I do not want to grow up in a greenhouse
An interview with Krzysztof Skonieczny
By Anna Bielak
“I came to Wroclaw in 2013, because I wanted to participate in T-Mobile New Horizons Film Festival and Polish Days. “Hardkor Disko” was presented there as a work-in-progress. But I have been going to the festival since its’ second edition. I have been a volunteer inspector there, tearing tickets in half, watching movies in the evenings. Years later, during the last years’ edition of the festival I participated in New Horizons Studio as a filmmaker. I jumped into last free slot a day before the workshops has started. I did this, because Studio was highly recommended to me by my colleague Jan Kwieciński [who co-directed “The Fourth Dimension” with Alexey Fedorchenko and Harmony Korine”] – tells Krzysztof Skonieczny. He is a Polish actor, independent theatre and film director, scriptwriter, producer, creator of the music videos, visual artist and founder of artistic conglomerate – głębokiOFF, interested in an interdisciplinary approach to art. His feature debut “Hardkor Disko”, which “key creative idea” – as the director himself puts it – “lay in the broadly-conceived radicalism, permeating the construction, dramaturgy, visual narration and production design” has just hit the Polish cinemas. During our brief conversation Skonieczny emerges as a truly independent artist with an original approach to cinema.
You mentioned that your colleague, who had participated in the workshops beforehand, recommended New Horizons Studio to you. Any particular reason he did that?
He emphasized the possibility of striking up the interesting acquaintances and creative turmoil one may experience while being there. However, I did not have any definitive needs or expectations. Moreover, I haven’t paid much attention to the tutors’ names while choosing the workshops I wanted to participate in. Meeting young, not yet established filmmakers from all over the world was the thing that interested me most. Many of those people did not know if they want to direct films, write scripts or work as producers. Some had projects in their portfolios’ (based in animation or visual arts), others came to listen to the lectures and, more or less, soak up the energy. Those workshops were full of ideas, openness and freedom. What I appreciated the most was the opportunity to talk with others about our mutual dreams and fears. During our inspiring, informal evening meetings we were discussing our attitude to filmmaking and exchanging experiences. And last but not least we learned about the history of our countries, its cinema and all the influences it has on the film industry’s shape nowadays.
Raymond Phathanavirangoon, one of the Studio’s tutors, told me that young Polish filmmakers are deeply rooted in their national cinema and its history, but at the same time their desire to go beyond is visible and obvious.
We need to reject past, rebound from it and cut it off. That kind of negation may help us with looking both at cinema and ourselves from a distance. Andrzej Żuławski reached that point of detachment while shooting “The Devil” . My cinematic experience does not have anything in common with an academic discourse. I was studying the History of Art at the University of Wroclaw (2002-2004) and graduated from the Faculty of Acting at the Theatre Academy in Warsaw (2008). I do not know how the courses in Polish films schools are run. Yet, in my opinion many films made by its graduates, sometimes in terms of form, other times in terms of plot, are detached from the present reality. Working under pressure from film circle and in-between professors’ divergent opinions results in dwarfed hybrids or artistic mistakes. Therefore, it is essential for any artist, either or not film school graduate, to be an independent seeker. Artist willing to hold on to their view and thanks to imagination, patience and courage able stand behind their ideas till the very end, become more and more visible.
What were you fighting for and standing behind while shooting your feature debut?
„Hardkor Disko” is an attempt to show universal, postmodern reality. The structure of classical tragedy inspired me most. Like Shakespeare’s plays, classical tragedies carry the germs of transcendence and trace collective and infinite emotions such as love, hatred, passion, death, guilt and punishment. However, while being inspired by classics, I was looking for modern staffage able to carry a modern story. I believe that cinema and images reveal themselves within the form. Thinking about the film means thinking about the costume, design, music and staging. My crew’s goal is to realize my vision. I determine esthetics and style and I am interested neither in critical realism nor in gloomy stories about sad Polish reality. What is going on in “Hardkor Disko” could happen everywhere – in Poland, Portugal, Estonia or South Africa.
Yet, all the events take place somewhere in-between Warsaw and Berlin. What do those two cities have in common?
I’ve been travelling through many different places all over the world (South America, Thailand and Lisbon among them). Wherever I was, I was shooting in guerilla style with my team. As filmmakers, we want to tear out of the world everything it can offer. Following the example of New-Wave directors we try to fully adapt to the environment we find ourselves in. Before shooting “Hardkor Disko” we went to Berlin on account of our cinematographer. First of all, I wanted him to establish a close relationship with my hero and heroine. Secondly, my actors were there to integrate with their characters. Finally, I needed to find a city, which may serve as universal metropolis that is growing and stratifying. Warsaw and Berlin are a bit alike, so I can synthetize them. At the same time, Berlin let us escape from worn-out images of Warsaw. Moreover, I like places touched by disintegration. In the future, I would like to shoot a movie spread between Odessa, Lower Silesia, Lisbon and Montevideo.
You said the “Hardkor Disko” plot is universal enough to take place everywhere. Your future venture connects four cities in the world. Bearing that in mind, shouldn’t you be looking for co-producers willing to enter international projects?
While working on “Hardkor Disko”, I didn’t look for co-producers at all. From the very beginning till the very end I wanted to produce this film entirely by myself. I ended up in debt, but I did it with particular idea in mind and I do not regret it. I risked a lot, but the spirit of contrariness, insolence and self-confidence has driven me. Moreover, everything happened very fast. I wanted to capture a certain atmosphere and psycho-physiological condition of the young generation. The story has been cruising around my head for some time. May 2012 was coming faster and faster and I was growing more and more certain that I have to start shooting in the summer. Robert Bolesto became my co-writer and Marcin Kowalczyk was already cast for the leading role. We started writing and soon afterwards we organized the set. In the meantime, two co-producers expressed their interest in the project, but I did not want to enter into any business relationships with them.
What was the reason behind turning them down?
I felt the story would lose its authenticity. It would not be the fruit of our hard work, but become the product of compromise. I did not want to have anybody above us, who is not part of our gang. It was my conscious decision. I’ve been doing lots of projects during last years, so I knew there are people willing to work with me on my feature debut. I put an emphasis on my contacts and thanks to teamwork we finished the film. I knew we’d hit the cinemas and it is already happening. I will be able to reward people who were working with me.
What kind of people do you work with? Who belongs to your gang głębokiOFF?
GłębokiOFF is an idea. We cherish creative, independent and auteur work. It is an artistic conglomerate built from very dissimilar elements glued together by me. Film crew is like a ship crew – it needs a captain. Film set is not a space for democracy. It is pure monarchy. I shot “Hardkor Disko” with a bunch of devoted friends. Everyone has a chance to contribute and the film won’t have its final shape without those contributions. Yet, I was the one who had the final word. I choose my crew, I invite them to joint venture, but I am the one who points the port we are heading to. Making decisions is a great responsibility. Academic films have many faults, but the worst of them is lack of visible directors’ decisive approach. Those films are not distinctive, but drowned in grayness. Working in New Horizons Studio had all the hallmarks of freedom that is inaccessible at universities. Lectures helped with individual development, tutors were not there to judge anybody.
As an independent artist, what would you say about the activity of institutions willing to finance film projects? Are they helping young filmmakers with their risky attempts or rather suppress them by financing only safe projects?
Those kinds of institutions are like greenhouses. Tomato plants are growing there under the tender care of gardeners. One waters them regularly, the other trims the sprouts. Plants finally bear fruits. It is a long process, though. Moreover, there is not enough place for every plant under the greenhouse’s roof. Institute is like a safe zone. If you want to be inside, you need to follow strict rules. You need to know and obey hierarchy that exists there. On the one hand that kind of places are necessary, on the other hand I have concerns about the selection and the amount of time a filmmaker has to wait for his or her time. Does it really help with the progress? Institutions are afraid of taking risks. They prefer predictable projects. In my opinion there is too much calculation in the institutional attitude to art. And for me cinema is art. I did not want anybody to structure me. My feature debut is radical and that is intended. Cinema is a young art that needs to change constantly. It needs to clash with the reality and shape itself over and over again.