INTERVIEW WITH PIOTR BERNAŚ, THE DIRECTOR OF 'PAPARAZZI'
"Nowadays not even a real story is important, as it is often manipulated in order to achieve a more sensational or news-like effect" - says Piotr Bernaś, director of documentary film "Paparazzi," which is going to be shown at the upcoming festival in Amsterdam.
IDFA- a mecca for the buffs of documentary genre- starts on 16th November in Amsterdam. Three Polish productions are taking part in this year’s edition: “Violated Letters” by Maciej Drygas, “The Trip” by Bartosz Kruhlik, and “Paparazzi” by Piotr Bernaś (more information about Polish films at the festival in Amsterdam can be found here).
In an interview with Daniel Stopa the director of “Paparazzi” discusses, among others, the behind-the-scenes of the production of the film about a notorious Polish paparazzo, who like his Western colleagues is a gossip-hound, and the role of photojournalism and documentary film in contemporary media.
“Paparazzi” starts with a conversation scene that takes place in a car, somewhere in a forest, far from the city. The way you talk with the protagonist is quite intimate. How did the acquaintance with Przemysław Stoppa begin and was the mutual trust present from the beginning?
Piotr Bernaś: Before I knew this would become the theme of my film, I had known Przemysław Stoppa from his television appearances. He did not seem to be very interesting to me then. He was in fact the very last person that I thought of even at the stage of the documentation process. “The closer relations” developed during the production of the film, which was inevitable. I wanted to tell a true story of this man, and to be able to do so, I had to get to know him and understand his thinking and actions. In the case of Przemek Stoppa, the most difficult thing for me was giving up my own prejudices. Getting to know each other and gaining each other’s trust was a gradual process that was taking place during the production of the film, and the conversation in the woods took place in one of its last stages.
The film is quite dynamic. The accelerated speed of the images, the short shots, rapid editing, a lot of close-ups and a fast-paced score are used. Is this the regular pace of Przemek’s everyday life?
P.B.: Indeed. I was particularly intent on conveying the protagonist’s nervousness and his everyday functioning. I wanted the viewer to at least partially be able to feel the emotions that I experienced while riding in a car next to him. Music was an inseparable part of his day, and additionally gives him power. Close-ups were employed to convey the private world of the protagonist, but they also constituted the way to escape the hardly “filmic” situations, such as spending hours in a car, which, by the way, is in my opinion the protagonist’s main home.
And how did Przemek’s world, meaning the constant hunt for the news, the waiting, the life in the car, being on the move and the days away from home affect the making of the film?
P.B.: As far as the production part is concerned, it was very tense, chaotic, and quite unpredictable. From the very beginning of the shooting up to the conversation in the woods (which constitutes one of the last scenes we shot) I regrettably did not have the comfort of full cooperation on the part of the protagonist, but more of his resigned declaration to cooperate. As a result, I was being tolerated in his car, and with time this tolerance expanded on another crew member (sometimes this tolerance extended by another member of the team) – the other camera operator- Łukasz Żal. Sometimes the protagonist would disappear for a few months, not answer his phone and no trace of him would be found. These were the worst moments of uncertainty. It also influenced the subsequent changes to the script. However, one of my initial and key assumptions has been retained, meaning conducting the observation of Przemek and the media events over the longer course of time (the film was shot throughout 13 months). Regarding the filming process alone, I along with the camera operator had to conform to the pace and the manner of the protagonist’s work. There was a positive side to it. The rapid shots and editing are partly the consequence of how we were forced to work. In the effect, 90 % of the shots and the situations are authentic. When we finally managed to talk the protagonist into filming the scripted shots, I already knew that the emotional and visual material was equally good.
Przemek states that he is like a ravenous wolf. Adrenaline, the desire to be the best, money, and possibly breaking down the boundaries – what is it that hooks the protagonist?
P.B.: It is the combination of all these elements, and what seals the case is reducing your perception to the level of mere materialism. It seems to me that fear is the factor which plays the additional and key role. The fear of beginning a new life, building it anew and from the scratch. The fear of effort and possible failure. The fear of changing oneself. Clinging to one’s constant habits and getting around already known and beaten paths is the way of escaping it, even if loneliness is the prize. Because can you live in the world where you always need to be on guard, the world full of enemies and other predators, and not feel lonely?
What you mention is Przemek’s biggest problem. On the hand, in a world full of predators he is strong, and on the other – weak, as he has no alternative. Could it be that Przemek’s position consequence of his own choice? Or has Przemek fallen victim to contemporary world?
P.B.: Is it his own choice? It is a difficult question – it partly is, I believe. Then again can you talk about the choice when addiction comes into play? In some ways Przemek is for me a tragic figure, a contemporary figure succumbing to trends that are getting out of his control. On the one hand, Przemek is a perfectly adjusted human being. On the other – he becomes the victim of our times. The protagonist’s inner dilemma only proves that he has not altogether lost human traits.
But humanity may bring him to ruin. The world we watch does not need reflection, restraint, privacy. Even the woman who has come to pray before the Presidential Palace pulls her camera out…
P.B.: Yes. This is also my viewpoint of the contemporary world. If you analyse it rationally and reasonably, then it is ruthless, unreflective and in constant rush. If you have any scruples, then you will inevitably fall prey to some predator. However, at the emotional and completely irrational level I remain an incurable optimist, who believes in humanity’s good nature and its salvation.
This optimistic tone can be felt in your interview with Kalina Cybulska. You mentioned then that the form of photo essay “builds a man’s story in pictures…” Confronting this sentence with Przemek’s attitude, I wanted to ask what is a photo essay today?
P.B.: A photo essay, whose natural space of operation was press, does not exist any longer. There are its niche manifestations in the form of albums that generate very little interest, and occasional photography exhibitions. The news alone dominates the media. The human being has become a commodity. Nowadays not even a real story is important, as it is often manipulated so as to achieve a more sensational or a news-like effect. Mainstream journalism is the profession of gossipers, speculators, and often manipulators.
What about documentary?
P.B.: It remains in the similar niche as the photo essay, or other documentary forms. However, when compared to a photo essay, a documentary film is the creation independent of the scissors or the tastes of photo editors or editors. Its role in society is arguably negligible. It is more of an occupation for those in search of themselves, the truth about another human being, and the truth about the world – it is a certain way of life that allows you to remain in good mental health.
Before “Paparazzi”, you were a photojournalist for “Gazeta Wyborcza”. How did the confrontation between Piotr Bernaś - a former photographer and Przemysław Stoppa – a paparazzi, look like?
P.B.: It was multilevel – different viewpoints and interests, different ways of working and its subject-matter. The only thing we had in common was photography and the ability to adapt oneself to hard conditions. In my belief, the media world in which I used to work died. The current media world is to a large degree the world of Przemek Stoppa. It is the world that I have ruled myself out of.
Finally, I would like to quote your own words: “Maybe this is naïve, but I first took up photography and then documentary film, because I felt this served some purpose, that this was not only to increase sales.” How did the film affect Przemek’s stance?
P.B.: It has been a long time since that conversation. I may still be stuck in my naivety, because, as I already said, it gives me good mood and a mental comfort. As far as the protagonist is concerned, his story has come full circle. What at the beginning breathed optimism and seemed to be a strong stimulus to individual change, the reason to stop and reflect on oneself, it has now become the pursuit of success. Recently, the protagonist has taken up politics and he got close to some political leader. This chain of events writes an unexpected scenario for the second part of the film, though the theme is rather beyond my interest. On the other hand, one should not be surprised – one swims however they can.
(Translation by Agnieszka Mruk)