INTERVIEW WITH WOJCIECH SOBCZYK - THE AUTHOR OF "SUMMER 2014"
Tomorrow, in Riga, the names of the winners of this year's European Film Awards will be announced. In the short film category, Poland is represented by "Summer 2014" by Wojciech Sobczyk. We managed to have a short chat with the director before his journey.
Zofia Ścisłowska: The titles of your films - "Spring 1999" or the latest "Summer 2014"- point to a specific moment in time, while their content refers to some kind of cyclicity of human fate, placing the events in a wide temporal perspective. I wonder what is the reason for such consistency in naming the films?
Wojciech Sobczyk: I sign a film just like one signs a painting, customarily adding the date of its making. Thanks to it, some kind of specific system of recording real time and reckoning time is created. In particular my time. In this case, the perspective of the present is crucial, thanks to it we can relate the events shown in the film to present times. It is true that "Spring" and particularly "Summer" refer to events known from history, bring back images from the past, but what matters is not stopping and concentrating on the past events, but being able to apply them to the present. The record, documentation of the present would not be possible without historical context.
The films "Spring" and "Summer" are parts of a wider project depicting the cycle of successive and repetitive seasons. It is assumed that there would be more parts. By referring to nature, it described the repetitiveness of events, which seems to convince that if something passed, it does not mean that it would not be back, and if there is something, it does not mean it would be here forever. After all, the world is in particular a real graveyard of civilizations and cultures.
The film begins with the quote from the Gospel According to Mark, the parable about possession by an unclean spirit. Why did you choose this fragment as the film's motto?
The film "Summer 2014" is an autonomous work, complete, self-contained and absolute. By evoking images related to the dark side of human nature, it expresses the true nature of the world. The reality shown in the film is the reality of evil. Everything visible in the film seems to confirm this state of affairs. The world is possessed by evil and it is not possible to break this circle by any human actions. But the world is not only a world of visible, but also invisible things. Breaking the circle of evil is possible only thanks to interference of power not of this world. The Biblical quote, referred to in the title, speaks not (or not only) about possession by an unclean spirit, but above all, about exorcising evil spirits. So, it is the sign of healing, cleansing by a subtle expression of hope. It is what Jerzy Nowosielski talked about when he wondered how it is possible that the infernal reality could be transformed into heavenly reality. In the film, the equivalent of this idea is the rain falling from the sky.
Summer 2014 is a late début, made 15 years after graduating from the Animated Film Workshop at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. Why was the road to the début so long?
You reminded me a bit about the fact that the film "Summer 2014" is really my début. I did not think about the film in these categories. But it is true that almost 15 years passed since the previous film, and during this time, it can be said, I avoided mistakes or learnt from the mistakes of others. The film's production was quite time-consuming. It took 7 years to make about 17 thousand drawings. Every kind of help and input from people who took part in various stages of film-making, was very precious during this time. I have special fondness for the co-operation on the animation of the graveyard scene, which ended before it began for good due to moral scruples of my co-worker. I came across more of these events during making the film. I was asked whether we are on the good side of the force, or people declared that they would prefer not to see this film. I am very grateful to all these people, because they confirmed myself in the belief that I am on the right path.
Prof. Tadeusz Lubelski once found a common denominator in the films by the graduates of the Animated Film Workshop of the Academy of Fine Arts, which he named "the impressional-contemplative rhythm." What do you think about this definition? Though it deals with other subject, your film also refers to a similar poetics.
What was important from the point of view of crystallization of the idea for the film was the intention accompanying the creative process. The intention, which, acutely deepened, leads to meditation on the subject of the undertaken challenge, on what one is doing, what sense and meaning does it have. Simplifying some issues, it can be stated that if one lives and breathes what one does, one naturally falls into this meditative-contemplative rhythm. The subject matter of my films, ranging from the nature of nature and the ensuing wisdom of this world, to the reflection on what transcends it, made me constantly reflect on this (what, by the way, was very burdensome for other people). By the way, I highly value the opinions of Prof. Tadeusz Lubelski and I am very curious what he thinks about my latest production.
Just like the earlier "Spring 1999," also "Summer 2014" was made in the basic gray-scale. This self-imposed limitation at the same time allowed you to search for the fullest expression in the grey-scale. What was most interesting for you during the work on the film's visuals?
Limiting the colour palette was conscious and deliberate. It was clear that because of the subject matter of the scenes presented in the film, depicting the gloomy side of human existence, the picture has to be kept in a dark tone, additionally limited by a total reduction of colour. Naturally, a black-and-white film had to be made. And though we are under the impression that the picture was painted using a wide range of greys, in fact the palette was reduced to black and white. The final spectrum of hues was possible because of using the colours in appropriate proportions and appropriate transparency, but the starting point was only black and white. It caused some formal complications, since one had to use special paintbrushes to get appropriate hues. But it was of a huge importance. Formal measures co-create the reception of the film, and they have to be adequate and complement the subject matter. If the film deals with the ideas of good and evil, it was natural to use black and white, at least because of their symbolic references.
Analysing the film as far as means of expression are concerned, "Summer 2014" relates in some sense to contemplative feature film cinema. The film is based on one, synthetic and very long panorama. From what image did you start thinking about the film?
The scenes shown in the film had, out of necessity, to be a synthesis of certain choices. It is difficult to state unambiguously, what was at the beginning, but I know that the thought constructed after the Second World War, why do we live when so many died, played an enormous role. The film refers to the past and to history, but also to paintings known from the history of art. In the film, we can find echoes of Chełmoński, Ruszczyc, Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Matejko. It can even be said that the entire journey through the film began with his painting, "Battle of Grunwald." Matejko's Grunwald shows the scene before the final resolution of the battle. He shows it as if it was a freeze-frame, stopped in the key moment of the event, waiting to be released. It is one of the most recognised paintings in Poland, with a special meaning, not only artistic and historical one, but also emotional and national. Bringing this image alive freed the chain of events which has been held back so far and this is how the film was made.
The author of the music to your film is Bartosz Chajdecki, who has so far written music to feature films - recently, "Gods" by Łukasz Palkowski. In your film music plays a very important role. How did you work with the composer and how did the co-operation proceed?
From the very beginning, me and Bartek Chajdecki understood each other. We did not have any problem with determining the role of music in the film, dramatic accents, even our ideas concerning the use of instruments were concurrent with each other. In the film, music is of enormous importance, especially in the context of crossing the boundaries between the visible and invisible world. Here Bartek created music, high, objective and absolute and at the same time emotionally charged. I could not have dreamt about a better effect. In general, I believe that I was lucky to meet people with whom I worked on the sound. Also co-operation with sound effects people: Michał Jankowski and Michał Fojcik went far beyond the usually accepted standards.
Thank you very much for the interview!