Jan P. Matuszyński talks about his latest documentary film, presented at 54th Krakow Film Festival - "Deep Love." We invite you to read the interview.

Dawid Myśliwiec: How did the idea of making a film about Mr Janusz arise?

Jan P. Matuszyński: The idea grew gradually. First, encouraged by the cameraman Kacper Fertacz, the producer Marta Łachacz came to me. She told me about two diving nuts, Artur and Janusz, who wanted to do something that no one has ever done before, namely, repeat the last deep diving performed by Janusz before he had a stroke. Artur "Siwy" Dąbrowski is not only a great diver, but also a cameraman who takes photos underwater. They were looking for someone who will help them to document the circumstances of the diving. Kacper was to film on the ground and, according to the first plan, Artur was to film underwater while Janusz was diving. For a moment they even thought about submitting this project to Munk Studio to take part in the "First Documentary” programme. Then I appeared and it turned out that the subject was really a big deal and required a serious film and longer running time. Back then we were thinking about an hour-long film.

My first idea was to make a film about how a friend helps a friend in need. At the same time, during the first meeting with Janusz, Asia and Artur I told them why I was so deeply interested in this story. My godfather, Rafał Chołda, was a Himalayan mountaineer who died in 1985, trying to climb his first eight-thousander, Lhotse. He fell more or less in the same place where Jerzy Kukuczka did four years later. Anyway, Kukuczka was his climbing partner then. I was half and a year old. I have no more than two photographs with my godfather. My family lived very close to the community of Silesian Himalayan mountaineers - Kukuczka, Hajzer and Wielicki. Thanks to this, I was imbued with mountains, but I also had the opportunity to observe people who face real extremes. They take maximum risk. When I met Janusz, I quickly realised that in fact he does the same thing as the Himalayan mountaineers. The only difference is the direction - he goes down as deep as possible.

What did you feel, observing his struggle with his own limitations? Compassion? Motivation?

I did not want to make another film about a person with disabilities. I was not interested in making a film simply about diving, either. For me, what Janusz wanted to do is a beautiful example of how, in spite of life tragedy, you can gird up your loins and continue to do something which you love. I remember how during one of the film editings, Iza Łopuch, the producer from the side of HBO, told me that after watching it she went for a run in a middle of the night, she was so positively motivated. This is exactly what I wanted to achieve. There has to be fire in your eyes and motivation to act and not complaining.
In the film, it is often said that the condition of Mr Janusz may significantly worsen any moment. Were you not afraid that you may witness your protagonist's death?

For us, filmmakers, it was important that we had a clear situation. First, there was the idea that Janusz goes back to diving and does what he has planned, and it was later on when the possibility of making the film arose.

We were fully aware that Janusz may not survive it. And from the very first diving in Powidzkie Lake. In the film, it is true, Asia stands alone on the pier, waiting as Janusz will emerge on his own, but in fact every one of us was there with her and was as nervous as she was. We knew that his every immersion may be the last one. For me, the most important thing was to be the witness of how Janusz is trying to do it. The fact that he has such an opportunity at all is precious, because it shows that it is possible. After his stroke, Janusz was only one of the bed-ridden, paralysed and unspeaking people. By his determination, hard work and persistence he brought about the situation in which he returned to the water as a diver. And how! Simply a come back to the world of the living! This is very motivating, isn't it?

The protagonists behave very naturally in front of the camera. How long did it take you to familiarise them with the camera?

I always stand by the camera to observe and tell the cameraman what happens outside of the frame and what he has to pay attention to. I believe that it is possible to make a documentary film in such a way that it has a uniform, clear form and is not a collection of random shots. For me, the statement that the most important thing is what happens in front of the camera is not a justification for technical shortcomings in a documentary film. I cannot stand films which are slovenly made. After all, you can always put something on before shooting.

I want to make documentary films at the same level as the feature films - the best possible level. I do not see any reason why it should be otherwise. It was important for me that "Deep Love" should be narrated using long shots. The best option was for the scene to be enclosed in one shot. At the same time, I wanted us to use longer lenses and less depth of field, because I felt it to correspond to what kind of person Janusz is. Such assumptions were of course very difficult to implement, but thanks to good documentation we knew in advance how our protagonists may move. I was always somewhere nearby and tried to anticipate "future implementation problems."

We were lucky because each of our protagonists had some kind of contact with camera or the media before. However, I think that the most important thing was that we managed to work out very good relationship and, most of all, trust in each other. Anyway, I am still good friends with Asia and Janusz, which would surely be noticeable in Kraków.

Ms Joanna is an equal partner of your protagonist. Did you expect that you would make a documentary film about two protagonists, both almost equally important for the turn of events?

During the first few days of filming, we were at Powidzkie Lake to shoot the material for the first trailer. We did not have almost any funding then, apart from the savings of Marta Łachacz. This is when Janusz, for the first time since having a stroke, went under water with the diving equipment. This is also when Asia came to the fore as the protagonist in the future film.

After this filming it was clear that we have not two, but three protagonists and then the idea for the film became clear. It changed to such an extent that during the main filming it was not completely clear whether the main protagonist will be Janusz or Asia.

I think that it turned out quite natural. As I have mentioned earlier, initially the film was to be about Janusz and Artur. I immediately realised that as a result of the fact that Janusz communicates with the world in such a way, we must have another protagonist who would be a buffer, in a sense, a translator. I thought that it would be Artur, but life quickly checked this and this place was filled by Asia, who became almost an equally important protagonist. From the formal side, it is in some ways reminiscent of "Amadeus" by Miloš Forman, where we have the story of Mozart, who is a genius, but whom we cannot fully understand, and that is why the story is told from the perspective of Salieri, who is much more understandable. In turn, Artur is in a sense the main antagonist, because it is he who enables Janusz to go diving, which Asia is so afraid of.

Many shots in "Deep Love" stay in one's memory forever, such as the scene in which Mr Janusz and Ms Joanna freeze, embracing each other while on a boat rushing towards the Croatian coast. How much planning is there in your film, and how much spontaneity?

Very much of the first one and the second one. The situation on the boat, which you have mentioned, is a moment in which they either did not know that they were filmed or did not care about it at all.

I try to be so prepared to filming that I am not particularly surprised by anything - we also prepared the action plan concerning filming in case Janusz died. Before we started filming, I had to know what to do if Janusz would not come to the surface.

I wanted the film to be told like a feature film, since the story allowed it. When I met Janusz and decided to make this film, he had just suffered a stroke, but he had not dived as a disabled person yet. We knew that Janusz wants to finally dive in Blue Hole in Dahab and he would strive for it. We also knew that he and Artur planned to have a training in Croatia earlier on. Anyway, divers have really ordered and well-planned lives and it helped us very much in predicting what may happen during the filming. We also had a little influence on some decisions, though I tried to interfere only when technical or logistic issues were in question. For instance, in Croatia we had a lot of convenience, because we knew that every day it would be the same boat which will set sail in the sea and that Janusz would always get on this boat in the same, not entirely fortunate, way. With this knowledge we could assume that, if the sea would be a bit rough, he may simply not be able to get off the boat. Therefore, on that day we set a camera right on the shore and waited whether he would be able to get off or not. This scene is included in the film, so I will not reveal how it eventually ended up. I can only say that there is one cut in it, because without it the scene would be simply a bit too long. If it were not for this, I would have filmed it in one very long shot.

As I have already mentioned, Artur and Janusz had a detailed plan, they knew how they should trim and where. This gave us some construction framework - from the first diving of Janusz to the final one. The situations connected to Joanna added to it. During the filming, it was not clear whether Janusz would be the main protagonist, so we also followed Joanna. We knew that at some moment there would be scenes of confrontation, like the one in Croatia at the grill party, when Asia has an argument with Artur. Then we took the camera "just in case." The situation developed on its own. And other, important dialogue scenes also developed similarly. In fact, the only scene which was to some extent provoked by me is the one in which Asia tells how come that Janusz suffered a stroke. I had to have such a scene in the film and I knew that it would not happen on its own. It was in the Crimea, where we filmed the scenes with dolphins (Asia conducts classes in dolphin therapy for children with disabilities). There were about twenty families with children there. I checked who of the parents know the story of Asia and Janusz. I selected one of the fathers who knew the least about it and he himself was curious how it was. I did not give him a list of questions. I only requested him to ask about everything he wanted to know but did not have the opportunity to ask. This conversation took about two hours, maybe even longer. There was a lot of cool, important things there, which did not fit into the film, because we could only choose one plot, and the circumstances of the stroke were the most important one. After the first editing the film was almost eight-and-a-half-hour long, and shortening it was a very difficult, but also incredibly interesting task.

You are asking about spontaneity.... There was a really large amount of it. My favourite moment is when Janusz and Asia sing the folk song "Szła dzieweczka do laseczka" together.... The question by Asia, whether he tried and sang with the lyrics totally floors me. It is the same with what happens at the notary's office. It is a totally unpredictable situation, but its frames - a visit to the notary - were known to us before, so we could prepare for it, at least in the technical sense.

The underwater photography was taken by the world-famous specialist, Roberto Rinaldi. How did you manage to bring about this co-operation and what did you gain thanks to it?

We had been looking for it quite a long time, three and a half months. The task was difficult, because I knew exactly what I wanted and at the same time it was almost like the dream of Janusz - something which no one has done before, namely, narrative underground photography which is as beautiful as in a feature film from Hollywood (or, to be precise, a feature film by Fincher, because they were to be gloomy) and at the same time fully documentary. I was not interested in fish, beautiful rocks or any other things typical for films about diving. We were closest to "The Big Blue" by Luc Besson, because it is probably the only film which presents diving (in this case, freediving) in a way worthy of film tape. In Croatia, we had another cameraman for underwater photography, but this was not it. Anyway, these photos were taken as spare ones and we rather did not want to include them in the film, though there was a lot of cool things there. However, after Croatia I knew that for the photography in Blue Hole we need a cameraman who is a diver, and not - as it had been before - a diver who can take photos underground. We made storyboards for the underwater sequence, because organisation of filming underwater is a real torment. When you are immersed in water, it is much more difficult to communicate than on the surface, and that is why you have to be well-prepared. What was important was the fact that we were making a documentary and we did not interfere in the diving of Janusz, that is, he dives and we film it, so he does not have to stand in front of the camera, as in feature films. It's really hard.

Roberto Rinaldi is a first class guy. He rocks, he is a man who does not give up. He did his best underwater and it is visible on the screen. Marta Łachacz found him, I do not remember exactly where. It seems that he resigned from a project for Disney in favour of our film, but when he heard what we want to do, he left everything and devoted himself totally to our film.

Apart from "Heaven," "Deep Love" is yet documentary of yours about a protagonist who fulfils his passion in spite of disease and his own limitations. Do you feel as a representative of these exceptional people? Do you intend to continue this "programme" of a kind?

I am proud of the fact that they put their trust in me and allowed me to tell their story. I admire them for their attitude to life and this is why I wanted to make these films. There is also another, darker side to it and it is probably what attracts me the most - struggle with human mortality. I am not saying it only on the basis of "Heaven" and "Deep Love" but also my first documentary "15 lat milczenia" (15 years of silence), in which the protagonist struggled with her personal tragedy years ago, and on the basis of new projects in which this subject appeared of its own accord. This is also related to my godfather, whom I know only from photos. I know that he was the best friend of my mum and an important person in our family. If he had not died, he would certainly be very important to me. He is important. It was about him that I wrote one of the first scripts when I was still in film school. It is to him (and Artur Hajzer) that "Deep Love" is dedicated. I think that this feeling of the lack of his presence is mirrored by my selection of projects. By the way, it is very possible that my next film will finally be a feature film début and its subject will be also strongly connected with what I am talking about.

For me, the possibility of asking questions is always the starting point. When I do not have clear answers, it means that it is a good idea to make a film about it. It was the case with "Heaven." How come that a seriously ill man, in fact, a dying man, is at the same time the happiest person whom I have ever met and says that the disease can be tamed? It was similar with "Deep Love." Getting acquainted with Janusz, I started to ponder whether he has the right to do something so risky. Later on, many other questions appeared, to which I wanted to find answers. However, I am aware that I must keep the answers to myself. Everyone can interpret the story told in "Deep Love" in his own way. And this is what happens, because there is "team Janusz" - people who fully understand him, and there is "team Joanna" that supports her attitude. There is also a large group of people who understand them both. So, how could I not make a film about it? Especially since I really love doing it.

The interview was conducted by Dawid Myśliwiec