ALLY DERKS ON POLISH DOCUMENTARIES AND DUTCH, FACT DRIVEN PASSION
„Jerzy Bossak, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Marcel and Paweł Łoziński. Without them Polish documentary would not be the same” – said Ally Derks, the director of International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), during this year's 51. Krakow Film Festival.
If you were to name three things that come to your mind while thinking about Polish documentary, what would that be?
Ally Derks: First of all it is always cinematography. Then documentary decline since 1992 – when it was clearly visible how things went really bad with Polish documentaries. I also always think about the Krakow Film Festival, recalling the moment when I came here for the first time and met Andrzej Kołodyński, who was the festival’s director back then.
It was in 1990 during the 27th edition of the festival when you were a jury member .
A. D.: Yes, but referring once again to your question I always associate Polish documentary with such directors as Jerzy Bossak, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Marcel and Paweł Łoziński. Without them Polish documentary would not be the same.
And how did this particular interest in Polish film grow?
A. D.: I think that the story started actually here, at Krakow Film Festival. Then, with the idea of showing Polish films in Holland and organizing the retrospective screening I went to the National Archive in Warsaw and a dozen of different archives and filmschools all over the country. It was a difficult quest. There was basically no translation so I was completely dependent on the interpreter. All in all it was worth the effort as I managed to find some very interesting films.
There were precisely 165 films screened at IDFA so far– some produced in the sixties, seventies – reminding of the Polish documentary school, the others made in the last few years. Is there any common feature that you find especially exceptional about those films?
A. D.: Obviously those films cannot be clearly compared because of the fact that they were made in a different time and they stem from different political and social circumstances. In the 60ties and 70ties the filmic language was obviously different from what it is like now. As filmmakers were trying to avoid the censorship interference, the content was expressed in the metaphors and symbols. I think that the storytelling was more secretive even though the cinema of that time was very political and this subject was always perceptible. Even now I find this kind of secretiveness really Polish.
What was the reaction to those films?
A. D.: People were very intrigued. Especially on seeing films dealing with delicate problems. To mention the earliest films, made just after II World War like “Majdanek – the cementary of Europe” by Jerzy Bossak. He was the one who ventured to shown the concentration camp in the documentary film. I really find this particular type of artistic courage and his unconditional need to show reality as it is truly significant. As many may not remember Amsterdam used to be a Jewish city, and there were many Dutch Jews who got into the concentration camps such as Dachau or Auschwitz so people’s reaction to those films was very emotional and they were truly overwhelmed by what they saw. What I can observe is that every time we screen films that deal with Jewish subjects the audience is always very interested and the screenings are sold out immediately.
Hence, there is a certain interest in Polish cinema.
A. D.: Absolutely, today I happen to see four pitching sessions at Dragon Forum and on hearing the presentation of young Polish filmmaker I could immediately tell that he has certainly a great talent. So it’s coming back, the tradition is there and I do hope that many young filmmakers will see those older films and get inspired by them.
As it happens right now in Holland?
A. D.: I find Holland quite similar to Poland in a way that it has a genuine documentary tradition and background – to name just a few – Joris Evens, Bert Hanstra, Hammon Vonder Horst – that were pioneers at the documentary cinema. I always say – Czechow was not born in the Netherlands, we lack this big heart and romanticism, our heritage is based on more of down to earth pillars. In the end we are a nation of eseists, reality painters etc. So the documentary fits this slot very well even today with such a talented filmmakers like Henny Honigmann, John Appel, or Jeroen Berkvens. We just love the facts (laugh)!
Interviewed and translated by Zofia Ścisłowska
* After studying Dutch literature and film and theater Ally Derks became coordinator of Festikon, an annual educational Film and video festival in Utrecht. In 1988, supported by Netherlands Film Institute, she set up the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). Since 1989 she is the director of IDFA. Ally Derks is also director of the Jan Vrijman Fund that supports documentary filmmakers in developing countries since 1998. Ally Derks has been on many juries, amongst others in Sundance, Krakow and St. Petersburg. Over the past years she has won several awards for her contribution to the documentary field, such as the Lifetime Achievement Award at DocAviv in Tel Aviv (2007) and the IJ Prijs by the city of Amsterdam and PricewaterhouseCoopers (2008).