"Dark House" Awarded in New York
Two Polish films – the documentary 10 lat do Nashville (10 Years to Nashville) by Katarzyna Trzaska and the feature Dom zły (The Dark House) by Wojciech Smarzowski – screened at the 13th Brooklyn Film Festival, which came to a close on Sunday, June 13. The producer of The Dark House was awarded a certificate of outstanding achievement.
The Brooklyn Film Festival celebrates independent cinema from around the world. This year marked the thirteenth edition of the event. Screenings of Wojciech Smarzowski’s The Dark House were held at a cosy cinema in Brooklyn Heights. As the festival’s programming director Nathan Kensinger stated, The Dark House was one of a hundred US premieres, selected among 2,400 submissions from 92 countries. What were the criteria? Artistic value, film craftsmanship, and naturally the plot. According to Kensinger, Smarzowski’s feature was produced with utmost care, which leaves no doubt as to the high professionalism of the filmmakers; in addition, the film has an interesting and dark ambiance, comparable with the works of the Coen brothers (Kensinger compared it to No Country for Old Men). But the key reason for recognizing the film was its storyline: “Though the story is set in 1970s communist Poland, it sends a universal message and makes you think about human nature and its dark sides. I think this film can easily be placed next to classic film noir pieces – a genre that’s very popular with American audiences,” says Kensinger. “On the other hand, the average viewer not acquainted with Polish history will find it interesting to move back to the 1970s and see a reality that for us is difficult to imagine. Corruption, misappropriations, and the manipulative actions of the communist government in Poland are all exotic traits that cannot be overrated. But most importantly, this is a very good piece of filmmaking.”
When exchanging views after the screening, audience members kept saying that the film was very compelling; they appreciated the same exoticism that Kensinger mentioned. “Here in the US it is hard for us to imagine that someone could be bribed with, say, cigarettes”; “It’s a very interesting and scary look at the past. I hope that Poland today looks different; nobody should be afraid of travelling there”; “Though it was interesting to see images of Poland from the communist days, the fact remains that this story could have happened anywhere – whether in Georgia, the Bronx, or in the Polish countryside,” – these are only a few of the viewers’ opinions collected after the screening.
The creators of The Dark House started their Q&A session in a rather unorthodox way – with a question for the audience. “During the screening, how many of you thought that the main character wanted to kill the Dziabas family?” asked Wojciech Smarzowski. Only one person raised their hand, among several dozen in the room. “That means we were successful. We wanted to tell the story in the least obvious way possible; to have at least 5-10 percent of the audience think that the main character wanted to kill, regardless of how it really was. We fought about it at the editing table, we filmed several alternative endings, finally deciding on the one we found ever so slightly ambiguous – all to have even a single person raise their arm today.”
Questions from the audience referred mostly to the technical side of the film’s production process and to the soundtrack. “Mikołaj Trzaska is a musician probably better recognized by audiences in America than in Poland,” quipped the filmmakers. “I had worked with him before; on a teleplay. So I knew his potential. We wanted to find music that would enhance this atmosphere of terror and uncertainty. And I think we succeeded,” said Smarzowski. “Did you come up with this ghastly story yourself, or is the film based on other writing?” asked someone from the audience. “The story is fictional, but it is partly based on police reports from the late 1970s and on a short story called “Niespodzianka” (“Surprise”) by Karol Hubert Rostworowski. Actually, this story serves more as a pretext to contemplate the condition of mankind,” was the director’s answer. The Dark House producer Feliks Pastusiak said that to him this film resembles Jerzy Kosiński’s Malowany ptak (The Painted Bird). “When our film screened at the Tokyo Film Festival, the Polish consul in Japan came up to me and said that we made a film that was awful and excellent at the same time.
The jury of the Brooklyn Film Festival must have shared those feelings, awarding a certificate of outstanding achievement to the producer of The Dark House. “I can’t speak for the festival jurors, especially since they debated behind closed doors, but I can guess that they wanted to express acclaim for this excellent film and all its creators. The award for the producer serves as more of a symbol; in reality it goes to everyone who participated in the making of this film,” said Nathan Kensinger, the festival’s programming director.
Written by Ika Sobczak-Conover, New York
Translated by Karolina Kołtun