DOX‘ Pamela Cohn takes a look at The Andrej Wajda Master School of Film Directing,
Warsaw, Poland.

Pamela Cohn

Originally from Los Angeles, California, Pamela now makes her home in Berlin, Germany.Currently, she is a contributing writer and editor for several publications and websites such as FILMMAKER Magazine, DOX Magazine, BOMB Magazine, Guernica, Senses of Cinema, and Desistfilm.

The Wajda School is a key institute to highlight for many reasons. At this year’s 50th Krakow Film Festival, the school was awarded the Best Polish Producer for Shorts and Documentaries for the second time. Sitting on a quiet, tidy campus in the middle of Warsaw, the Andrzej Wajda Master School of Film Directing is a postgraduate institute for film professionals working in both narrative and nonfiction.

Adam Ślesicki

The foundation of the curriculum is project development. According to Adam Slesicki, coordinator of the documentary program, the school’s basic credo is “from idea to film.” Participants prepare and produce films with intense feedback from colleagues and steady mentorship by master tutors every step of the way. In a very direct and intimate structure, exchanges happen in an intensive workshop environment where all students evaluate one another’s work. From these dynamic conversations and work-in-progress screenings, films are born. This set-up is obviously not for those without the conviction and authenticity of vision. Students are partnered with a tutorial staff that is made up of some of the most renowned and professionally active Polish and European filmmakers of today, enabling the school to maintain a close working relationship with the film industry. Trained filmmakers come for the one-year courses to hone their craft, but more importantly, to make their first professional films. Students come from disciplines as diverse as journalism, screenwriting, or the visual arts, as well as from film schools. As with any professional school with merit, the Wajda School looks for candidates who have a certain amount of life experience.

Depending on the project, the school helps with production and distribution. According to Slesicki, for documentary projects, the trajectory could be as follows: “A project is developed during the course. If it is a bigger, more expensive project, we do the research and some preliminary shooting which enables the filmmaker to make a trailer with which to apply for funding. We apply to the Polish Film Institute (PISF), or other regional film funds for support, find co-producers, and/or make presales to broadcasters. In the case of first time directors, we can count on up to 90% of funding from PISF, the rest is in the form of in-kind contributions from the school. After completion, we collaborate on a festival strategy and prepare promotional materials. When a festival takes a film, we make sure the director makes it there. If it is an important market, a school representative will also go to make sure all possible opportunities for international distribution are realized.”

In other words, they offer substantial support, beyond theory, beyond the classroom. In terms of the philosophical approach the school embraces, it is one that looks for “truth and authenticity.” What specific tools these young directors use is up to them, as long as the film works emotionally, with an accompanying personal vision. Łoziński: “In our opinion, the point of documentary is not to describe reality, but to interpret it. Documentary is born out of the confrontation of reality with the individual self of the author: with his thoughts, intensity of perception, his sensitivity and intuition. The director’s inner life is to the same degree the element of reality as the one he encounters while making the film.” Looking ahead, the school will continue to emphasize its film production activities, remaining a working studio that supports young talent from Poland, and elsewhere. Since its foundation in 2001, the school has produced over 40 professional short documentaries and fiction films, and more than 200 student films.

Soon, the Wajda School will implement a new course for creative producers, filling an important niche in the marketplace. “We believe that a creative producer should be a partner for a film director, not only in taking care of the financing of the movie and assisting with production design, but also in helping the director make crucial [creative] decisions,” says Slesicki.

Thierry Paladino

The French filmmaker Thierry Paladino’s journey to the Wajda School was a unique one.He told me that at the Aix-en-Provence Fine Arts School where he was studying in his nativeFrance, “I didn’t fit with the atmosphere, with this ‘artistic way’ of thinking which  makes the things you say about your work more important than the work itself.”
Paladino express admiration for the Polish documentary filmmaking tradition: “At Wajda,
the documentary feature is a film, the same way a fiction feature is a film. Documentary
uses the same vocabulary – strong dramaturgy, good pictures, good sound, developed scenes.However, the film must be the point of view of the author. He must have something to say, to share.”


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