A documentary film festival is, without doubt, an event where one can find not only a general image of our world, but also a multitude of genres and themes. This year, the 56th Krakow International Documentary Film Festival excelled in diversity and high artistic quality, enlarging the genre’s boundaries with new forms and artistic experiments. Among the films presented in the festival, one stood out as a complex union of styles and forms, like a hymn dedicated to improvisation. In a way, it is a reflection of the thought process of the personality in the center of the film: the unique and open minded saxophonist Mikolaj Trzaska. For him and for his musician friends, musical improvisations are like freedom. They want to experiment with everything. The film is not only an occasion to see and hear the great jazz musicians from Poland, who perform with Trzaska in different occasions, but is also an occasion to enjoy watching how the film director tries to use the idea of the improvisation for illustrating the music. The result is an unusual portrait, that trys to find a visual language to illustrate and capture the fabulous diversity and brilliance of the jazz sound that Trzaska and his partners are producing. The scenario is not too complicated. It’s like a simple life story, cut into parts, told by Trzaska. His observations become titles for parts of his story. He tells us, with simplicity, that he is a painter’s son. As a child, he often dreamed that he climbs on the hills. His father wanted him to continue to paint as he did. But Trzaska chose something else, he chose to play saxophone, even if it was not an easy way of living. It implies many sacrifices, imposed by the night life. The story is often interrupted by fascinating musical moments, from different concerts or rehearsals, where Trzaska is playing alone or together with other magical jazz musicians like: Joe Mc Phee, Peter Brotzmann, Pawel Szamburski, Dave Ramapir, Mark Tokar, Steve Swell, Michael Zerang, Magnus Broo, and others. The musical moments are filmed in low light, only the musicians` faces or their instruments are lit in the foreground. What they play amazes those who listen and those who see them. They improvise all the time, because improvisation is their law and because they think that nothing can help them to feel better than the improvisation. They associate their musical collaboration in improvisation with Hasidic compositions, because it belongs to unnamed authors. “This type of music,” explains Trzaska, “must have emerged within a community often as a result of improvisation. I realized that for me that was a far more natural way of thinking about life, about music.” In the same time, with this genre of music, the older you are, the better you get it. Each musical moment is interrupted from time to time with images of the sea, railway, old walls or animated sequences. The rhythm of the music is similar to the rhythm of the waves or a train’s sliding rhythm. The music seems to have the same fluidity as the water or the speed of a train. The music is in a permanent movement and constantly changing. The instruments become magic toys in the hand of the players. A guitarist is playing his instrument like he would a cello, others hit their instruments with tenderness. The effect reminds us the piano of John Cage, and at the same time we are fascinated with the force and intelligence with which the musicians continue to innovate without stopping. The rhythm of the editing fits the rhythm of the music and the film’s dynamics is similar to the music tempo. The animation bits seem to continue the stories and the personal thoughts that Trzaska share with us, continuing his idea that “We are all part of an untold story”. It is a surrealistic graphic animation in black and white, in tune with the whole film.
The entire documentary is a fascinating synthesis of arts, because the creative Trzaska and his friends believe that art helps us to survive and that improvisation is the result of composition.
Edited by Yael Shuv
© FIPRESCI 2016