Jagoda Szelc

Jagoda Szelc was born in Worcław, Poland, in 1984. From 2002 to 2006, she studied at the Academy of Art and Design in Worcław. She later became a scholar of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Between 2009 and 2015, Jagoda studied at the Directing Department at the Polish National Film, TV and Theatre School in Lodz, Poland. Her films have screened at festivals such as Hot Docs, IDFA, New Horizons, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and the Brooklyn Film Festival. Her short film “Such a Landscape” won the Golden Tadpole Award at the Camerimage Film Festival in 2013. “Tower. A Bright Day.” is her feature debut that won the Best Debut Film and the Best Screenplay Awards at the 42nd Polish Film Festival in Gdynia. Tower. Bright Day. is an extraordinary debut feature that defies genre and easy description. Set in a small Polish village, family drama and the supernatural come together in an exhilarating combination.

Ahead of the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Voices of Women in Film,” Tara Karajica talks to Jagoda Szelc about women in Film today and her film that is screening at the festival.

 

 

How did Tower. A Bright Day come about?

Jagoda Szelc: This is a very wide question. Working on a film is like a strategic game, because it’s very hard to employ elements of genres and avoid stereotypical solutions. On the other hand, I love genre. I dreamed of making a film that would switch genres completely – just out of curiosity. And my biggest dream was seeing it fall apart. So the viewer looses control.

You use a family drama as a pretext to tell a story about the clash of two different orders. Can you comment on that?

J.S.: I’m not interested in what “films are about” as much as “what they do”. I define a film as a machine made to perform certain actions on the spectator. Watching a film is a form of ritual, because you are different after the screening than you were before it. That is why the title of my film changes. It is different at the beginning and different at the end. And the references to the film genres [I make in my film] interest me on a level I would call “primitive”. It is only a capsule.

You also use metaphors as well as intellectual ideas to show this clash, but what gives your film an extremely immersive cinematic experience is the sound design and the camera work. Can you elaborate on these choices?

J.S.: Both my cinematographer, Przemysław Brynkiewicz, and I wanted the film to be naturalistic, hence credible. In that way, we wanted to create a vehicle for more “formal” scenes. This way, we made a trampoline. One more thing: I don’t now what “realistic” means. Nobody knows. I believe everybody has a different reality. Working on sound is my favorite thing. That is where there are no “clean” reverse shots. There are transactions. Lighting is naturalistic. People say that this is the Dogma style. But Dogma, was a documentary style. That is all. Sound is naturalistic but also formal since it is the last sense that we lose when we die. It is a sense that connects the most with the “holy”.

Can you explain the title?

J.S.: For me only, I made a film about the necessity to lose control. We think that we are owners of the world, while, in fact, we are only renters. We are in a critical moment as a human kind – the over-production, the over-pollution and demanding attitude towards the world, cause many calamities on ecological and geopolitical levels. We are in the first stage of the apocalypse, but we are in a stage of “total denial”. The characters in Tower. A Bright Day are just like us. Are they bad? No. Mula lives in a constant illusion of control; she thinks that she is in charge of her life. But human beings are here just for a while and we don’t really own anything. Coffins don’t have trunks. Kaja, on the other hand, is a trickster; she brings chaos in order to form a new deal. She is a phenomenon (Bright Day) while Mula is a fortification (Tower).  I wanted the viewer to lose control with them in the end. And since we change during every film, the title should change as well. But I would say that, please, fell free to interpret it as you want. With this particular film, you will have to. But it is OK – you are an adult.

Your film draws inspiration from different works such as Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Von Trier’s Melancholia, Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby among many others. Would you agree with that? Would you add someone else to the list? Or, would you say that since it’s a debut, its style is highly personal? Or, all of the above?

J.S.: I don’t make films about me. And I don’t treat Film as a form of therapy. I make films about what I think. Also, I believe that everyone will see the film differently. For example, the beginning of the film was inspired by Somber by Philippe Grandrieux. Everybody sees something different. See, Art has to remind us that people are seeing and living in different realities; and that it’s very important to respect each other’s realities. It means that every one of us has a responsibility that comes in the form of free will. I wonder everyday if things I feel or think are mine or whether I acquired them. Another wonderful thing about films, is that they don’t exist in a material sense. They appear and disappear. They don’t pollute, and they don’t take up space. And I dream that I won’t leave anything behind after I die. I have no idea why people engage in a psychopathic struggle to leave something behind. The order of things is that we are supposed to vanish, and that is wonderful. I know that I didn’t answer your question in a way. But in a way, I did.

So I invented a word that sounds like “director+women.”

What is your opinion of the situation of women in today’s film industry? What is it like in Poland?

J.S.: The situation is that it is still a topic. Language determines everything. We live inside of language. In Polish “director” in female form is a diminutive form from a men’s job. So you can imagine how that determines everything. I don’t like “director” as well, because I am a woman. And I am proud of that. So I invented a word that sounds like “director+women.” It is a long conversation. In Poland, some people also say that my Cinema is feminine. It is not. Such a thing does not exist. I don’t know what that is. It is a Cinema made by a female. That is the end of the story.

How do you think the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Voices of Women in Film” will impact your career, your visibility and the promotion of European female film talent in Australia?

J.S.: I don’t really identify myself with the word “filmmaker”. I lack the ambition to perform this job forever. There are specific films I’d like to do, and if I start thinking only about how to get on set and work as director, I will quit. In general, I see my professional career only in terms of self-development. I think that’s healthy. So… I think only about how wonderful it will be to meet all those interesting people in Sydney.

Who is your favorite female filmmaker?

J.S.: Jane Campion, Agnieszka Holland and Sofia Coppola.

What are your next projects?

J.S.: It is called Delicate Balance of Terror and I would say it is a study on how systems behave during crisis. It is about hunger. Hunger is coming. Look at us. We have no shame.

 

 

This interview was conducted in partnership with:

 

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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