Malgorzata Goliszewska, Kasia Mateja & Anna Stylinska

Malgorzata Goiszewska is a documentary filmmaker with an artistic background. She graduated from the DocPro course at Wajda School in 2012 and the POLSKA.DOC course in 2011. She also holds a Master’s Degree in Multimedia Art. In 2016 and 2017, she worked at the Laboratory of Critical Film at the Department of Experimental Film (Academy of Fine Arts in Szczecin). She works with different media: documentary film and contemporary art, often combining these two fields. She directed several short films, two of which toured the international film festival circuit. Her short “Type of Birds” was shown at IDFA, Sheffield FFF, Cracow FF, PlanetDoc, New Horizons Film Festival and many others. Her film “Dress Me” was acclaimed by critics as a very innovative voice on women’s image.

Kasia Mateja is a filmmaker and photographer and a graduate of the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland – Faculty of Film and TV. She holds a Master’s Degree in Law and Administration from the University of Szczecin. For many years, she has taken part in movie projects, where she fulfils the role of director, cinematographer, editor, sound technician and producer. She has made documentaries and experimental films in Scotland, Ireland, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Mongolia, among many other places in the world. Her works have been awarded at international film festivals, including her debut feature documentary, “Silence on the Way to the Reindeer People.” Mateja also works as a photographer, mainly oriented towards travel reportage.

Anna Stylińska is a documentary filmmaker and independent producer. She graduated in Cinema Studies from the Paris X and the Creative Producer’s Course from Wajda School. She gathered experience in different areas of cinema production as a production manager, co-director, first AD, screenwriter and manager at a film festival. She was responsible for the promotion of Polish cinema abroad in the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. She has organized cinema workshops for disadvantaged youth for many years and has assisted Pawel Lozinski on “You have no idea how much I love you.” 

 

 

 

How did Lessons of Love come about? Where did you find Jola?

Malgorzata Goliszewska: I met Jola in 2016 at a dancing club for seniors called Cafe Smile, that appears in Lessons of Love a couple of times. I came to look for advice and inspiration in the topic of love. I was in a difficult and sad place then myself and I had lost hope in love and relationships for a while. Cafe Smile was an extremely joyful and hopeful place, perfect to be at that time for me. I started shooting a documentary film with Kasia [Mateja] as the DoP. Jola was one of the characters. After six months, we thought the film was almost finished and attended a documentary workshop – DocLab Poland – to help us with the editing process. We met Anna Stylińska, our producer, there. It turned out the film was not finished; it was hardly begun. Then, we started shooting at Jola’s place and concentrated only on her. Four years later, here we are.

Anna Stylinska: Exacly! When I met Gosia and Kasia, they thought that they had an almost completed film and didn’t need a producer. And it turned out that the footage they had was actually only a research shooting. But when I saw a short clip with Jola, I immediately knew there was a bigger topic there and the film should be a character-driven story of Jola, and not the portrait of the dancing club for seniors.

Your style is purely observational. Why did you opt for this approach in your storytelling?

Kasia Mateja: When it came to choosing the observational form, there was no dilemma, no discussions. Together with Gosia, we feel that this is the closest form for us. The choice of style and form was also natural for the personality of our protagonist. Jola’s whole world, her way of being is full of drama. This had to be patiently followed. For me, it was also important that the visual style of the story was fiction-like. This could be achieved by using two or even three cameras in some scenes, and worked out during the long editing process with our editor Alan Zejer.

M.G.: Personally, I am only interested in documentaries with an observational style. These are the documentaries I admire, enjoy and choose to watch. I look at them as art, as true cinema. I find it an ambitious, devoted and demanding way of telling stories. Demanding for the viewer, the character and the director. I believe we can get closer to our characters and their lives by simply being with them, simply being there, rather than interviewing them in detail about their stories and feelings. Documentary equals observation for me.

A.S.: It was clear from the beginning that we have to follow Jola as if it were just pure observation. But the process to get to the point where the film is kind of structured and simple in terms of narrative took us a lot of time. In Jola’s life there are so many things happening all the time, so Kasia and Gosia were tempted to film just everything and follow all the potential motives. It turned out to be quite difficult to edit. So, we decided to get prepared before each shooting much more precisely – we were all discussing the scenes, researching the places where we shot. We invited another talented DoP, Mateusz Czuchnowski, to join the project and since then, we mostly shot on two cameras. So, in the end, we had to stage much more the situations that we were filming and paradoxically they were more truthful to what we have observed in real life, than the ones filmed more spontaneously.

What was the shooting process like?

K.M.: As Ania said, the way we worked on the film has evolved over time. At the beginning, we shot a lot of material. Jola is an extremely complex and dynamic character. She is constantly in action. With this abundance of motives, it was difficult at first to decide which of them could be relevant for the film. As time passed, we became more and more precise and selective when it came to the choice of events that we will film. We were preparing for shooting more thoroughly. This situation was certainly influenced by the early start of editing. We saw what scenes are missing to build a film narrative. When it came to filming, it was very different. The number of people in the crew depended on the production capacity, complexity or intimacy of the scene. Sometimes, it was only Małgorzata and me, but most of the times the team consisted of five people.

M.G.: Yes, there were usually five people on the film set, but when we were filming in a tiny room in Jola, Bogdan or Wojtek’s house, we tried to limit the crew to three. It was very intense. There was so much happening at the same time, as Jola’s life is full of strange and unusual events, characters and objects. It was hard to narrow it down and find the essence of the story.

You show Jola’s determined side, but also her vulnerability and self-doubt. How do you see her?

M.G.: For me, she is like a little girl who likes to joke, giggle, have fun and fool around. She is extremely active and intense. She never seems to be tired. This can be overwhelming. She attracts attention wherever she goes and hanging out with her is a pleasant adventure where sometimes wacky and absurd things can happen. She doesn’t take life too seriously and that’s beautiful.

A.S.: For me, the most interesting thing about Jola is that she’s very complex and full of inconsistencies. She seems strong and determined and then she’s so fragile inside and insecure. She’s cold and distanced, but also joyful and you see that she cares about others. She’s very conservative when she talks about her role as a woman, her marriage, but she is also a free spirit, emancipating herself at the end of her life. She’s a victim of her husband, but not a stereotypical one. In Poland, we expect a victim to be grey, weak and crying, but here, we see a woman who’s colorful, energetic and enjoying life. I think that a lot of female characters in cinema are portrayed in a very stereotypical way and what is tempting about Jola is that she escapes all these categories. You cannot define her easily. You cannot understand her easily. And that’s why she’s so interesting. And probably that’s why her story inspires never-ending discussions with the audience because everybody sees something different in her.

K.M.: Jola energizes when you are close to her. Being in her company increases the level of joy. She loves adventures, she loves when a lot of things are happening around and thus attracts extraordinary people and events. She approaches difficult matters with laughter and hides her emotions and insecurities very deeply.

She got married, raised six children and is now leaving the past behind and starting to live again at the age of 69. In that sense, reinvention and finding one’s self at an elderly age is quite trendy today. It’s like a new coming-of-age, sort of “coming-of-age 2.0”. Would you agree with that assumption? What she is trying to figure out is whether all men are essentially the same, right? Because the conservative powers of her generation try to justify her abusive husband…

A.S.: I think that it happens often that at an older age you realize you are not happy with what you have achieved in your life and you regret many decisions you have made. But, sometimes, the fact that you have so little time left makes you think that you don’t have anything to lose anymore. I believe that Jola decided to change her life because she had stomach cancer and it became clear to her that if she wants more from life, it’s the last moment to take it. The biggest obstacles to her happiness were in her own head – she had all these limitations coming from social rules telling you what you are allowed to do as a woman. And she didn’t trust men. But she is courageous. She has that determination and strength. And the fact that we were making a film about her probably gave her more power. Unfortunately, a lot of people wouldn’t take any steps and would spend their last years embittered and sad. That’s why I believe that sharing uplifting stories like Jola’s is important.

Do you think it’s a feel-good, hopeful film in a way? Is its message: “It’s never too late”?

M.G.: I’d like to hope that this film will make you feel good and give you positive energy. And if you need them, it might give you hope and inspiration to let go of something that isn’t working in your life.

A.S.: I also believe that this film gives you hope – even if Jola sometimes only makes little steps, I know that for her they are huge. Stuck for forty-five years in a violent marriage, she has never learnt to love and be loved. So, when I see that she’s now hugging Wojtek, her new love, or caressing his hand, I truly think that that is a revolution for her. And even though the horrible topic of violence is always present in the film, I think the tone of the film is quite light and bittersweet – it couldn’t be different as Jola and her friends are joyful and full of humor. Lessons of Love makes you think that maybe not everything will go smoothly, but there’s a lot of trust in love and joy of life.

Can you talk about the title? It refers to lessons of self-care and self-love and self-respect

M.G.: “Lessons of Love” is a title of one song that was often played in Cafe Smile back in the very beginning of the process. I gave this title to the film when I still thought it would be about the dancing club. The film changed, but the title remained the same until the end. When Jola started attending her music lessons, this title still seemed to be perfect. Especially the fact that Jola is learning through the film to feel more connected to her emotions and how to function in her new life.

Are you feminists? If so, how does this inform your filmmaking?

K.M.: Yes, I am a feminist and I truly believe that the world needs to be liberated from patriarchy. I consider myself to be a tolerant person with a tendency to permissiveness. I try not to judge people because I believe that often people’s actions and views do not depend on them so much. The influence of the socio-cultural environment is often a source of the individual’s pathology. As a documentary filmmaker, I am definitely more interested in female characters. For me, women are more inspiring than men.

A.S.: Of course, I’m a feminist. I believe that all independent women are feminists even if they deny it as feminism has always had a lot of bad press. To be honest, while I’m working on a film set with my team, I don’t feel that I’m a woman making a film with a female team on a female lead. It really doesn’t matter what gender we are – we are just strongly driven by the topic that we share. But when we apply to funds or we confront our project with decision makers, all of a sudden, we realize that gender becomes an issue. It’s a very male-dominated industry and it’s sometimes very difficult to break through with stories that come from a very feminine perspective. While making Lessons of Love, we had to fight a lot with complete misunderstandings of the topic and we really needed to defend why we even wanted to make a film about that old lady because for many older men she appeared not interesting or even appalling. The more opponents we met the more I felt motivated to finish this film. I believe that cinema is a tool for empathy. And it has told already a lot of amazing stories shown from the male perspective. It has given the audiences access to the inner world of men that are depicted with huge diversity. But female stories are still so underrepresented and female characters are still so often stereotypical, less complex, or less important in terms screen time. I think that this need for making films about female stories makes me a feminist filmmaker.

What subjects interest you and that you would like to tackle in your work? What would you like audiences to come away with after watching your films?

M.G.: I love people. I would like to share this love through filmmaking. Film helps me answer questions and doubts that appear in my own personal life; it makes me grow and learn. I would like to share this process with others. And also, it makes me really happy to hear people laugh in the cinema.

K.M.: I’m interested in people that are on the margins of culture, civilization and society. I’m interested in abnormality, LGBT rights, animal rights and deep ecology. I would like my films to change the viewer’s view of himself/herself and the perspective of the world around them. That they would inspire the people to be more tolerant and gentler. It would be fantastic if the audience could feel emotions and experience them longer.

A.S.: As I said, I’m much more often tempted by the stories told from the female perspective. There are still so many worlds of women that are completely unknown and it would be great to see them on the big screen. I believe that for many women, it’s really empowering to recognize themselves in the movies. It doesn’t mean that I’m not curious about the men’s worlds and perspectives. But it hardly ever happens that I find a film that shows a men’s story that is still fresh and interesting. Especially when I watch the old masters’ movies like the recent films by Polański or Scorsese. I grew up watching their films. I adored them. But, honestly, I feel that they have nothing to offer me anymore – I’ve seen it all so many times that I fall asleep during the screenings. I also realized that projects that I work o, are often bittersweet in terms of tone. We have such a long tradition of documentary films that tackle heavy topics and are often tough and depressing. I like many of them. But I personally would like to make films that talk about serious issues, but in a way that’s funny, ironic, and warm. The world might be a very bitter place and that’s what is also tempting to show in documentaries. But I believe that a sense of humor and kindness are the only tools that we can use to deal with darkness.

Who is your favorite female filmmaker and your favorite film by a female filmmaker?

M.G.: I love Communion by Anna Zamecka and Bobbi Jene by Elvira Lind, both observational with strong and beautiful female protagonists. Honeyland is also an amazing piece of art. I very much admire Helena Trestikova for staying with her characters for so long. Miranda July is also someone I admire.

K.M.: I will list here Whale Rider by Niki Caro, The Piano by Jane Campion, Orlando by Sally Potter and Europa Europa by Agnieszka Holland.

A.S.: I’m also a big fan of Communion and I love Agnieszka Zwiefka’s first film, The Queen of Silence. I’m very much inspired by Celine Sciamma, Greta Gertwig, Sarah Polley, Sofia Coppola. One of the documentaries that touched me a lot is The disappearance of My Mother – even if it’s not made by a woman, it has a great female character and it’s told in a very gentle and beautiful way.

There has been a lot of talk about the situation of women in the film industry these past two and a half years. What is your take on the matter? How is it in Poland?

A.S.: I think it’s a topic for another interview as I could talk about it for hours! The Polish film industry has always been dominated by men and, as a result, a much smaller number of women’s films gets funding. Especially in fiction where there’s a lot more money. Few years ago, it became even worse because of the political shift in Poland. The government is extremely conservative and connected to the Catholic Church, so this mindset influences film funding a lot. It makes it even more difficult than before to make a film that’s not consistent with the patriarchal or religious values. But the good thing is that there are more and more great female directors and a lot of amazing female producers and many more opportunities to fund your films worldwide. And even in the DoP department at the Lodz Film School, two years ago, they accepted only women and one man. There’s a great network of women working in the film industry called “Kobiety filmu” (Women of Film) and it gives a lot of us great support and empowerment. I think that we became more aware of these mechanisms of power and we are determined to make films that we want no matter what.

What are your next projects?

M.G.: I am continuing various art projects. Right now, I am focusing on Twin Sisters. It’s a performance/documentary I’ve been doing around the world since 2014. The project is based on the idea of finding one’s astrological twin, a person born on the same day and year. I am searching for my astrological twin sisters around the world – women born on 12 June 1985. I have already found my twin sisters in a small village in Indonesia, in the capital of Macedonia, Skopje, in a small city in Latvia, in Barcelona, in Tel Aviv and in Kaunas, Lithuania. I also found one in Poland, who is actually a man, but performing at night as Drag Queen Charlotte. The sisters met each other on 12 June 2015, our 30th birthday in Szczecin, Poland. This was a birthday party, exhibition and my Fine Art Masters’ Diploma. I use this as an opportunity to see how different women of the same age live around the world. The “Twins” project is an attempt to examine women’s life situations all over the world and concentrate on the similarities and differences. It is also a quest exploring the idea of femininity, womanhood, sisterhood, being a stranger, an alien and being close to someone, asking about the global humankind family. Right now, I am trying to create an interactive website where all the sisters can participate and share their lives in real time.

K.M.: The process of creating Lessons of Love took us more than three years – it was very intense and exhausting. Now, I’m focusing on my personal life and jobs that would pay the bills. It doesn’t change the fact that I have my eyes open and that I’m looking for a topic for my next film. During the production of our film, I moved to Oslo and, at the moment, I have an idea for a documentary about a couple of immigrant girls from Poland – about how they are trying to have a child in Norway. The idea is very fresh and I don’t have a local producer yet.

A.S.: I’m currently working on the film Wika! directed by Agnieszka Zwiefka about the oldest DJ in Poland. I’m producing it with my great colleague, Kasia Ślesicka, and it’s an international co-production with Germany, Italy and Finland. It’s a story of an 81-year-old woman who plays in clubs for youngsters until 4 a.m. and believes that 80 is the new 40. But it’s also about dealing with the inevitable – the theme of aging and passing. All told in a form of documentary musical with choreographed dance sequences. It’s being made with a fully female crew it has everything I look for in films – an amazing character, a serious topic, a bittersweet tone and beautiful pictures. I’m also temped now by fiction film projects even though my heart belongs to documentaries. I’m curious about what the future will bring.

 

 

 

 

This interview was conducted in partnership with:

and:

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.

Previous Story

Elli Toivoniemi & Kirsikka Saari

Next Story

Paula Vaccaro

Latest from FADE TO...

Sahar Mossayebi

Sahar Mossayebi was born in Tehran. She graduated in Theater with a BA from The Azad

Claire Denis

Idolized not only by the next generation of talents in today’s Cinema such as Alice Diop,

Isabel Coixet

Following her 2022 documentary El sostre groc, Catalan trailblazer Isabel Coixet returns to fiction with Un

Kitty Green

Australian director Kitty Green follows up her critically acclaimed feature debut The Assistant with her sophomore

Lina Soualem & Hiam Abbass

After her directorial debut, Their Algeria, French-Palestinian-Algerian filmmaker Lina Soualem follows her mother, actress Hiam Abbass,