certain moment, we felt we didn’t need the couch sessions anymore, that we’ve said everything to each other, that it was time to just start living normally.
The scene where you’re changing your son’s tracheotomy tube makes an incred-ible impression. It’s very long and raw. It’s hard to stay indifferent towards it…
From the very beginning, I knew that this scene has to be in the film in all of its length and rawness. I know, that it’s very uncomfortable for the viewer, many people turn away from the screen or even leave the cinema. For me it’s the essence of what we’ve been through, our hopelessness and pain. Without this scene the film would just be a theoretical charter, and that way the viewers can empathize for a moment with our situation.
We’ve already talked a little about the reception of the film. Very often, when a documentary is showing a poignant story, the protagonists can count on response from sensitive people and their help. Did you have any special encounters after the screening?
For now, we’ve only been showing the film at festivals, which makes the group of viewers rather small. We’ve met the parents of other children with the same disease before. There aren’t many of them in Poland. The screening in Ińsk was amazing. We went there with Leo, but the audience learned about his presence only after the screening. When the lights went back on, everybody saw Leo, who has behaving like a film star, talking to the microphone, running between the rows of chairs. I feel that it was a very intense experience for the viewers, that this poor sick boy, whom they’d just seen on the screen, appeared to be a normal, happy kid. It’s hard to say, to what extent the film persuaded the people engaged in Leo’s case, as at the same time we’ve been writing a blog for over a year, where his whole story is described (www.leoblog.pl). With every step we meet with great kindness and help from many people, also financially speaking. Through charity, auctions and the 1% of tax pay-ments we’re raising the money for Leo’s surgery and we are getting closer to our goal.
And is Leo going to be the protagonist in any of your future films?
We will go back to this topic for sure. I think it has to take a little time. For now, for-tunately, the situation is stabilized, which is not an interesting material for a film, but surely there will be some other turning points in our lives, making us reach for the camera again. Maybe when Leo goes to school, maybe when the surgery finally takes place and we’ll get rid of the tracheotomy. We’ll see.
Thank you for the conversation.