‘SMOLEŃSK’ IS A FILM OF MY LIFE
Artur Stelmasiak talks with Antoni Krauze, a director and a screenwriter
ARTUR STELMASIAK: - Do you remember your morning on 10 April 2010?
ANTONI KRAUZE: – Such days are not forgotten. A few days before we had finished taking photos for ‘A Black Thursday’. On Saturday morning 10 April I was working on getting prepared for montage. At the same time I was listening to the radio. Soon after 9 o’clock more and more worrying information started to be given.
– What did you think at first?
– That it was another attack on the media image of President Lech Kaczyński. Three days before, Donald Tusk had succeeded in everything, and the group of Lech Kaczyński even had problems with landing in Smoleńsk. It turned out very quickly that the tragedy had happened on a scale unusual in history. A few hours later, in Krakowskie Przedmieście, thousands of shocked Poles gathered.
– When did you think that the catastrophe was history and which should be told in a feature film?
– In autumn 2010 I began to think about it seriously. One of the first people whom I told about it was Marta Kaczyńska. We met on the Day of Epiphany in 2011. I wanted to make sure whether the idea about a film on the tragedy in Smoleńsk would be accepted by the people who had been touched by the tragedy the most. I revealed my idea in public at the end of January during a recording inn TVN studio.
– Where ….in TVN?
– It was the time preceding the appearance of the ‘Black Thursday’ on screens. A distributor organized a few interviews in TV and radio stations. I was to speak about my film. A journalist conducting the interview on TVN asked me at the end of the interview what I had been working on. I said that on a film about the tragedy in Smoleńsk.
– Why did you undertake this task?
– Because at that time, for me, like for the most Poles, for whole Poland, it was the most important issue. Polish public opinion awaited explanation of the reasons for the catastrophe. A few days after a conference of MAK, the Polish procurators announced that on the copies of recordings from the cockpit of tupolew there had been a command of the plane commander ‘ We are going away onto the second landing’, hidden by the Russians. Whereas, instead of flying away, tupolew was still going down at a very high speed, which ended with tragedy. There are no such situations in aviation. Then I decided that I had to deal with this issue and I began to analyze it.
– So, you went consciously onto the ‘second side’ of the dispute about the catastrophe, didn’t you?
– But I did not expect that the feature film might become the object of attacks to such an extent. It went beyond my imagination about what I might face up.
– I remember that after the ‘Black Thursday’ public opinion, critics, actors and even politicians of the Civil Platform expressed their acknowledgement on your work.
– Surely, they will not spare Any comments on me and my film. But I do not care about it and I am prepared for it. For nearly five years of my work on the ‘Smoleńsk’ I had already got prepared for criticism.
– Making the film was not easy.
– Even today I cannot believe my eyes. I remember that after a lot of efforts I managed to meet with a crew which had landed on 10 April in Smoleńsk, under command of lieutenant Artur Wosztyl, still before the arrival of tupolew…That meeting took place in conspiracy! Like on the blackest days of the martial law.
They were totally intimidated. For two years there was a court process against Wosztyl, that he had landed successfully although conditions in Siewierny did not allow for it. Only after resignation from his service in the army and getting retired, we began to have normal contacts. Lieutenant Wosztyl was called a consultant for aviation. Unfortunately Remigiusz Muś committed a suicide in 2012. At least this is an official version of the investigation.
– In order to make this film you had to carry out a private investigation. Did your meeting with the crew of Jaka-40 bring anything new?
– I got to know a lot of facts which have not been explained till today. Members of the crew of Jaka testified in the investigation that during the catastrophe they had heard explosions…They were the closest to the place of the tragedy. They got off the plane in order to see the approached landing of tupolew, but they could not see anything in fog.
– And what about those 50 metres at which a control tower told them to descend?
– It turned out that the key evidence which was the recording on a recorder of Jaka, was destroyed after a few years of the investigation. Let’s hope that now we will find out whether something has remained.
– When you started working on the ‘Smoleńsk’, you became ‘persona non grata’ in mainstream media. Suddenly groups of public opinion forgot about their acknowledgement for the director of the ‘Black Thursday’.
– In the mainstream media I became ‘a supporter of false fog’. But after my interview was published in ‘Our Journal’ in autumn 2011, Poles from all over the world began to express their attitudes, in order to support making the film. A woman, a girl scout of Grey Ranks, living in London, sent me her British pounds via her friend. I made the women feel sorry when it turned out that I could not take this gift….Then I understood that I had to set up a foundation which would raise money for this film. On the one hand there was constant criticism of film makers, but on the other hand, there was great support from ordinary people.
– Do you answer a question in this film about how the catastrophe happened?
– The whole narration is built on my selected and available knowledge about the course of the catastrophe. I assure you that this film is for people who want to get to know the truth about the causes of the tragedy, as well as for those who are not interested in this issue. I used knowledge of experts and I talked with witnesses who were in Smoleńsk on 10 April 2010. I also did a lot of work to cleanse the film plot from useless information.
– And what about the key question?
– Not everything has been fully explained….we were trying not to go beyond facts.
Certainly, the film plot is not based only on court evidence but is only a film image of the most probable course of events. Even today we do not know the causes of the catastrophe, but we can reconstruct its course. We base mainly on data from the American system TAWS which registered stopping computer systems and switching off electricity on the board of tupolew soon before the catastrophe. It might have caused the explosion.
– So, you put a dot above the letter ‘I’.
– I present such a course of events which seems the most logical. The commander of the airplane says we are going away onto the second landing at the altitude of 100 metres, another pilot agrees on it. Whereas the airplane is falling at a high speed. On contrary to what we were told to believe, it was not an ordinary air catastrophe.
– You are aware that in many groups an avalanche of criticism and mockery is just being started.
– Certainly, it is. Since the very beginning I have been mocked at by groups which were telling lies about Smoleńsk.
– Several days ago you were accused of having presented Sławomir Wiśniewski, a film editor from TVP as deceased.
– The film does not present a problem of Sławomir Wiśniewski who was a film editor and, therefore, he was in Smoleńsk, not in Katyń where the whole team of TVP which was to register ceremonies with participation of President….It concerns an operator of another TV who was a correspondent of this station in Russia. His material was never edited, and the operator died from sepsis in Moscow.
– What was the mechanizm of finansing the film? I heard a lot that it was not easy.
– People paying money onto the account of the foundation were generous but it would not have been possible to make this film, our film. Before that the National Institute of Film Art definitely refused to support it. There appeared sponsors who supported our project, often asking us not to reveal their surnames. In the last phase of film-making we received an enormous amount from a distributor of the World Cinema who was also a distributor of the ‘Black Thursday’.
– Why did people support this film but remaining anonymous?
– It is not completely clear to me. I understand that during the times of the previous governments, people or companies might have faced various repressions, but it lasted also after the victorious election of the Law and Justice party. For example, a studio which used to make great special effects for us on the commerical principles, does not want the name of its company to be mentioned in the closing credits. This anonymity is only a reflection of how hard conditions we had in which we had to make this film.
– A man who created films at the communist times, is probably used to difficulties. I heard about many histories of films which had been arrested with prohibition by censorship.
– My film ‘Meta’ had waited for its premiere even 10 years. However, I must say that making films at the communist times in Poland, which were not liked by the authority, was much easier than making the ‘Smoleńsk’ during the reigns of the Platform….
– And how was your idea on the film ‘Smoleńsk’ perceived by filmmakers, film directors and actors?
– Badly….We were not even aiming at presenting the film at a festival in Gdynia, as I guess it would have not been possible. I remember that my longtime acquaintance Jerzy Stuhr said that he would have never acted in such a ‘nihilistic and mendacious film’. After all he did know the plot and I had never suggested him a role in the film ‘Smoleńsk’.
– There were much more such anti-Smoleńsk pronouncements. Does it mean that actors are indifferent to the national tragedy? Are they somehow eradicated from sensitivity?
– You know….religion and faith do not let me have grudge to anybody. So, I treat it as a difficult but necessary experience. After all I have a lot of acquaintances with whom I cooperated during communism, martial law. I do not know what happened with them that when I began to make the film ‘Smoleńsk’, they turned away from me.
– Or maybe it is a defensive mechanizm as you touch on a ‘taboo’, an issue which is forbidden?
– I think you are right….It is a ‘good style’ not to speak about Smoleńsk or speak about it badly. So, one can mock at this tragedy, but it cannot be treated seriously.
– There are a lot of analogies between the issue of the catastrophe at Smoleńsk and Katyń. However, when Poland is governed by communists, it was known why Katyń was forbidden. Now we have an independent and democratic country and the important issue would be to forbidden too. However, nobody did not answer at once: why?
– The issue is simply inconvenient for some Polish elites. Even if the tragedy was caused by the Russians, the authorities in Poland at that time are responsible for it, as somebody had allowed them for it. Therefore the film deliberately used the statement of Donald Tusk who said that the catastrophe was the biggest tragedy in the post-war history of Poland. Why did the prime minister of Poland do everything later in order not to speak about this biggest tragedy? And if he allowed for it, these are only told lies and mockery.
– However, not all your acquaintances left you. A prominent musician Michał Lorenc, the author of a sound track also for ‘Black Thursday’ composed music for the film.
– He had been helping me with this film since the very beginning. He was one of people thanks to whom I decided to make the film ‘Smoleńsk’. I knew that he would help me and would not leave me in it. I am very grateful to him.
– One of the best film directors, one of the best composers were working on this film, and there was also the best troupe of actors. Moreover, you touch on the most important issue in the modern history of Poland. Looking at it objectively, the film ‘Smoleńsk’ is doomed to success. What do you expect after its premiere?
– Surely a lot of criticism. The film ‘Smoleńsk’ is not supposed to chase after any awards. It is supposed to encourage everybody to search for truth. And I dedicate it to everybody who still want to get to know this truth. For, there are those who think that no new facts will change anything.
Beside that the Providence made this film enter the screens not earlier than in the beginning of September, when the public opinion stopped dealing with the NATO summit meeting, the World Youth Days and the Olympic games in Rio. When it was not possible to make the film ‘Smoleńsk’ until 10 April, I felt very embarrassed. And now I look at it from a different point of view….I think that I am a pawn in the hands of Somebody who watches over everything.
– During 50 years of your creative work, you made nearly 50 feature films and documentaries. What place of this rich achievements is the film ‘Smoleńsk’ in?
– Undoubtedly this is a film of my life. I knew about it when I began working on this issue. This is also the last film in my career, as I am going to resign from my creative work. When St. Peter asks me what good I did in my life, I will answer without hesitation: ‘Smoleńsk’…(laughter)