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Andrzej Wajda about himself

The Birthplace

My family comes from the village of Szarow. Not far away, several miles from Szarow, in the Brzeziow graveyard, lies my granfather, Kazimierz Wayda, still spelt with a "y". These country origins seem essential to me, since from this tiny village, from this place and this family came four young men, all of which became educated people, members of the intelligentsia. One of them was my father, so I am only second generation intelligentsia myself. I think that there was a kind of strength in these young men, who left everything behind because they believed that all their future is before them. At the age of 16 my father joined the Legions (a Polish liberation corps in the I World War), where he became an officer. The second brother found employment as a railway official and until the outbreak of the Second World War he held the post of a director in the Krakow Railways. The third set up a large locksmith's shop, where I worked during the German occupation; the youngest brother, who was a promising farmers' activist, died prematurely.

I think that the force that drove these boys to run away, to avoid staying in one place because life was somewhere else... that I am also driven in this way... I have never wanted to live in places where I was thrown by chance, instead I strove for places which - it seemed to me - I should reach.

So after the war ended I travelled to Krakow, because I thought that my destiny lies at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts. Then I went to Lodz, because of the foundation of the Film School - the only one in existence at the time - where I thought my place was. Then I left Lodz for Warsaw, because it was where all the filmmaking decisions were made and, besides, a person simply ought to live in Warsaw. And then I returned to Krakow once more, because the Stary Theatre was here. It always seemed to me that life wasn't here and now, not in this place where I was living, not in this film I was making - although every single one of my films and theatre productions was made with the conviction that it is meaningful and important. But I always thought that there is something more before me, that I should be running, striving, chasing this something... it is very difficult to define. I think that escape is the most important theme of my life, continually linking my past to the things that will happen tomorrow. I think that the energy which drove my father and his brothers, was exactly the same energy which I sense in myself, the energy which, so to speak, forced me to work so intensively and to run so hard from this pastoral landscape. Perhaps I should have spent my life looking at these mountains and doing nothing else...

An excerpt of a speech from the film "The Debit and the Credit"

The War and Occupation

After the death in 1903 of their father, Kazimierz Wayda, all his sons (my father was 3 at the time) moved to Krakow and helped each other get an education. They were in Krakow again in the 30's, when they restored the house, their only piece of property. At the back of the house was the locksmith's shop; in this house, on the second floor, I used to hide during the occupation. And I must say that my uncles were so discreet (I think that this is a virtue of our family) that only after the end of the war I found out that in the same house they also concealed Jews.

So, thanks to my father's brothers, I was able to survive the occupation; I probably owe them my life, because my papers (documents) were very insufficient. I had to stay at home, I was scared even to go to the tram stop, because there was always some kind of control going on. Of course, it might seem that all I did here was just hide out with my family, but my uncles were extremely serious about all of this. There were several people employed here, we all had normal, everyday tasks, from which I returned late in the evening. If I still had any strength left I climbed out on this balcony, and here I painted some landscapes of the Salwator district. Sitting somewhere near the house I also painted this stream, and this was practically all I managed to do besides the hard work in my uncles' workshop, where I had to go every day.

This work later helped me understand what physical labour really means, what it means to work every day, to go to work in the morning, and when later, in the 50's, there was talk about the workers, the working class, I could say to myself "I have also been a worker". It was not strange to me.

An excerpt from a speech from the film "The Debit and the Credit"


My father was an officer, a junior lieutenant in the Polish Army. My mother was a teacher; she graduated from a teaching college and worked at a Ukrainian school. So they were a typical intelligentsia marriage. My father was promoted very quickly and he was moved to Suwalki, to the 41st Infantry Regiment garrison. And that's where I was born. Officers were constantly transferred from one garrison to another, so my father soon moved to Radom.

Professions such as a teacher or a military officer are directed towards other people. A teacher teaches children, an officer also educates, in a sense, disciplining the soldiers in his care. So both are people who work for others, not only for themselves. I think this quality was very distinct among the Polish intelligentsia in those times and I didn't know that a person could behave otherwise. You live for others, not for yourself.

And suddenly, in 1939, everything collapsed. My father was lost; he went to war and never came back. My mother could not stay at home, she had to go to work, we became workers. Our intelligentsia family found itself in completely different surroundings. I was 13 when the war broke out, so the only things I retained were the things that my home, school and the church had given me until that age.

My father, Jakub Wajda, lived only to the age of 40. He was captain in the 72nd Infantry Regiment and died at Katyn. But until 1989 we were not allowed to make an inscription on the family tomb, saying where he was killed. The censorship was so strict and the ban on all information on this subject so rigorous that when I recently tried to find a copy of the newspaper, published by Germans during the war, with the list of Katyn victims, my father's name among them, it turned out that the paper simply did not exist. Some mysterious hand removed the relevant copies from the library collection, so the experience of living through perhaps the most shocking moment of my life, when I could find out from a German paper that my father had been murdered, was denied to me.

War put an end to my country life - and to my pastoral life, because all childhood seems pastoral. Because of the war I finally could and had to make my own decisions, I knew I could no longer rely on anyone, everything now depended on me and only on me.

My father considered it natural that I should go into the Army. In 1939 I went to Lwow to enroll into the Cadets' School, but unfortunately I failed. I had always tried to have something to draw, I deemed this more interesting than other occupations, but nobody knew what should come out of it. During the occupation I realized, however, that I want to do this professionally and for a few months I attended drawing lessons at an art school owned by a professor from Lodz, which the Germans still allowed at that time. But the occupation became inceasingly more brutal, further education was out of the question, the usual choice was to hide or to work in a firm which could supply good papers - that is documents, which would allow us to go out in the street and move about in a normal way.

My mother came to Krakow near the end of her life, in 1950. My brother and I were already students at the Fine Arts Academy, and she was left behind alone in Radom. Our father didn't return from the war. We still had some hope, but in 1950 we were fairly certain that he won't come back. So our mother moved in with us, to our home in the Salwator district, and when she died prematurely - she was only 50 - she was buried here, because this is the Wajda family tomb and our uncles decided that she should remain here.

An excerpt from a speech from the film "The Debit and the Credit"

The Fine Arts Academy

The Fine Arts Academy was, and still is, named after Jan Matejko. In 1945 it experienced an influx of Paris-educated professors, who painted beautifully in the French postimpressionist manner.

But we soon realized that this was a contradiction. Here we were, painting nudes, flowers and still lives in the best French spirit, but our personal experience, our world, were quite different. We had seen the occupation and all its filth, we worked in factories. My fellow students often came straight from the Army, some of them still in uniform - nobody had any clothes to speak of, so everyone wore a uniform (I also dressed in my father's uniform which I had dyed navy blue) - but they came straight from the Army, dressed in battle green, and our shared experince was inconsistent with our painting. We felt we had another story to tell, but our painting expressed what we meant very incompletely - or not at all.

Here we had seen the smoking chimneys of the crematoriums, the arrests, the street roundups, the Warsaw uprising - and they were like Cézanne, who when he was asked, What did you do when the Prussians advanced on Paris? answered, I painted some landscape studies. They, our professors, dared to paint lanscapes and still lives during the war. And it was a kind of resistance against this... against this war and all the things that the German occupation brought to Poland. But now the war had ended and we thought that we should meet painting in a different way. That's why we could not agree... Later it turned out that this conflict perfectly suited the current cultural policy of the authorities.

What was going on?

The year was 1945 and 46 - I enrolled at the Academy in 46. After the party union in 1948 there was a lot of confusion - of an ideological character, so to speak. But socrealism already started taking shape and there was demand for a kind of painting which would represent the new reality: the workers, farmers, all the things which the new policy brought. All this actually boiled down to was planned sovietization of Poland. We liked to paint these other subjects, but we never thought that we would be required merely to imitate Soviet painting. I think that at this point many people left the Academy; they understood that it's simply not possible, that this kind of art has no artistic future,

The thing that today moves me most in the Academy rooms is the smell. It has haunted me for years, this smell of the workshop, of paint... This smell is always with me, and today, when I stand in this studio, I think that this is the place where I could have been happy. But at that time I didn't have enough strength, character, willpower, tenacity. There were other, more talented people, and I was married for the first time. My wife turned out to be a fantastic painter and this also sort of put me off. I had to find another group of friends, another college, another place for myself.

I studied at the Academy for three years. By the end of the third year I realized that I was rather lost, and then, completely by chance, I read in some weekly magazine that the Film School is searching for students. So I decided to leave Krakow for Lodz.

But Lodz was no longer a school to me. I think that whatever I learned or thought or found out about art, was here, in Krakow. Regardless of all our arguments and our criticism of our professors, here we talked about art and thought in terms of art. But the Film School was a technical college - there we talked about how to make a film, how to orient ourselves in the political situation, how to show this subject or another.

But what did it all mean, and why film should be an art, these things I learned here. For a long time I kept hoping that I could paint something, because they told me that in old age you can still paint something good. I don't think this is true. To paint something in old age I should have achieved two things when I was young - I should have found my own way of painting and my own subject. And then, even if I had abandoned painting for a time and then taken it up again, I could have used this experience. But it didn't happen this way, so now I can only be a person who comes, looks and understands.

An excerpt from a speech from the film "The Debit and the Credit"


In 1950 together with my fellow students from Lodz I went to Nowa Huta. We were making a student movie - a feature - about the construction of the first socialist city in Poland. And so I gained the opportunity to see it all. At the beginning there was nothing here, only fields, but we all believed that the country people really needed such a city, because the villages were overpopulated. The idea was to create something that would transform Krakow. Krakow voted against the communists, so obviously it was necessary to create a community which would infuse this lifeless Krakow with its ideology.

Instead we found ourselves in a lifeless city, while Krakow was alive as never before, as if through an act of historic justice. And this city, intended to be a threat to Krakow, became in fact a kind of provincial little town, seemingly hundreds of miles distant from Krakow, a town where there is nothing of interest, where nothing happens, a town which nobody cares about.

I think that this is a kind of lesson in history, that you can't violate certain things, that there are places which radiate their culture. Krakow radiated culture and that is why it could not be destroyed.

An excerpt from a speech from the film "The Debit and the Credit"

The Film School

In the 1950's the Film School was an ideological school. There were no such schools before and this one had no tradition. So it was meant to be a school for "janissaries", intended to educate a film elite, so to speak, which would later become an ideological commando and play a decisive role in the political and social transformations in Poland.

Our professors and teachers were people who before the war sympathized with the left and who just now, at the end of the war, thought that the day had come for them to play their part.

But there emerged an unforeseeable contradiction. These people, our teachers, were educated people who understood what was going on in Poland, and though they deferred to this ideology, they did not completely lose their wits. So, for example, Andrzej Munk could not make a film with a consumptive hero (I was to play that hero because I was terribly thin), he could not make it even as a student etude, because to show a victim of consumption was considered just too pessimistic. On the other hand, the majority of our post-war colleagues came out "from the forest", from the resistance movement, infected with tuberculosis. This disease at the time really took its toll among the intelligentsia, and not only intelligentsia.

But, at the same time, our rector Jerzy Toeplitz brought from Paris a whole collection of French avant-garde movies - not the Russian avant-garde, not Eisenstein, but precisely French. And so I was able to see the "Le Ballet Mécanique", "Le Chien d'Andalousie", "L'Age d'Or" and "Le Ballet Mécanique" once again, all the films which opened my eyes to a completely different kind of cinema, films which we not only never had made, but never had even seen. The inconsistency was fantastic: on the one hand our professors at the school wanted us - perhaps as a way of justification - to make all these socrealist movies, and, on the other, they brought us closer to real art.

Jerzy Toeplitz viewed our school as belonging to a greater body of European film colleges, and not as some provincial school somewhere in the Polish city of Lodz.

An excerpt from a speech from the film "The Debit and the Credit"

The 1989 Crisis

I could have been sent to Auschwitz; by a strange twist of fate it didn't happen. I could have been arrested and sent to Germany as a slave labourer. I had a little luck, but this is a country where you actually have to find excuses for your luck. Because it is also true that all those who were braver, more determined, more desperate, more eager to take up arms, are mostly dead. And it must be said that these certainly were the best people.

Now, when we have freedom, so to speak, everyone asks me: OK, but why is it that you were successful while others weren't? Why could you make films while others couldn't? And could these films be right, if they were made in a state film studio and financed with state money? How is this possible? Which means that it would be better if I had spent my life doing nothing. And indeed, these people, who did nothing, have a ready excuse.

But what did we want? We only wanted to expand a little the limits of freedom, the limits of censorship, so that films such as "Popiol i diament" could be made. We never hoped to live to see the fall of the Soviet Union, to see Poland as a free country. We thought that all we could do was to expand this limit, so that the party wouldn't rule by itself but would have to admit the voice of the society it was ruling. If you want to participate in a reality created by an alien power, enforced by a historical situation, then you always risk taking part in some ambiguous game.

I saw quite soon that it was better to remain independent, that a party artist didn't really have more options only because he was allowed to make a film, permitted to do things apparently forbidden to others - quite the opposite.

The party controlled its members even more strictly. It summoned them and said: Why? You see, you know, why do you act this way? Why don't you follow the party line? But I couldn't be spoken to in this way, for I didn't have to follow the party line. I was a filmmaker. Of course, I didn't join the party, not only because my father wouldn't have joined the party, not because my mother wouldn't have thought it right, but simply because I was beginning to have a mind of my own.

All my life I was determined to have a kind of independence. Which is very funny, because there isn't a person more dependent than a film director. He depends on the people with whom he makes the film. He depends on the people for whom he makes the film. Not only on the audience, but also on those who make the film possible. Regardless of the political system, whether it is Poland or America, France or Bulgaria, it is the same everywhere. And this dependence is incomparably stronger. But it seemed to me that this might spring from the strong character of my father, of my whole family, who roused themselves and went away from these fields. The young people who left these villages - some went only in search of bread, but others also in search of bread and success. And immortality. To really become someone and decide not only for themselves but also for others.

An excerpt from a speech from the film "The Debit and the Credit"

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