"FILM AND PHOTOGRAPHY ARE TWO DIALECTS OF THE SAME LANGUAGE" - INTERVIEW WITH ADAM PALENTA
We would like to invite you to read a new series of interviews with Polish cameramen and documentary film directors. The protagonist of the first interview is Adam Palenta, the author of "House on its Head," which will compete for the award within the frames of International Short Film Competition at the Swiss festival Visions du Reel.
Daniel Stopa: For bringing to life those who passed away long ago... - as it is written in the justification of the Legal Cuture's Special Award for "House on its Head." Your film reveals the magical power of cinema, the medium which is capable of recording time, epoch, all which is gone beyond recall. When you began to work on the archival materials of the Zamecznik family, was it your aim to bring back the distant times?
Adam Palenta: It is the people who are in the foreground. In the case of the Zamecznik family, I had a chance to come across absolutely unique materials. It is a bit like a diary of an unknown man, found in one's basement. After the first meeting with the recordings given to me by the Archeology of Photography, I had the impression that I crept into someone else's life, uninvited, that I do not know whether I would like someone else to uncover the history of my family, my worldview, our time together after many years. So, I did not have any specific aim. I spent a lot of time with the last of the Zamecznik family - Juliusz, the youngest son of Wojciech. For him, this picture means living people, not the magic of the cinema. Our work was double-tracked - based both on the archival material and on his memory.
I got the impression that Wojciech Zamecznik never parted with his camera and video camera. For you, photography and film have been very important for years, you simultaneously film and take photos...
Film and photography are two dialects of the same language. I have always been fascinated by image. I started from photography. It all happened naturally: photography, cultural studies - and there, film studies. First, there was animation and photography at Academy of Fine Arts, then film school in Katowice. I never gave up photography, however, life often changes our plans. There are different development conditions. When you make films, you can apply for grants, there is Munk Studio, there is Polish Film Institute. In the case of photography, you have to rely only on yourself. Actually, there is no specific centre, which provides grants for developing photography projects. Film community is much more consolidated, you work in a group. Photographer is an outsider. At some point, in order to finish something, you have to decide who you are.
You studied at the film school in Katowice and you often emphasise - just like Marcin Koszałka does - that you chose these studies because, among others, the classes with Bogdan Dziworski. Already your film study "Take A Look" brings to mind "I See," while "Freestyle Life" - many "sports" masterpieces by Dziworski...
Professor Dziworski instilled one important thing into me - observing! "Take A Look" was not inspired by the film "I See." Maybe it was deeply inspired? I do not really know. It is very hard to separate yourself from your masters. It is one of the expressions of maturity, when you can separate what is yours from what you admire. "Take A Look" was made in 2008, "Freestyle Life" in 2011. A couple of years passed, I am older, I have a daughter. This changes the outlook. It seems to me that time has to do its own work, so that we know what hurts us inside, so that there is some sense in translating it into the language of film.
I recall that after the screening of "Freestyle Life" at Krakow Film Festival you said that you felt "unnecessary" for the protagonists, that without your presence the same things would have happened which you managed to record. How can you relate this "lack of need" to your method of work? Do you like to stand aside, to not embarrass the protagonists by the camera's presence, put the stress on yourself in the film?
If I said it in such a way, I had something a bit different on my mind. I wanted to say that I actually was more disabled there than my protagonists. I did not know how to find myself in this environment. On the one hand, I watched their awkwardness outside of the swimming pool, and I was shocked by it. On the other hand, I saw an extraordinary explosion of will, something I have never come across in my life, in addition, at such a scale. I knew what I wanted to say and at the same time, I did not want to hurt anyone with my film-maker's curiosity. This "being unnecessary" was rather the expression of my awkwardness. It is us - the able-bodied in physical sense - who need this film. On the one hand, I felt admiration, on the other hand, a slight discomfort.
Looking at your films, one can have an impression that you always have a precisely refined idea, a predefined form, construction, narration. Is the idea or the reality the starting point for you?
Idea for a film is one thing, and its form or narration - another. It would be a comfort to know it from the beginning. A film is like a suitcase packed before a journey. How it would develop, depends on the same number of factors as a great journey does. Before you leave the house, you do not know what would happen to you. In the case of "House on its Head" I was in a reverse situation, as the journey had already taken place, someone had experienced it. It is a challenge to browse through such a large fragment of someone's life, and a considerable responsibility to select from the material the part, which... exactly, which does what? Which will tell the story of this man? Which would bring him closer to us? I would like to say that I got to know a person without even shaking his hand.
You mention a large fragment of the Zamecznik family's life, which you browsed. Watching "House on its Head" is like browsing through a photo album with photos whose message is universal, which bring to mind diverse stages and emotions of our life. How much of these archival materials there were and what kind of key did you use in selecting them?
Less than four hours. It is not much in the context of changes, which we see. The Zamecznik family gets larger, grows up, grows old. If you compare it to a photo album, it is such an album from which someone tore out a lot of pages. I would rather there was more of this material, that time was not so brutal, that the jump cuts were smaller. I watched these four hours many times. Actually, I know the ending - Wojciech died of heart attack, his younger son too, and his wife passed away later. Only Juliusz remained, without them all, in the same house. It is he who taught me to look at all of them, it is his longing for his close ones that builds this film.
At the end, I would like to ask you about the difference in working on documentary and feature film? You simultaneously shoot documentary films and record feature films..
It sounds cliché, but documentary observation allows to be attentive on the feature film set. In documentary, you meet emotions face to face, nobody plays a role, nobody pretends anything. In this context, documentary film is a testing ground, and feature film is a battlefield.
Thank you very much for the interview.