INTERVIEW WITH TERESA CZEPIEC - THE AUTHOR OF THE FILM “SUPER UNIT”
At the 57th DOK. Leipzig festival, Teresa Czepiec will show her latest documentary film “Super Unit.” We would like to invite you to read the interview with the film’s director.
Daniel Stopa: Falowiec in Gdynia, Pekin in Warsaw and Mrówkowiec in Wrocław - in addition to the Super Unit in Katowice, there are more “machines for living” in Poland. Why did you choose the moloch in Silesia?
Teresa Czepiec: All these buildings are fascinating, because they are spectacular “machines for living.” However, the choice was simple, because it was personal. I was familiar with the Super Unit from the times of when I studied Directing in Katowice. I passed this building by many times, thinking that there is something special to discover in it. I was also inspired by the name, which opens a wide field for interpretation: Super Unit is a specific building, but you can also use this phrase to talk about an exceptional person or non-existent, but possible unit of measurement.
The eponymous block of flats is the main protagonist, we learn about its every day functioning and watch a collection of various personages, the inhabitants of the Super Unit. I can guess that hundreds or maybe thousands of people live and work in the building. How did you select the characters for the film?
Before shooting the film, I spent a year meeting the inhabitants. The formal assumptions behind the film were already agreed upon. I knew that we were looking for interesting people of various ages, from children to the elderly. What worked was chance and methodical actions. The first person I met was Zbigniew, one of the conservators, who was busy closing the window of his workshop. At first he was reluctant, but in the end he was persuaded to allow us to shoot here for the documentation. We were also looking for the protagonists by going from door to door. Sometimes it happened that we had already arranged to meet someone, and they changed their plans and declined. But going to the corridor or to the lift, we met someone else, an equally interesting person, who wanted to participate in the documentary film. I know that I did not include some of the stories, but it was impossible to do so, taking into account the huge number of them. What is in the film is the result of months of preparations and of chance, of what we managed to observe on location and during editing. Paradoxically, it seems to me that it reflects the substance of the case rather faithfully.
The element, which unites the fates of the characters, seems to be technology, all kinds of installations, machines, switches, and lifts? Was there any key idea which you followed by connecting the stories of the characters during editing?
The key was to connect the characters by technology, all kinds of devices, installations and mechanisms and it was a part of our idea from the beginning. It may seem absurd to film the mains of the pipes and lift shaft from the inside, but these elements unite the inhabitants and are related to their everyday life. Everyone in the block of flats does the same things, uses the same infrastructure, and hears each other through the walls, doors and corridors. Editing was an important stage, because there is no plot in the story. The structure concentrates on the inner rhythm, which we had to find, together with the editor, and complement with the sound effects man, who created the entire concept of sound.
You mentioned that all people in the block of flats live close together. However, as a matter of fact, the characters are rather lonely. In the lift, they are silent, they exercise within their four walls, and they surround themselves with animals instead of people...
Our camera stays with them only for a short while. They live alone, but are they lonely? I leave the interpretation to the viewers. Living close together does not necessarily bring people close to themselves, though it may help to maintain relationships. Two characters of the film are neighbours, one of them lives in the flat below and they are friends. To portray this relationship, we photographed them together next to the aquarium.
I read in one of the interviews that you were inspired by “Tango” by Zbigniew Rybczyński. Similarity is suggested by the subject matter: one place where many people lead their lives, as well as the form: short, plotless and without any words...
“Tango” inspired me by its subject matter and form. The animation by Zbigniew Rybczyński also has a rhythm, which organises the movements of the characters. We tried to discover the rhythm of Super Unit and show it in the film.
The cinematography by Paweł Dyllus has the right rhythm and movement. One can get the impression that the camera, like a ghost, goes through the walls to the inside of the flats. It is the same with sounds, which catch the viewers on the corridor and almost lure them to go inside...
Exactly, it was our idea. We assumed, that we leave it to chance as far as characters and some events which we filmed are concerned, but we agreed that in the matter of camera work and the the use of the sound we work in accordance with the concept agreed upon before we started shooting the film. During the shooting, we lived in Super Unit and we experienced firsthand what we felt in the building, what we heard and what we saw. In addition to normal co-operation on set, which was fantastic, the key thing was the understanding between the cameraman, Paweł Dyllus, the person responsible for the sound concept, Krzysztof Ridan, the editor, Jerzy Zawadzki, and me. This understanding was important because of the peculiar form of the film.
What are you working on now? Maybe there would be a series of short films about Polish “machines for living”?
It is an interesting idea.
Now, I am working on a film totally different from “Super Unit.” It will be a documentary about one man, about Stanisław Radwan, composer and charismatic personage of cinema and theatre, who co-operated, among others, with Andrzej Wajda and Jerzy Grzegorzewski. Privatly, he is my uncle. We began shooting the film five years ago. I did not suppose then that it could last so long and that the family documentary film would be such a difficult challenge for me. I did not want to repeat the interviews conducted with him, or duplicate the film which was made about him. It seems that I had to mature to tackle this subject, because it is only now that a clear concept of the film appeared.
So, I wish you good luck with the new project and thank you very much for the interview.