Jihlava 2014 /Wojciech Staron

Take a look at the photo. It’s about Love, isn’t it? It comes from the film of Polish Wojciech Staron, ”Siberian Lesson”, that he made in 1998. On film stock. Here is the Jihlava catalogue description of the film: In an attempt at renewing the national identity of emigrants, after the fall of communism, Poland began to send teachers to areas, where Poles had settled. The director’s wife was one such “missionary”, and her commentary recounts her experiences of living on the remote Siberian plains.

Indeed it does recount and you get a fine impression of people and life in tough living conditions, but the film is also a declaration of Love from film director and cameraman Wojciech Staron to his girlfriend Malgosia. Caught by a caressing camera of the young Wojciech, who more than a decade later has established himself as one of the most prominent European documentarians with a unique ability to ”follow through emotions”. One of many quotable

sentences from Staron yesterday in Jihlava in a totally packed Dukla Edison cinema, where his two lesson films were screened followed by a question and answer session.

I asked him what he had learnt professionally in the time between 1998 and 2011. To trust the image, he said, to understand that the image carries information. And making feature fiction films has taught me a lot. You can see that, was my reply, there is ”a story” in ”Argentinian Lesson”, a ”love story” that develops between his son Janek and Marcia, the Argentinian girl with Polish origins, whose family background (ill mother, father working elsewhere) is tragic.

Staron talked a lot about film and video. The two lesson films are shot on film stock with a pretty small ratio: He brought home 4 hours from Siberia and 9 hours from Argentina. The huge different is the way of working, he said. With film you don’t see what you have filmed before the material is developed (he had material developed every third month when in Argentina), with video you have it and can watch it immediately. Staron stressed that he wants to be involved in the situations with his camera and told the filmmakers present that you have to be aware of the important tools you have: 1) What distance do you want to have from the characters, 2) Consequently, what lens do you choose, 3) What camera movements do you choose. Interesting it was to hear about his relationship to Janek in Argentina, that he characterised as ”we were playing together”, me with the camera and all the technical problems you  always have, he in front of the camera. We came very close to each other, in a different way than as a father and son.

I saw ”Siberian Lesson” at Cinema du Réel way back at the end of the 1990’es. To watch it again was a wonderful experience. You can’t help falling in love with Malgosia, as Wojciech did, and you have tears of joy in your eyes when they get married in Siberia. Romantic, yes, Staron is a filmmaker who follows the emotional line, wherever he goes. New lessons, he was asked, I would love to but my son does not want to leave Poland. Polish Lesson, one suggested…

Siberian Lesson, 1998, 58 mins.

Argentinian Lesson, 2011, 59 mins.


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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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