"I WANTED TO TELL A STORY THROUGH IMAGE AND SOUND" - INTERVIEW WITH JULIA POPŁAWSKA
You can see the new documentary film "The Place" by Julia Popławska at the Hot Docs festival, which starts on April 23. Now, we would like to invite you to read the interview with the author.
Daniel Stopa: In the scene opening "The Place," we are "attacked" by snow tossed by the wind. After the screening, I could not stop admiring how you and the film crew managed to make this film in spite of such difficult weather conditions. What was the most difficult thing during your work on "The Place"?
Julia Popławska: The first scene was made while the wind was smashing the cameraman Grzegorz Hartfiel and his assistant Tomasz Sternicki; the wind was blowing with gusts up to 140 km per hour. Every winter, Kasprowy Wierch is attacked by a strong wind. It was the biggest surprise for us. We prepared for a sharp frost, but we were not aware of the power and strength of the wind in the mountains. The film's protagonists, weather observers, employers of the Meteorological Observatory of the Institute of Meteorology and Water Management - National Research Institute have been working there for many years and experienced a lot in direct contact with nature. I was particularly impressed by their stories about the difficulties in reaching their workplace in winter, during strong winds, when the cable railway to Kasprowy Wierch is out of order. The approach from Kuźnice takes up less than 3 hours, but often it turns out to be impossible. The employers of the station often help lost tourists, too. We witnessed such situations three times. Every time, the lost tourists showed extreme lack of knowledge about the changeability of weather in the mountains. Surprised and frozen, they were very lucky to reach the station. I am sure that they would not have survived more hours in the cold weather without any help if the station had not been there.
I think that an equally interesting film could be made about the work on your film. Just like the protagonists, you had to live in the high mountains and struggle with similar difficulties...
We lived 100 metres below the meteorological station, at the cable railway station. Often, it took us several minutes to cross this distance by path, holding the ropes. Initially, we covered this small distance by going "around," but it was very easy to get lost in the fog. We preferred to keep to the path. When we returned at night to our dwelling, we often had to hammer through the ice frozen on our door in order to get inside. I think that every member of the crew in his own way experienced the terror of winter in the mountains during day and night. We were well prepared, we had crampons, good jackets, torches. We felt completely safe at the mountain. When we were going outside the station, it looked like the cosmonauts going out of the space ship. During the fortnight of filming, we had only one cloudless night. I purposefully planned our stay there in such a way as to film the mountains in the light of the full moon. I managed to do it. It was an extraordinary, bright night. The snow had incredible metallic sheen. It was warm and peaceful - 10 degrees Celsius. At the mountaintop, we met skiers who skied downhill through Goryczkowa to Kuźnice in the moonlight. On the next day, the fog covered the mountains again and at night, there was a strong wind. For me, the most difficult thing was the struggle with my own physical exertion. I was not aware that I would "take a beating" there. Then I understood how physically fit the protagonists have to be. They cannot sleep during their night shifts, because every hour they have to take measurements. I admire their work and at the same time I am a bit jealous of their permanent contact with the wonderful changeable weather.
You have mentioned that going outside resembled trips to the outer space. "The Place" - through its mood and form - brings to mind films which are set in space. Was it intentional?
Long before shooting the film, together with Grzegorz Hartfiel we re-watched films which inspire us - "A Space Odyssey" by Stanley Kubrick, "Moon" by Duncan Jones, "Gravity" by Alfonso Cuarón and "Stalker" by Andrej Tarkowski. During the documentation in August 2013, we were inspired by various mysterious kinds of measuring equipment at the meteorological station. For me, the most beautiful one was the tool to measure the amount of sunshine - sunshine recorder. This device consists mainly of a glass sphere and removable paper strip on which the ray of light shining through the sphere with various intensity burns a mark. This glass sphere inspired me to concentrate in the film on the shapes of a ball, a sphere and in this way create the atmosphere of the station's inside. This symbol reflects a closed world, fullness, wholeness, is associated with the globe. In this way, I wanted to refer to the situation of our Planet, suspended somewhere in cold and indifferent space.
While watching "The Place," I got the impression that the film speaks a lot about the essence of observation. About a particular kind of concentration, patience, romantic delight in nature?
"The Place" is primarily a film about the essence of observing the world. The meteorological station and its workers symbolise the situation of earthly observers of the universe who use simple tools to learn about and describe the changeable, elusive space around them. I am fascinated by the process of observation itself. I am also fascinated by the quantum physics theories about the observer's influence on the result of the observed events. Nothing is constant, everything is relative and depends on the observer, who creates the reality. This is a never-ending process. Observing is constant, and the world around is changeable. In addition, observing the sky from the highest workplace in Poland seems extremely romantic to me. People who work there, through their incessant contact with nature and phenomena such as: Brocken spectre, St. Elmo's fire, thunderstorms, hurricanes, fogs, are - according to me - very lucky to immerse themselves in such a space. I wanted to spend some time with them, get to know this world, experience it. The protagonists allowed me to do it and I am very grateful for it.
"The Place" is a short film, without words, extremely consistent as far as form is concerned, in which that what is the most important reaches the viewer through the image. You planned such a form of the film from the beginning. I guess that during your stay at the meteorological station you have conducted many interesting conversations with the protagonists. Did you not consider including these conversations in the film?
From the beginning, I wanted to tell the story though image and sound. First and foremost, the viewer should look at the film, one does not have to explain everything to him with words. The viewer is intelligent, and, encouraged by the beauty of the cinematography, he eagerly participates mentally in the dialogue with the message. The film, through a sparse use of words, enables multidimensional, universal interpretation. This was my aim. This is what is the most beautiful for me in film-making: that you can code your own thoughts in image and sound, and then look at how the viewers decode it. In this film, I am not really interested in protagonists depicted in the manner of classic documentary film, I do not show them in such a way. Of course, as a result of introductory conversations and documentation, I know a lot about the work of the characters, but it is the place which is the main protagonist of the film. In tilt shots filmed from above, in the room called the rotunda, the people working at the meteorological station appear and disappear - as if from mandalas, they are "passing half-shadows." Sound plays an enormous role in the film. Grzegorz Liwiński and Marcin Cichoń, who worked on the set, recorded the swish of wind in various situations. Radosław Ochnio, who did the final edit of the sound, treated this film as a challenge, a possibility to create a peculiar world. In the film, I used an excerpt from the amazing song "Dni wiatru" ("The Days of Wind") by Ścianka, which added space to the landscape panoramas. My aim was to make the viewer feel coldness and presence in this place. I wanted the viewer to be captured by the image and the film's mood, taken for a peculiar journey to the place where he can himself interpret the existing space, where he can observe and create his own interpretation.
Thank you very much for the interview.