Paweł Łoziński: “The Balcony Film” wished the Earth would still be a good place to live

This is not a pandemic movie, says Pawe Łoziński, author of The Balcony Film, which has just hit cinemas. “I wanted him to give people hope that planet Earth is still a good place to live,” the director adds.

Polish News Agency: In “The Balcony Movie” you showed people walking under your balcony in Saska Cuba. He asked them who they were, what stories they carried, and what life meant to them. This movie is an expression of your interest in everyday life, or maybe you were just looking for a job during the pandemic?

Paweł oziński: I’m interested in people’s stories, what other people think, and what question marks they carry throughout their lives. I thought if I put the camera on the balcony and wait for the heroes to come in my frame – thus changing the rules of the game, because I usually run behind people with the camera – I’d get a picture of a piece of the world and reality and maybe even a psychological picture of the Poles. This is not an epidemic movie. She began filming in 2018, when no one had heard of the virus yet. I was already done when the epidemic started. People started wearing masks, and there was only one topic of conversation. I decided I didn’t want to end the movie with sadness and anxiety. I preferred my film to give people hope that planet Earth is still a good place to live. In fact, it is already an archival record, so even before the epidemic and the war in Ukraine, the world looked like a safe place.

PAP: In the first shots we can see that passersby treat you with complete suspicion. They stop for a moment, but master their words and after a while they tell them that they are in a hurry somewhere. How did you gain their trust?

s.: At first, I wasn’t sure if I could get a deep picture as I love photographing people. I was afraid that from the first floor from a distance of 5 meters and in the general plan I would not look deeply into their eyes. These doubts dissipated very quickly. It turns out that the man speaks with his whole body, and the distance has become an asset that guarantees freedom for the heroes. Besides, passers-by saw that I was not going to give up and began to trust me. This is actually the case with every movie I make. People can see that I’m not a pop-up TV news crew for a moment I’m trying to listen willingly to. Then they are more likely to share their stories. I was on the balcony for a total of 165 days of filming. I managed to talk to two thousand people.

We exchanged stories often. When I heard that someone had a patchwork family, I shared my family’s story. To connect with the characters and get something, you have to give them something. Your time, interest, patience, or your own story. After months on the porch, it has become an element in my home, street, or neighborhood scene. Everyone knew there was a man on the porch with a camera and microphone on a tall pole, with whom you could talk. To some, that sounded very encouraging. They admitted that they had heard about me and came to tell others something about themselves.

PAP: There are a few parts in the movie where you talk about yourself. You gave the voice to the heroes because their stories sounded more interesting? Or maybe you are also present in these people’s stories – especially your family?

s.: Yes, my wife and daughter are talking about me. They say that I am standing on the balcony, doing experiments, and sometimes they can hardly stand it. “He has no contact with him,” my daughter Ida says. My questions also speak about me in a way, the way I talk, I communicate with people – all this also relates to the workshop of a documentary filmmaker. People’s stories have always seemed more interesting to me than mine. That’s why I didn’t want to come out on top. It wasn’t supposed to be a movie about making a movie, but rather a movie about bystanders directed by a director who reveals a little about his workshop secrets.

There wouldn’t be a “Balcony Movie” without a great cast, for which I am very grateful. The duo Piasek & Wójcik helped me with assembly, i.e. selecting and arranging materials. Franek Kozłowski and Ucho Studio were responsible for the sound. You made it beautifully. It cleaned up all my hundreds of recordings, which were sometimes of poor quality. Jan Duszyński wrote great music. I just wanted it to be music about the passage of time, like drops of water or the chimes of a clock. I would also like to thank my wife Agnieszka Mankiewicz, who produced this film, acted in it and lived with me for months, maybe even years.

PAP: In the past, you pointed the camera at yourself and your father, Marcel Lozinski, in the documents “Father and Son” and “Father and Son on a Journey.” Do you think you can make a “Home Film” this time?

s.: That experience with my father was difficult. We were ready for that, because we are managers and we know the rules of this game very well. We then agreed that we could do it to each other – that is, I could show him and he could show me – but we would not involve anyone in our family. We didn’t want to talk about them or about them. If two people agree to it, that’s okay. Of course I would like to put a camera in the house as well, but it will never work. My family would not agree to that. There is a border, and the street besides that is much more interesting.

PAP: You previously mentioned about two thousand interviews that were conducted. Were there moments when you felt a lot?

s.: Instead, you are not satisfied all the time. I’ve been asked if this is really a movie or not yet. I spent more than two years on the balcony. I didn’t have time to gather. It was hard for me to feel what stage I was in. Still wanting more, I waited for the threads of the main characters to close. For my own costs, the hardest thing for me was to get off the balcony guard and stop shooting. It was addictive to me that you can meet nice people every day, talk and communicate. In the morning, my wife would go to her office, as you can see in the movie, and I was standing on the balcony. This is a great opportunity for a director who is very close to their job. After the movie, I felt empty. Of course, I can go down and meet my heroes on the street, but that’s a different way of talking about the one on the balcony.

PAP: Have you had no problems getting approvals to use photos of people you met spontaneously on the street?

s.: After the conversation ended, I took the effect of both heroes. Once we picked 80 film heroes, we did a lot of exploring with production director Zosia Kujawska and my wife. They were people from different cities and countries. We were able to reach everyone and get approved without any issues. I was glad it showed that I didn’t abuse their trust. They did not feel used. They gave me their story and they did not regret it. It was a very good experience for me.

PAP: One of the heroes advised you to create a feature film with an interesting plot on the basis of the collected materials. However, Lord remained faithful to the document. To what extent is your infatuation with him something your father instilled in you?

s.: It is difficult to judge. But the fact that my dad is a director definitely affected me a lot. Our entire house was living in a documentary, so there was little choice. And when it turned out that filmmaking worked for me, I stayed with this doc. I’ve tried plots, but I’m less in the way with it. I am very demanding and sensitive to falsehood. I figured out how hard it is to create reality and then actually fill it with actors in a way that makes me believe the story. So why would you actually create this world from scratch when someone had already done it for me? Someone has already brought my neighbors and passersby to Earth, so why not take advantage of that? This world was just waiting for me to put the camera there one day.

PAP: Another interesting question is how a documentary filmmaker creates reality. In “The Balcony Movie” life appears, but still by choice. What key did you take?

s.: I wanted it to be a movie about people, but also about Poland. The key was simple: I chose the people who cared about me, who I loved. It also featured people who are excluded from our power, that is, sexual minorities. An elderly gay man told me his touching love story. For 40 years he lived with his partner, they pretended to be brothers. So they began to hide that they were a married couple, during the communist regime. But since they also had to live in hiding later, there must be something wrong with society. I have no doubt who cares to divide us, dictate us, who we should live with, who we should sleep with and the church to which we belong. The authorities are interested in controlling us. We will be hers, not hers. It bothers me a lot and I decided to stand up for officially excluded people, called “ideology”. I wanted to show that they are completely normal, that they love and suffer like all people. Nationalists also appear in my film. They are boys from Ludwijce, the city of the Pope, who say you have to love your neighbour, and then add that they do not tolerate “grumbling,” as they put it. And after a moment they apologized to me for it, because they realized they had come a long way. So much good. It’s also a big part of Polish society, so they also found their way into my film.

PAP: I like you because you know how to be disciplined and you try to connect with everyone. But that’s the point of this movie, which is that we have to talk to each other despite our differences.

s.: Yes, this is a movie about need to talk. It turns out that it was possible to create a private, communal, secular place, which people could approach and let go of even their most intimate stories. But it’s also a place where people with different points of view come in. Suddenly it turns out that the conversation is not about convincing someone, but about listening to them. I met a lady who wanted to convince me to pray the rosary. It was a collision between two worlds. You didn’t believe I was a nonbeliever, I wasn’t baptized, and I didn’t believe you could walk down the street holding a rosary and say a prayer while walking your dog. However we can talk. As long as we exchange opinions and no one forces me to change my mind, everything is fine. It seems to me that our Poland does not look as bad as the media portrayed it. It’s easy for a ruler to throw ourselves at each other. They create false threats, they create enemies, and we have to fear each other. Then they play the wrong role of saviors and get votes in the next elections. But from my balcony observations, it seems we’re not at all at odds. We can still create communities and talk to each other.

Interviewed by Daria Borica (PAP)

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