Indefatigable Investigator of the Social Structures

Jacek Petrycki and Marcel Łoziński at Camerimage Opening Gala, photo by Paweł Skraba

Andrzej Wajda has received the most prestigious awards in the world, and yet he still manages to find time to browse through newspapers looking for inspiration. “One day he brought me a newspaper clipping about the Polish Post’s Department of Undelivered Mail in Koluszki. Every year, at least some of these letters are addressed to God himself. Wajda told me: Marcel, if you won’t make a film out of it, I know nothing about cinema at all!” For Poste Restante Łoziński won the European Film Award.

And we promised ourselves not to cry. „When we first started out, strongly believing that we can change the world, Krzysztof Kieślowski used to call Marcel “an indefatigable investigator of the social structures” – says cinematographer Jacek Petrycki while presenting Marcel Łoziński with this year’s Camerimage Award for Outstanding Achievements in Documentary Filmmaking. “It’s the most important award I have ever received” – admits the director. “I would like to mention cinematographer Stanisław Niedbalski – I’m sure that his spirit, since he is no longer with us, is somewhere here with us. Thanks to him I learnt that cinematographers are special and much better than us, directors. I never knew I would be so moved.” Well, neither did we. Stupid promises.

Born in 1940, Marcel Łoziński is one of the most acclaimed Polish documentary filmmakers. Unfortunately, even the greatest artists can’t walk through life without encountering any problems – especially technical ones. Even though the screening of his films was almost an hour late, Łoziński kept his spirits up: “Back in the Communist times, there was a screening of my film Recipe for Life” – he recounts clearly amused. “It was interrupted 4 or 5 times and finally one of the dignitaries stood up and said to me: You don’t even know how to edit a film!” In all probability, that was what eventually brought the system down.

Still from "Poste restante"
Still from “Poste restante”
Still from "Tonya and Her Children"
Still from “Tonya and Her Children”

Unlike his revered teacher from the Łódź film school, documentary filmmaker Kazimierz Karabasz, Łoziński didn’t want just to observe – he wanted to express his take on reality. However, such innovative approach was frowned upon; most of the films he made at that time were subjected to censorship and stopped from release. After 1989, something happened – Łoziński decided to make smaller, more intimate films. Since then, everybody has been asking him the same question. “Where do I get my ideas from? It depends. Every documentary filmmaker wants to ask people about love, fear, hope – all the most important things. But we hardly ever dare to do it.” And where angles fear to tread, children rush in.

Łoziński’s son Tomasz was just 6-years-old when they made their first film together. “Tomasz had this ability to open people up. He was very sociable and curious about everything. He really wanted to know all these things.” For 89 mm to Europe, Łoziński was nominated for an Academy Award in 1994. “That film was inspired by the so-called reality” – laughs Łoziński. “But I quickly realised one thing: if I would do it right, it could serve as a metaphor of our situation in Europe. We spent almost 2 weeks with these workers. It was very important to become friends with them, so we drunk a lot of vodka together.

Still from "89mm from Europe"
Still from “89mm from Europe”
Still from "Anything Can Happen"
Still from “Anything Can Happen”

Although Łoziński wasn’t afraid to point the camera at himself and at his family, it wasn’t always that simple: “I had a very serious problem. When 89 mm to Europe was nominated for an Oscar, Tomasz just went nuts. I kept telling him that we wouldn’t win and, predictably, we didn’t. So he made his own statue out of paper and when I asked him to make his bed, he just said: Dad, I don’t like your tone. If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even be nominated. Do you this that some other child would be as good as me? I replied: Maybe even better. Tomasz convinced himself that he was an actor, so I asked him to act; he was supposed to leave the room and come back. Now that was a disaster. So he finally understood that he wasn’t acting in a film – he was in a film.” However, after a few years, Tomasz came back in front of the camera.

In the case of Anything Can Happen I wanted Tomasz to talk to children his own age. But it quickly became obvious that it just wouldn’t work out. Then I decided to focus on much older people. We would come to the park and Tomasz would just run off to talk to somebody. Older people have so much to say. They want to share their story with someone, but we are always too busy to listen. Thanks to that film I was able to slow down.” Slow down and learn something useful – apparently in life one should be happy, polite and shouldn’t throw litter around. Although just like Tomasz we still don’t know what wars are for. Actually, it’s a crazy thing.

Marcel Łoziński, photo by Marcin Mięsak
Marcel Łoziński, photo by Marcin Mięsak

By using devices typical for narrative films, Łoziński has never once claimed that everything he shows is true. Because the truth, well, it has many faces. The main difference between a documentary and a feature film is that in the case of a documentary, you get all these unexpected gifts from God. Or from reality – depends what you believe in.” In that case Marcel Łoziński can consider himself a very gifted man. All thanks to God or to reality – depends what you believe in.

Marta Bałaga

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