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Tomasz Wolski • Réalisateur de A Year in the Life of a Country

“Les films que je fais représentent un effort de redécouvrir ou revivre ces époques, mais cette fois plus consciencieusement”


- Un des documentaristes polonais les plus expérimentés et décorés de sa génération détaille son nouveau film et nous explique pourquoi il s'intéresse tant à l'histoire polonaise récente

Tomasz Wolski • Réalisateur de A Year in the Life of a Country
(© Kijora Film)

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

Cineuropa chatted to Tomasz Wolski, a Polish documentary film director and editor, whose A Year in the Life of a Country [+lire aussi :
interview : Tomasz Wolski
fiche film
recently won the Silver Horn in the International Competition of the 64th Krakow Film Festival, where it had its world premiere (see the news). Wolski, who is one of the most experienced and decorated Polish documentarians of his generation, discussed his film and explained why he’s so devoted to Poland’s recent history.

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Cineuropa: This is your third film – after An Ordinary Country and 1970 [+lire aussi :
interview : Tomasz Wolski
fiche film
– based on archive footage and discussing Poland’s recent history. Did you always have a tryptic in mind?
Tomasz Wolski:
No, one film resulted from another. First, I made An Ordinary Country. While working with the archives and reviewing them, I came across materials – recordings of phone calls – that I then used for 1970. And it wasn’t like I found something specific that encouraged me to make a film about martial law. But I realised when making 1970 that I had little material, whereas for the decade after, there was much more footage available. During these ten or 12 years, there was a massive technological leap forward – there were just more cameras and, hence, more material from 1981. So, once I’d finished 1970, I was already thinking about the next film, and I already had a title: 1981. But that was just an initial concept.

I am finishing a new film that is about the events of 1968 and the antisemitic campaign, but from an unusual perspective. And I won’t focus just on that year; I will be jumping back to the times of World War II, and forward to 1973. So, it seems like An Ordinary Country is more of a general film that connects all of the other years. I thought it would be cool to have all of the titles named after years: 1970, 1981, 1968. I think the press would like it because it always sounds good – a story within a director’s body of work. And in the festival catalogues, my films would always be first, because it’s always in alphabetical order!

You work with archive footage very creatively: you strike up a dialogue with it, in a way. What did you learn from it, not regarding historical events or facts, but rather about the state of mind of the people who were in front of or behind the camera?
I always “run away” from facts. The way I work is to talk differently about events that are very well known in the public discourse and are told in a specific way. And that new way of showing them is not something I invent; it’s something I find in archives and follow. I found many materials that, at least in my opinion, are funny and that ridicule that situation [of martial law] and the zeitgeist.

You put together many thematic sequences in your film – there is, for example, one about the miners or clearing the snow. They’re edited from different source materials. What was your goal with each sequence?
It’s divided up like this because I think it’s a good way to build a film, and then to watch it. It also means that the materials are not edited randomly, but there is a specific thought that goes into each sequence – or, as Sergei Loznitsa likes to call it, each episode, which is closed thematically. I think this is why he wanted to work with me, because he saw that this is how I built the narrative in my previous films. So, there is a TV sequence, a propaganda sequence, one with soldiers on the streets, and you can see it very swiftly. When I am browsing through the archives, I group them together and see if I can connect them, and if they add up to a whole, I ask myself how I can swap their positions for dramatic purposes. It makes watching it easier, too – I know what the given segment is about, and I can add bricks to the whole building, so to speak.

You were very young when martial law was introduced.
I was four years old, so basically, I have some hazy memories of long lines of people in front of the shops, but not much else. The films I make are an effort to rediscover or relive those times again, but this time more consciously. And there were two things that really surprised me in the footage: one was when General Jaruzelski made a mistake in one of his speeches. We are used to seeing the edited version of the speech, where he is cold and delivers it in a rigid way. The other surprise was the materials with Lech Wałęsa, after he returns from his detention. He’s welcomed like a rock star, as if The Beatles had come to the city and people were just learning about it. It turned out that nobody had opened this footage before; it was just stored in the archive and needed to be cleaned.

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