Two Polish Titles

in 18th ZagrebDox – International Documentary Film Festival

by Petra Meterc

For eighteen years now, ZagrebDox, an international documentary film festival, has taken place in the spring in Croatia’s capital. It was conceived in 2005 to offer viewers an insight into fresh documentary national, regional, and international productions each year. This year it took place between April 3rd and 10th. The festival works as an important hub for documentarists in the regional field. With its production part, ZagrebDox Pro offers development workshops for young directors. This year they were mentored by Finnish producer Sari Volanen and Serbian director Želimir Žilnik, as well as various lectures, round tables, and other meetings. An international and regional competition section represents the core film program. Let’s look at two Polish titles from the international competition.

In the international competition section of Zagrebdox, we saw an animated documentary by Polish director Tomasz Wolski entitled 1970. The film’s story goes back to December of the titular year when unrest broke out in Poland amid the already difficult economic situation due to rocketing food prices. The state leadership bloodily suppressed the protests. Wolski used rare audio archival recordings of government officials’ phone calls and brought the latter to life with the help of stop animation. The events on the streets of Gdańsk and Gdynia, where the workers of the shipyards first went on strike, which soon turned into general street protests, are being monitored through archival footage from the streets as through the perspective of decisive comments on the aforementioned phone calls. They are resolving the situation from the comfort of dark, smoky bureaucratic offices in Warsaw exclusively through the escalating use of violence. The animated felt characters don’t move too much, they are mostly shot statically, and the camera slowly slides past them, only to detect small, eloquent gestures here and there, such as drumming fingers on the table or cigarette smoke swirling across the room, which gives the animated scenes a particularly sinister character. Nearly 30,000 soldiers, tanks and helicopters were soon sent to stop the protesters, killing forty people on the streets and wounding about a thousand. Although the film is about exposing the actions of those responsible for the specific events of 1970, most of whom never took the blame for the deaths caused, it also speaks of state violence in general. The animated narrative shows us the perverse lightness of political decisions for violence, revealing how authorities often have no desire to listen to the people. Yet, they do not think twice when it comes to violent repression.

A unique film narrative was also conceived by the Polish documentary filmmaker Paweł Łoziński with Balcony film (Film balkonowy, 2021). As the title suggests, the director placed the film camera on his balcony, from where he watched people walking past his block in the Warsaw neighborhood for almost two years since he supposedly ran out of ideas for films. Among them are random passers-by, neighbors, and members of his family. With a personal approach, he addresses people, asks them how they are, or to tell him something about themselves, such as their past, how they live, and the meaning of life. He opens up a space for dialogue in the neighborhood and encourages individuals to talk about themselves, even though they may not be used to it. Among them is Robert, who has just come out of prison and is finding a job, an apartment and thus a new beginning. But, a lady from the neighboring block sweeps the pathway, mows the grass, and hangs the Polish flag on the block on holidays. The film takes us through the seasons at a slow pace and, with a sensitive approach to fellow human beings, as it forms a wonderful film experiment that continues the strong tradition of Polish documentaries as we know them from the older generation of directors, be it Krzysztof Kieślowski or Marcel Łoziński who happens to be Paweł Ł oziński’s father. Both Wolski’s and Ł oziński’s films received special jury awards in the international competition section.

Petra Meterc
Edited by Justine Smith