An interview with Kuba Czekaj, director of The Erlprince, part of the Focus on Poland strand, by Maurice Smith.
Are you attending EIFF, and if so what are you expecting there?
Screenings of the film at festivals are emotional moments for everyone who worked on it. It is a culmination of our journey together; we say goodbye to each other, we say goodbye to the film and hand it over to the audience. The film begins a life of its own. And for me this is most painful. One day it all simply comes to an end, you give your film away. You participate in the first screening and after an hour and a half in the cinema a certain stage of your life ends, shuts itself up, all the effort and emotions are behind you. Only yesterday you were fighting like a tiger for tiniest of details, forgetting to eat or sleep. And today, all of a sudden, everything becomes so quiet. Of course, it is wonderful to share your film with the viewers, to wait for their reaction, observe how they respond, but for me the film is over. It is not really about finishing a film. It is about being in the process of making it, when the whole adventure is still just a promise, a way out into the unknown, sailing on a yacht, even though it might turn out to be an old rowing boat. I know, it sounds very nostalgic. I admit I am rather hopelessly sentimental.
Tell me about THE ERLPRINCE, its origins, and how it is performing since release?
The Erlprince is a follow-up to my short films, in which I explored the ups and downs of childhood. All right, mainly downs, as we always think fondly of the rays of sunshine on our faces, smelling of sleep and milk. Whereas I am interested in scraps our memory rejects. And so dusting up those murky regions, I naturally came to the time of hazing. The time of the first battle for independence, first autonomous decisions. I wanted to paint a primitive-styled portrait of a teenager. To illustrate the moment when we ask ourselves the first, most important questions, the basic ones, to which we probably would not find answers till the end of our lives. But we can keep asking, we are arrogant and conceited. We have insatiable curiosity about the world and the desire to explore the universe. In our heads, the yet unencumbered thoughts are swirling and there is lack of painful confrontation. We do not hit the brakes.
The Erlprince is a film that has proved divisive for the audience. My impression is that you either love it or hate it. And I must admit this is a great joy for me. I am happy people want to discuss it, argue about it if necessary. Our objective was to encourage a debate. Even if the film evokes extreme emotions, it means everyone has an opinion, they are not indifferent, they are not saying “Oh, it’s OK”. We do not spend years making the film in order to hear that “it’s OK”. Let’s engage in a dialogue, we can even box if you like. Only then does it all makes sense. It is important, especially because of the kind of movies we see flooding our cinemas today. There are so many films that we do not care about, that we easily forget, that we do not even want to talk about. “OK” is truly the ultimate insult you can hear from a viewer.
What future plans do you have?
I’m currently working on two films. The first one is called „Sorry, Poland”. It is a satire of contemporary life dealing with the intersection of art, ambition and politics, which hopley makes you want to dance along with the main character who is a dancer with a Polish folk dance ensemble. The second one is based on the iconic song “Lipstick on the glass” written and performed by Maanam – one of the most popular bands in the history of Polish music - and I can’t say more…
Can you give a view on the current state of Polish cinema, its progress and outlook? Are Polish directors becoming more ambitious?
Polish directors have always been ambitious, now they are just more open to the world, or rather the world opens up to them. There's a lot of new and young stars: Smoczynska, Roslaniec, Wasilewski, Marczak, Kowalski or Matuszynski... that shining not only on Polish sky.
How is Polish cinema responding to the political situation (worldwide and in Poland / western Europe)?
I’d say there’s something there… a flicker. We have to wait a bit longer, new polish films of „angry directors” are on the way.