INTERVIEW WITH MICHAŁ SZCZEŚNIAK - THE AUTHOR OF THE FILM “STARTING POINT”
“Starting Point” by Michał Szcześniak is one of the Polish representatives at the 57th DOK. Leipzig Festival. The documentary will have its international premiere in Leipzig. We would like to invite you to read the interview with the author.
Daniel Stopa: In “Starting Point,” there is a scene, in which the protagonist, a young female prisoner, is confessing her sins to the priest. I mention this scene, because I perceive the film “Starting Point” as a kind of confession of the protagonist - maybe the first one in her life - confession in her prison cell, before the director, camera, audience and Ms. Helena, sick since her childhood. Was the assumption to make “Starting Point” a catharsis for the protagonist present from the beginning?
Michał Szcześniak: Initially, I had such an assumption, however, one can never be 100% sure in a documentary film, so I did not presume that the following experiences of Aneta and the events would lead to the protagonist’s catharsis. I simpy waited patiently. Aneta knew much more even before we met. On the first day, she told me that she wanted to use the film, her story, to warn other girls. She said it in a very natural way, and I was very surprised by her words, her tone of voice, her glance, which is also shown in the film, sincere and honest, straight into one’s eyes, and at the same time her slight stoop, and some kind of very sensitive chord in her voice.
The chance, which Aneta gets at the end of the film, turns out to be not the freedom, the yearned-for catharsis, but a return to a horrible and traumatic reality. This is yet another encounter with fear.
You do not appear in front of the camera, but while watching the film, one has the impression that there is a strong relationship of trust between the director and the protagonist. Could you tell us something about the process of forming this relationship and gaining Aneta’s trust?
I spent two years looking for a protagonist of this film. I had an idea, but at the same time I could not implement it. I met a lot of prison inmates, we had long conversations, and I was searching in women’s prisons throughout Poland. Sometimes I came across sincere people, sometimes the participants of these meetings did it only because they viewed it as a chance to get shortened sentences. I met Aneta when I was on the point of giving up and not making “Starting Point.” I was about to leave the prison in Nisko, and the institution’s director, colonel Sławomir Lubera, told me that there is yet another person I should meet. Aneta immediately won my trust, actually we did not have to talk to each other.
A week later, I returned with the film crew: cinematograhy author Przemek Niczyporuk and the soundman Wojtek Kilmala, to start shooting the film. When we all met together, at first we talked for a long time, made friends and became close to each other. It was a very intimate process, full of emotions and it is hard to put it into words.
How does the selection of material look like in case of such an intimate and painful story? Does one have to be careful not to make it look like a reportage, all in black and white?
In this case, the selection of the material was for me a very intimate process, a kind of conversation with myself. Every time, I asked myself questions: what can I show and how?
The artistic supervisor of “Starting Point,” Jacek Bławut, is the author of a film with a similar subject matter - “Born dead” (2004)...
We work again in film teams, in which we can share our experiences and talk to eminent filmmakers, learn from them, listen to them and in this way avoid many mistakes. Meetings with Mr. Jacek Bławut were fascinating for me. Very often, he brought my attention to themes which I overlooked, as if he had some additional sense and could foresee what else I had in my material. Now that we talk about it, I think he made rational deductions from my manner of work, of course, it also helped that he was familiar with my material, and he used a bit of intuition. It was like this at the meetings with Programme Board of the Munk Studio. I remember how, after a huge brainstorm, I took a break from the project for half a year. This is when I looked at the material and the story from an appropriate distance, which enabled me to actually edit the film anew. After the conversation and the break, I restored to the film one of scenes which the viewers like most: that of Aneta asking for a leave. I owe it to Mr. Janusz Chodnikiewicz, Mr. Paweł Łoziński, Ms. Ewa Slezak, Mr. Paweł Kędzierski and Ms. Marta Minorowicz.
Ms. Helena, the inhabitant of the nursing home, is a very important character. Thanks to her, we reach the protagonist’s heart and learn about her painful past. Did Aneta manage to come in such a close contact with anyone else from among the inhabitants of the nursing home?
Aneta made a lot of friends there. The inhabitants of the nursing home loved spending time with her, they made paper flowers together, painted Christmas decorations and prayed. But it was Ms. Hela who from the very beginning asked Aneta a lot of questions which bothered her and forced her to reflect on her life. These questions were so simply, so naturally asked that Aneta felt that it is Ms. Hela to whom she can open her heart. Of course, their conversations often touched painful issues and had a lot of weight. Aneta felt it particularly before the trial. It was a hard time for her, she was a wreck, but she found help in Ms. Hela.
“Starting Point” is an open-ended film. Aneta gets the chance of being released from prison earlier and here the story ends. Are you still in touch? What happens to Aneta after she left prison?
I keep in touch with Aneta, her husband and her children. Aneta get acquainted with Darek when she was still in prison, during her leaves. For her, married life turned out to be a new stage in her life and a chance. She gave birth to twins, and she also has good contact with her daughter from the first marriage. It sounds like dreams come true, but only seemingly. Two children is hard work. In addition, Aneta still copes with pangs of conscience.
It is interesting what happens next to Aneta and this part of her life certainly hides a lot of emotions. Was there an idea to continue this subject matter?
The idea to make another film about Aneta? I thought about it, but now both I and Aneta need a little bit of time.
Thank you very much for the interview.