Jerzy Sladkowski on his film Don Juan

Jerzy Sladkowski’s ”Don Juan” was shown here in Belgrade the other night and his Q&A meeting with the audience in the vip room of the Sava Center lasted for more an hour in a packed room, where many were sitting or lying on the floor.

Sladkowski talked so well about the film, assisted by his cameraman Wojciech Staron, that I decided to quote him (almost) word by word, of course in an edited version.

JS: Earlier it was called Gorki, now it is Nizhny Novgorod and I wanted to make a ”feeling good/ feeling better” film on how therapists in a clinic there were healing people with traumas. Through humour. It’s Russia and Chekhov, and I wanted to work in the field between humour and sadness. We went there for research but there was no humour. We woke up in deep shit, so to say. But then Wojciech (Staron) came. To observe. He moved the camera around and said that it always stopped at this boy, Oleg. It would not have been my first choice. But then I heard him

quarrelling with his mother. We shot the first day, their being together. Not enough for a film. But the mother got the idea to get him into a theatre and dance school. And then the story with him and Tanya evolved. Tanya studied medicine before, psychology.

I was worried that she would make him believe she was interested in him, but she said always ”stay cool”, ”I know what I am doing”. I can balance it. We understood that Oleg changed a little bit. When he is under stress, he can not control, he is an idiot. But if not… Today he is a taxman and he is a pain in the neck for the taxpayers!

I want to make a third film from Russia (the one before ”Don Juan” was ”Vodka Factory”) and it has to be a humorous one. I have actually made 25-26 films in Russia. Instead of describing the differences I want to say what combines us.

This is not an easy film to watch, it is slow and mostly it is what happens in the faces, which constitutes the film.

We asked Oleg, what he was doing tomorrow – therapy, ok then we will go with you. He wanted to help us with the film but he acted when he was under stress. The best shots, are when he is natural. We gave him the camera but it did not work. He was kind of acting all the time. Wojciech had a hard time…

Wojciech Staron: The first duty of the cameraman is to have fun, to create the spirit and joy – when I had done so, I used my professional skills. I liked to work with him, we got closer each day. A process but quite quick. We shot 3 times 2 weeks. The job of a director is to convince the character that the camera does not hurt you!

JS: It was a game, reading him and then push forward instead of devastating him! Again, we could not foresee the consequences of being there and I did not have control over Tanya and Oleg. She just wanted to help as a friend. Don’t go too far, I said to her, ”don’t worry”, she said. She was flirting, also with me, but she is an actress.

WS: It was a strange mix of empathy and acting.

JS ended by declaring himself ”a true documentarian”, always on the hunt for the real.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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