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The Polish documentary film Kites by Beata Dzianowicz and producer Krzysztof Kopczyński is included in the Between the Seas competition at the Jihlava IDFF. In 2006, the authors developed the film within the Ex Oriente Film workshop under the working title Learning to Watch. This summer it premiered in Locarno and received the Critics' Week Award. In the following interview, Beata Dzianowicz talks more about the production details, Afghan students or the value of European advice.



Director: Beata Dzianowicz
Producer: Krzysztof Kopczyński

Jihlava IDFF screening: Tue, Oct 28 at 14:00 (Cinema Sokol).


Interview with Beata Dzianowicz:

To an extent, Kites is a cinematic debate over method. The film clearly combines footage made by the students with that by Jacek Szarański, the workshop mentor. The self-reference stops there though. You as the director remain entirely invisible. How and why did you choose this approach?

I knew from the very beginning there could be only one Pole. Jacek Szarański became my alter ego then. During the editing I had the feeling that there was supposed to be a time when Jacek should step back and give more space to his students. In the film he's getting more and more invisible. Obviously in real life it was quite the opposite. The closer it was to the screening the more students needed Jacek, the more was happening among them. Some positive things but also some very serious tension. We didn't need it for the film. We kept everything that was close to documentary thinking.


As for the visual style, the film as if starts from stage zero as the first student footage rather highlights the barrier created between their camera and reality. The contrast between the student material and your work gradually diminishes. How was this development displayed in the course of the workshop?

Editing, that’s all. We ordered the student materials from the worst (in our European sens of the word) to the most professional. But it didn’t match the real course progress. For instance, Mansoor (the one, who threatened the only girl in the group that he would throw her off the rock for her opinions) a few days after we started the class brought us footage from a bakery – a really outstanding film work! On the contrary the girl, Faika, ended more or less at the same poor level she started. Well, except for one moment – the boy without the leg telling his story, it’s Faika’s idea. The sun behind him, his face looming - clearly accidental, but excellent result of her ineptitude... 


Up until its official downfall in 2001, the Taliban banned the depiction of human beings. The students participating in your film lived most of their lives in a regime whose visual field was considerably narrower in comparison with ours. Was this experience in any way reflected in the students' work with the camera or is this only our “Western projection“?

The fact that our students were deprived of experiencing depiction – meaning, for instance, they almost didn't know the television - I find a great value in that. Our students are used to perceiving a human being in an unspoiled manner. Despite our expectations they didn't feel embarrassed while standing in front of a stranger and asking "What is important to you?". They would come to an unknown house, set up the camera, ask the fundamental questions and, what is the most important, get the answers. All we could do was just envy them.

They were shooting everything from their perspective. We neither imposed any topics or issues nor interfered in shooting. Is the material also edited from the Afghan perspective? No, it isn't. UNFORTUNATELY it isn't. 


The delicate balance between the emotional layer of the film and its method is very much based on editing. You worked together with editor Katarzyna Maciejko-Kowalczyk. How did you arrive at the final composition?

The film course and my film were two separate, independent things. After four working weeks we had twenty five hours of "my" footage (by world-famous cameraman Jacek Petrycki) and an unlimited amount of material shot by the course trainees. It lasted half a year to put together those two different worlds into one.
Katarzyna Maciejko-Kowalczyk, who died this year in February, was undoubtedly a remarkable personality, edited almost 200 documentaries. It was destiny that she was editing the work about the beginning of film fascination with the oxygen cylinder by her side. “Kites” owes many people many things but it owes Kasia all of the best.


I intentionally don't want to talk about the film's conclusion. But in the opening shot, closely connected with the ending, we see a close-up of a little boy who looks like he's 40 years old...

In the film you can also find a 38-year-old Afghan who looks like an old man... Extremely tough living conditions, dust, lack of food, permanent stress. Besides, if you are a teenager, like our students, and you have seen public executions or the death of your beloved... It's just impossible not to have it reflected in your face. 


In 2004 you attended the Ex Oriente Film workshop when the film still had the working title Learning to Watch which was and, in my opinion, still is a very fitting title. It again points out to the method. But then, reality and kites burst into the film...

The Taliban banned not only the depiction of human beings but flying kites as well, as we found out. Delightfully then we have plunged in both of these topics.


During the Ex Oriente Film workshop, the film was in a very early development stage. You finished it only four years later. How would you summarize the period?

Those four years have passed under only one issue: money. Thanks to our participation at Ex Oriente Film we were able to obtain grants from MEDIA Plus for development so we were able to complete the shooting. Unfortunately, we weren't successful at the pitching (Jihlava, Karlovy Vary, Bardonecchia). The wealthier televisions used to say that if they were interested in the film about Afghanistan they would send their own teams there instead of the Polish one. The less wealthy televisions would cease the conversation immediately after the word “Afghanistan”. We collected the whole film budget in Poland.

As for the film course budget - it was much easier. Jacek Szarański decided not to take his tutor salary. Cameras for the students and the first half of the computer for mounting were founded by the executive producer, second half by the director.


What will happen to the film now? It opened in Locarno where you won the Critics' Week Award. What was your festival strategy? Will the film run on European TV networks?

While my producer and friend Krzysztof Kopczyński was showing his Afghan documentary "Stone Silence" around the world he heard that this film was brilliant, however, as for the television standards there's "too much time for thinking" in it... Well, I hope my film has the same defect. So I think it won't be successful on televisions. I suppose it will still go on for a while at the festivals. So far the festival juries are quite nice to us...


Back to Kabul. Have the workshop students seen Kites? Do any of them keep filming?

I've decided not to screen "Kites" in Kabul. I remember Mansoor warning the other students not to mention anything about the local problems, such as women's education, water supply or any other issues... Afghans are the kind of people who are too proud to accept a documentary about  everyday life in their country.

As for “keep filming” - yes, they do. Hopefully, by now they managed to forget all our European pieces of advice and they remember only how to press the record button. I hope they're telling their own stories in their own way.



Hana Rezková, IDF