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Janusz Kijowski • Artistic Director, Koszalin Debut Film Festival

“There is no festival without conversation”


- We talked to Janusz Kijowski, the artistic director of “The Youth and Film” – The Festival of Film Debuts in Koszalin

Janusz Kijowski •  Artistic Director, Koszalin Debut Film Festival
(© Michał Woźniak / East News)

This year scheduled to take place from 1-5 of September, the Koszalin Debut Film Festival in Poland readies to celebrate its 39th, very much physical edition. As always, the focus is on debuting filmmakers who, as pointed out by its artistic director Janusz Kijowski, keep independent cinema alive.

Cineuropa: In one interview, you said that “honesty for honesty” is also the festival’s slogan, because long conversations often follow screenings here. What’s behind that phrase?

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Janusz Kijowski: It was invented by the so-called “founding fathers” of the festival in the 1970s. Film journalist Czesław Dondziło coined this slogan and it became the motto of the subsequent editions. Because why organise a festival? To honestly talk to the creators, or have them talk to each other. Otherwise, and I have seen it happen, these events are all about patting each other on the back. We are faithful to this formula and I am glad it has been adopted by the young artists. Although youth itself is not some distinguishing feature. [Polish artist] Witkacy said that “young is what’s wise and courageous”. That’s why I sometimes envied Andrzej Wajda’s youth!

Why organize a festival – this question is quite common now, especially during the pandemic. How did you approach possible changes? I know there will be a drive-in cinema, for example.
I would say it’s more of an attraction for the city, so that our audience can see how movies are watched in America. I was very afraid that we would share the fate of other Polish events, that our festival would be “remote” or virtual. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Even when we decided to change the date, we always knew we wanted people to come, to see and greet each other — even with elbow bumps! And to talk, because there is no festival without conversation.

Many events rely on known, proven names. It’s different here, so how do viewers participate in discovering them? In getting to know someone who is just starting?
This is the specificity of our festival, just like at Tribeca or Sundance. I may be exaggerating, but we see them as our twin festivals. It’s an event without recognised names, relying on what you aptly described as “discovering”. Thanks to these new filmmakers, we see the image of our reality through the eyes of another generation. We rediscover Poland. It may sound radical, but independent artistic cinema doesn’t really exist outside of these debuts. Especially now, during the pandemic, when cinema has been replaced by TV shows. Today, only few filmmakers can afford to stay independent – like Almodóvar. Altman used to be known as this independent madman, and yet at the end of his life he had to move to Canada because the Hollywood road roller tried to crush him as well. If someone is still interested in independent cinema, they should come to festivals like ours.

That being said, what’s the current situation for these debuting filmmakers? The equipment might have gotten cheaper, but it’s still hard to break through.
When you are in film school, your films express exactly what plays in your soul. They have a clear fingerprint of the artist. Then, the producer and the distributor demand that these productions pay for themselves, if not earn money for more. The fact that we, as The Polish Filmmakers Association, led to the establishment of the Polish Film Institute obviously made things easier. At least in theory, because the audience doesn’t really want to delve into the depths of the artist’s soul. During the communist era, Poland was a closed country. But when I started to travel, I felt like I knew all these foreign cities already – it was thanks to the movies. Now, we watch some crazy blockbusters happening in space. Why am I talking about this? Because when you watch the films of young artists, they show reality that’s not deceived by TV propaganda. We are after the elections and to cleanse your body and head, you have to come to Koszalin. Only in these films can you see where we really live, what our church and family is like. These filmmakers aren’t lying just yet.

Do you think that starting a conversation with the viewer, not just the critic, is important for them?
This confrontation is extremely important. I remember when I came to Koszalin with my first films – there was this fear of how they would be received, but also great satisfaction when my intentions were clear. Understood not just by these newspaper wise-asses — I hope I’m not offending you here — but also by those who came to the cinema to see artists they don’t actually know. Of course it’s not easy, as we are in the middle of a technological revolution: we are always glued to our smartphones, staring at this small screen. We are becoming more and more introverted and it’s not easy to open up, let alone ask a question publicly. So yes, sometimes there is silence. But you have to try! Our festival is artist-friendly. I have been its artistic director for 13 years, but that’s what pleases me the most. I think that in Koszalin, we still like each other a lot.

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