INTERVIEW WITH KAROLINA BIELAWSKA - THE AUTHOR OF THE FILM "CALL ME MARIANNA"
On June 1, in the cinema Kijów.Centrum was the international premiere of the documentary film "Call Me Marianna" by Karolina Bielawska. We would like to invite you to read the interview with the film's author.
Michał Kucharczyk: How long did the work on the film take and how much time passed from getting acquainted with Marianna to filming the first shot? Was it hard to persuade her of this film?
Karolina Bielawska: A total of three years, but the length of this period was affected by the adversities which we had to overcome. From the moment when I got acquainted with Marianna to the start of filming, a year passed, which was caused by the fact that the project raised doubts and I could not find funding. What raised the greatest doubts was the form of the film, that is, intertwining the scenes of theatre rehearsal with the documentary. During filming, we knew that we no longer have budget and we make this film because we need to tell this story. This film did not arise from observing the protagonist's life, but from relationship with her, life simply got mixed with the film.
On the one hand, Marianna wanted the film about her to be made, but she also had misgivings that she would expose herself and her family to stigmatisation and mockery. She struggled to be an ordinary woman, and making this film could have disrupted it. Luckily, the need to tell about her experiences finally prevailed.
In the film, in parallel to Marianna's life, a theatre rehearsal with two eminent Polish actors, Jowita Budniak and Mariusz Bonaszewski, takes place. How was this initiative created? Would the performance be staged? What does the presence of these fragments in the film mean?
From the beginning I wanted the film to have the construction of a feature film. I did not want to tell this story through talking heads or using an off-screen narrator. Theatre rehearsals, during which the actors read fragments of the play and ask questions, were an ideal film solution to tell about Marianna's past and her ex-wife, and at the same time show the protagonist's emotions. The theatrical scenes were created for the film and were intended to be a psychodrama in which the viewer will participate. What was important for me was that the world of theatre rehearsal permeates and complements the documentary present, in this way creating a coherent whole.
Your film is an important voice in the discussion about transsexualism. How does the situation of these people look like in Poland, what should be changed?
From the beginning I knew that I would not be making a film about changing sex. This subject matter was for me a pretext for telling the story about a person who has to choose between his own identity and what is most important for him, that is, family. I wanted the film to be about the need for closeness, acceptance and love, and that is why I knew precisely what kind of scenes I need to tell it.
When I began to work on the film, I was not aware that transsexual people are disliked by other people to such an extent. At every step, we had to struggle with animosity, but, paradoxically, it gave us strength to make this film in spite of everyone. Even such a trivial matter as a radio broadcast, which could be heard in the background, was a problem, because the radio, when they learnt who is the film's protagonist, did not want to be associated with such an issue. Whereas the head of ward in hospital near Warsaw, where Marianna was, prohibited all employers from participating in our film, though they wanted to. What I wanted the most was to show Marianna at work, where she was responsible for the safety of the passengers in Warsaw metro. The head of security said that it was not the best thing for the image of the company that such a "changeling" works there. Luckily, we managed to reach the director, who had an opposite view. Though on the other hand it was thanks to the support of colleagues from work, who testified in her favour in court that she managed to go through the difficult period of transformation. While making this film, I realised how hard it must be for Marianna, who constantly has to prove that she deserves to be respected and treated in a dignified way.
I believe that the legal system in Poland does not make it easier for transsexual people and their families, for whom life is difficult anyway. In the case of Marianna, her parents did not understand and did not accept her decision, and in addition she had to sue them, which even intensified the conflict in the family. When I met Marianna, she was 47, and for four years, she had been fighting with her parents in court in order to be able to change her legal identity and undergo sex reassignment surgery.
For me, it seems absurd that, regardless of the child's age, parents are always a party in such cases, and according to me, it should be changed.
How did Marianna's accident and her rehabilitation influence the film and your relationship with her?
Life wrote a screenplay which no one could expect, and making the film was then of secondary importance. During film-making, I grew close to Marianna and I was strongly affected by what had happened. Her whole life she dreamt of being able to be herself and when she achieved it at last, she had to start fighting for her life again. Her struggle became mine, too, and what happened to her when she fell ill was a part of my life. Together with Andrzej, a man whom she just got acquainted with, we took care of her, fed her and washed her. What happened made the film a powerful and authentic human portrayal.
Did this film help Marianna?
It helped Marianna and me, because it gave us strength and hope!