"Call me Tony", feature-length documentary debut by Klaudiusz Chrostowski had its world premiere in main competition of DOK Leipzig. At IDFA it will compete in Competition for Student Documenary, Read what the director said about his reletionship with the main character of his film.

Barbara Rusinek talks with the director Klaudiusz Chrostowski.

What was your impression of your protagonist when you met him for the first time?

I've met him in a drama club and he instantly drew my attention. He stood out from the group, at first glance. He was wearing a sleeveless boxing ring jacket, which was exposing his muscles, and that day his assignment was entitled "tenderness". It was amazing. I've instantly saw in him a potential to be a film hero. While we were talking with the whole group I was taken aback by the way Konrad was speaking. What he was saying, his deep voice and something in his eyes that didn't go with his looks at all. It was clear to me that his inside is conflicted with his outside.

The drama class where you met Konrad was a place you had chosen to look for a potential protagonist or did you happen to be there for some other reason?

I used to attend the same drama club that I met Konrad in all those years later. Before my high-school final exams, just like Konrad, I wanted to get to drama school. The club was a great place where young people were finally treated seriously, not like at home or school. Actors, who were our teachers there, showed us that we can think about many things in a completely different way than we were taught to. Coming back there after all those years I wanted to find someone who dreams about acting but comes from a completely unsuitable environment. I had in mind someone from a small town, who in between daily duties reads poetry, yet I found someone completely different! Reality proved as always more interesting than screenwriter’s vision.

Did you tell Konrad that you also wanted to become an actor?

Yes, right at the beginning.

In the film we can sense the lack of a role model. Konrad faces all the challenges alone. Even his friends don't get him. Did your shared dream influenced your relation? Did you become his role model?

I think that after some time Konrad started to treat us both - me and Michał Łuka, the cinematographer - like his older brothers. Michał and I believe that in order to make a documentary we need to get into a close relationship with our character. We treated Konrad as our younger brother, who doesn't know yet everything about the reality, e.g. the film or theatre one. We wanted to make friends with him. Every time he had doubts we explained to him that even though it isn't easy, he cannot quit and give up on his dreams. Taking his idols as an example, I was trying to show him that he cannot worry about failures as he learns from each experience. You never know where all those changes of plans and circumstances may lead you.

How did you convince Konrad to make a film about himself? Potentially there could be many arguments against, like his difficult family situation or upcoming exams.

As soon as he heard that we want to get to know him better and later maybe make a movie, he was interested straight away. I think he was excited by the thought, that in some sense it will allow him to fulfil his dream of becoming an actor.

That's why the audience may have a feeling that in the film the protagonist is almost constantly acting out a role he created for himself?

As far as I know, and while shooting I spent with him a whole year, all his acting was not depending on whether the camera was there or not. It was his "natural" behaviour. After all "he is Tony", always, no matter if he's drinking beer with his friends or practising in the drama class or at the gym. Constant self-creation is a reason for his inner conflict. Only in the last scenes of the film he allows himself a moment of natural weakness. He finished his exams and he needs to take some decisions, make grown-up choices for which he's not ready yet. For a while he loses control and straight from the heart tells what he thinks about the moment of life he currently is in.

Do you think that making the film has influenced Konrad? Together with Michał you gave him a chance for an honest talk and helped him distance himself to see things clearly.

To some degree I believe it has. When facing crises he would usually distance himself from those closest to him. We were always close, he could tell us what he feels not worrying about his parents or friends judging him. If I contributed somehow to his growing up I believe it happened more by establishing with him a friendly relation than directing a film.