Polish film legend Gutowski turns 90 at Warsaw
by Jorn Rossing Jensen
- Gene Gutowski, aka Witold Bardach, is celebrated at the Warsaw Film Festival, which is screening Dancing Before the Enemy, about his escape from the Holocaust
Polish film legend, producer and production manager Gene Gutowski, who worked with Polish director Roman Polanski on four features, including The Pianist [+see also:
film profile] (2002), will today celebrate his 90th birthday at the Warsaw Film Festival – shortly ahead of time (his birthday is actually on 26 July 2015), but it coincides with the festival screening of his son’s (US director-producer Adam Bardach) documentary Dancing Before the Enemy: How a Teenage Boy Fooled the Nazis and Lived. The festival runs until 19 October.
Gutowski, aka Witold Bardach, was born in Lviv to a lawyer and concert pianist – he himself studied to become a sculptor. The Germans invaded the Russian-occupied city in 1941, and within a year his parents and grandparents had been killed. Under the name of Eugene Gutowski, he first worked for a photographer, and then at a Junkers aeroplane factory, stealing Luftwaffe radio transmitters for the Polish resistance.
Escaping the clutches of the Gestapo in 1943, he became the head of a construction company in the Baltics, leaving in May 1945 before the arrival of the advancing Soviet Army. He then travelled to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where he worked as a special agent for the US Army, chasing war criminals. In March 1947, he married Zillah Rhoades, an American State Department employee, and moved with her to New York, where he became a fashion illustrator, then a film producer/production manager.
He published his Polish autobiography, From Holocaust to Hollywood, in 2004 (it was published in English as With Balls and Chutzpah: A Story of Survival in 2011). Before that, he had not told his family about his life as a teenager in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Eight years ago, his son decided to record his father’s experiences on videotape, not really knowing what to do with them – simply to save a dramatic part of the family history and its roots.
“Both financially and emotionally it was a difficult project to realise,” explained Bardach, who three years ago went with his father to reshoot his interviews at the real locations – Lviv, the nearby Belzec concentration camp (where 500,000-600,000 Jews were exterminated in less than 11 months, including his father’s family), Warsaw, and then following his getaway route, crosscut with archive footage of events over the 1939-1947 period.
Gutowski eventually became a film producer, and in 1960 he moved to London to stage UK director Seth Holt’s Station Six-Sahara (1962); here he also joined forces with Polanski on Repulsion, Cul-De-Sac and The Fearless Vampire Killers (1965-1967). Back in Warsaw, from 2000 onwards, he co-produced The Pianist, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and three Academy Awards. They have always been great friends – in fact, Polanski is Bardach’s godfather.