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Diversity and passion – interview with Tomasz Żółtowski, festival’s artistic director

11-th June 2015

Tomasz Żółtowski - dyrektor artystycznyThis year’s 13th edition of Gdańsk DocFilm Festival will take place on 11-14 June, at a new venue – the European Solidarity Centre. Justyna Jaranowska talks to the festival’s artistic director, Tomasz Żółtowski, about the reasons why the festival is worth visiting.

Justyna Jaranowska: 24 documentaries, 4 days of artistic events, the company of cinema celebrities. What is more, the event is free of charge. It sounds really appealing.
Tomasz Żółtowski: Yes, it does. This year, we want to give the documentary lovers the opportunity to participate in the festival for free. It must be admitted, though, that it was never an expensive event. Last year, a four day ticket cost PLN 35, while a daily ticket was only PLN 12.

J.J.: Why such a change?
T.Ż.: It is largely due to the change of venue. For many years the screenings were held at the “Neptun” and “Kameralne” cinemas on Długa Street in Gdańsk. Since the place is going to be liquidated in a couple of days and the European Solidarity Centre greeted us with hospitality, the 13th edition will be held there. It’s another chapter in the history of our festival.

J.J.: And it’s a symbolic place, which relates to the festival’s idea.
T.Ż.: A place with such history, connected with the August of 1980 and the political system transformation matches the convention of the event. Many of this year’s films are consistent with the the festival motto: “Dignity and Work”. But I shall be honest – 24 productions out of over 250 were qualified for the festival and some of them are not directly connected with this idea.

J.J.: Like the one about Wojciech Zamecznik, a famous Polish architect and author of many posters, or a carer from a nursing home who is sentenced for a murder.
T.Ż.: Yes, the stories are very diverse. There are many vivid characters in the best pictures. Unstoppables by Bartosz Kowalski is an example of this. It is a story of three American football players, who train in the Seahawks Gdynia Club. Each one of them is different. It is the diversity of the characters and their passion for achieving their goal that fascinates. The film is very well edited. Its style resembles American productions. But it is not a surprise – My Will, Bartosz Kowalski’s previous film was also a very distinct documentary. This is why it received a nomination for the Jan Machulski Award.

J.J.: …which is the award for the best Polish independent cinema productions.
T.Ż.: During the last edition we also showed another nominee for this award – Joanna by Aneta Kopacz, which was also a Polish Oscar candidate. It is worth mentioning that this year you can see two other Oscar nominee films, both from the short documentary category: White Earth by Christian Jensen and The Reaper, a Mexican documentary by Gabriel Serra Arguello.

J.J.: Do you think these are the thirteenth edition’s favourites?
T.Ż.: It’s hard to say. There are many other movies which in my opinion deserve attention, like Deep Love – a tale of a sixty-year-old man who fights for his passion: diving, or Something Better to Come, about a girl who lives at a rubbish dump on the outskirts of Moscow. These will definitely be significant films, but the decision which one wins will be taken by the jury. Magdalena Piekorz, a renowned director who received Golden Lions award at the Gdynia Film Festival for The Welts, will be the head of this year’s Jury.

J.J.: It is not a secret that the festival is famous for prestigious special guests.
T.Ż.: Such artists as Jan Matuszyński, Jerzy Morawski, Petro Aleksowski, Bartosz Paduch, Paweł Wysoczański and Anna Duda-Ziętek are going to visit us. We have also planned teleconferences for this year’s event. We will connect with Christian Jensen or an American director, Matthew VanDyke, the author of the documentary about the struggle for independence in Syria.

J.J.: There are also other attractions, apart from the main competition.
T.Ż.: Yes, we are organising a number of special screenings, which will be held in a historic place – in Sala BHP (Work Health and Safety Room). We will show sports films, not only the newest ones, like Mundial. The Highest Stakes, but also pictures which were made a few years ago, like ‘The End’ Bus from 1971. Polish documentaries have been on the highest level for many years, so it is advisable to remind the viewers about the exquisite productions from years ago.
We also want to familiarize our audience with the documentary work of the late Krzysztof Krauze. On Friday, there will be three Krzysztof Krauze in memoriam screenings. We will show some of his documentaries and our guest, Jerzy Morawski, who worked with Krauze on his scripts, will tell us more about them.
Apart from that, we will have a review of Magdalena Piekorz’s documentaries on Saturday. Many viewers associate her with fiction films, but the director has also made 8 documentaries. The schedule of the entire festival is tight; apart from the attractions we have already mentioned, there will be conferences and lectures on documentary cinema.

J.J.: The competition will last from Thursday to Sunday, but the competitors who struggle for the Gates of Freedom award will only hear the verdict on Sunday night.
T.Ż.: It needs to be added that the films also compete for a prize of  PLN 20.000, which has been funded by the mayor of Gdańsk, Paweł Adamowicz.
We are starting of Thursday afternoon. During the opening there will be a special screening of Virunga, a documentary produced by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Screenings will be held everyday. Everything has been thoroughly described in the festival programme.

J.J.: The last question: what would you say to convince the undecided to participate in your event?
T.Ż.: I’ll say this: many think that if something is for free, it’s not worthwhile. In this case, it’s the exact opposite. We’re going to present fantastic films, which will later be difficult to see on the large screen. They are Oscar nominee pictures which received many awards at numerous international festivals. If someone is even slightly interested in documentaries, they should definitely come to our event. Its level will definitely be very high. I guarantee that.

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