Masterclass with Paweł Pawlikowski | 17-Sep-2022


Masterclass with Pawel Pawlikowski | 17-Sep-2022


Among the undisputed highlights of this year’s programme at the Drama International Short Film Festival was the masterclass with Oscar-winning creator Paweł Pawlikowski. Held as part of the Cinematherapy programme of the Festival and followed by a discussion between the Festival’s artistic director Yannis Sakaridis, psychotherapist Denise Nikolakou, and – naturally – the audience, the event proved to be a very successful part of the ‘DISFF in Athens’ function, with crowds filling up the great hall of the Greek Film Archive building.

The four-day event of the Drama Festival which took place at the Greek Film Archive was successfully concluded last night, with sold-out screenings of films from the Festival’s National Competition Programme.

The Cinematherapy programme, curated by Denise Nikolakou, is now synonymous with Paweł Pawlikowski, as it was the Oscar-winning director himself who inaugurated the programme with his film Cold War (2018) during the 43rd event of the Drama International Short Film Festival in 2020.

During the event at the Greek Film Archive, the audience enjoyed a cinematic collage of the director’s prolific work, with excerpts from the important period of his BBC documentaries (1990-1995 – From Moscow to Pietushki, Dostoyevsky’s Travels, Serbian Epics, Tripping with Zhirinovsky), from the second period of his fiction filmmaking (1998-2004 – The Stringer, Last Resort, My Summer of Love), as well as works from his third (The Woman in the Fifth) and fourth (Ida, Cold War) periods (2011-2018).

You can watch the entire masterclass and discussion with the director here:

DISFF45 LIVE STREAMING - Pawel Pawlikowski

Talking with Denise Nikolakou in the discussion that ensued, Paweł Pawlikowski was charming, expressive, and humorous. The creator revealed that he loves, empathises and identifies with the heroes of his films from a psychological point of view, even when the characters are unlikeable. “Of course, that does not mean I consciously try to deliver any kind of cinematherapy when making these films”, he clarified. “When I feel I am starting to lecture the audience, I am immediately deactivated; I push the OFF button, because this is something I don’t want to be doing. I have always made films that expressed what was in my mind at the given time”.

Regarding the documentaries he filmed in the 1990s, produced by BBC (editor’s note: Pawlikowski lived in England since he was 14 years old), the director said he was influenced by documentaries made in the country by great creators like Kieślowski. This influence led him to give this Polish “approach” to his films, which were more artistic and lyrical than the conventional British documentaries of the era. “Polish creators functioned within a different framework, that of totalitarian state control”, he explained. “Thus, they were forced to invent ways to deceive the regime in order to say what they wanted to say, which had an impact on the aesthetic of their films”.

In his documentaries, he captured “the birth of nationalism in Europe during that time”. “It was interesting to capture it all not with today’s digital means, but rather on 16mm film”, he said. “Today we are trapped in a virtual reality, but back then making films was much more interesting. Today we film current events endlessly and without critical thought. Back then we used film, so everything we shot was selected very consciously, as it had a specific purpose; we did not shoot in a general and vague manner. We wanted to capture a poetic or funny scene”.

Talking about his documentaries in contrast to the fiction films he created, the director said that “even though the framework is more realistic in one case and more imaginary in the other, I never discriminated fully between the two, as it always felt like I was “toying” with reality and using a kind of stylisation, at least to a certain extent. That is maybe due to the fact that I really hate the way in which the media depict the world and “reality”. Just look at the way they portray Russia and France today…”.

Using his film “Tripping with Zhirinovsky” as an example, the director underlined that “Zhirinovsky was a deplorable, terrible guy; his time was before the era of Trump, but his course is very indicative of what happened to the vast and incredible country of Russia”. Still, much like it happened with his documentary “Serbian Epics”, which he shot in Bosnia during the 1992 war, he said: “You fall in love with your subject matter. Something inside you motivates you and rings a bell within”.

Speaking of his incredible film “Ida”, which he shot in Poland, Paweł Pawlikowski confessed that, during his puberty, he also discovered that his paternal grandmother was Jewish. “I had no idea, and then suddenly I found out about this adventure of my family, about Auschwitz… In that sense, Ida was a very personal film for me”.

In Poland “we have this obsession with history, to the extent that it crushes everything else. I want to create real, three-dimensional characters – besides, truth is a very controversial concept…”.

When asked about which stage in the creation of a film fascinates him the most, he answered with a big laugh: “None! It is a very stressful procedure. Perhaps the only enjoyable part is the moment that something clicks, you get an idea and you think, “Great, that might just work””. And when asked about the moment he realises his film has achieved its goal? “You cannot know that”, he said. “You often wonder, “Ok, what do I do now?”. The thing that offers a kind of satisfaction is holding a first screening for selected friends. If they like it, you feel that something beautiful is happening. When people start discovering your work, you feel that your efforts are being rewarded”. Regarding his relationship with actors, he said that it doesn’t fit the mould. “There is no standard method, because each and every actor is different”.

Discussing the effects of the pandemic on filmmakers and cinema in general with Yannis Sakaridis, he noted that “as a creator, I feel that in today’s age of digital communication, it is getting harder and harder to make a film that has a purpose, a film with cultural content. In my 68 years of age, I admit that I often think: Why should I even bother? Why make the effort? Who cares? At the beginning, digital platforms pretended to care about cinema, but it is now clear they are all exclusively oriented towards making marketable films. At the same time, film crews are either extremely expensive, or they are busy making blockbusters. How can you make a film like Ida today? I grew up with a kind of cinema that is starting to disappear…”.

He concluded: “After the age of 60, it is difficult to maintain the same level of enthusiasm. I wish I were younger so I could fall in love with cinema all over again…”.