BIFFes 2019: Zanussi was kicked out of film school

BIFFes 2019: Zanussi was kicked out of film school

The BIFFes session with jury chairman and eminent filmmaker Kristof Zanussi led to some great insights and some embarrassment.

Speaking to moderator M K Raghavendra, eminent film critic, and an audience that included some eminent names from Indian cinema, such as filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli and cinematographer Sunny Joseph, Zanussi spoke not only about his own impressive oeuvre but also about his collaboration with some of the most important figures in world cinema, such as the filmmakers Andrej Wazda and Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Zanussi, 79,  began addressing the audience saying “I am someone who is seen as representing Poland, but it would be more precise to say that I am representing Jurassic Park. Because I am a dinosaur”.

The director said filmmaking is not what he first chose as his vocation. “I wanted to be a physicist first. But in the four years I spent getting getting a degree in physics, I realised that I am not going to win the Nobel prize. And I did not want to be a mediocre physicist,” he said.

He went on to join the only film school in Poland at the time, but things weren’t about to go too well there either. “During my time off from the film school, I visited Paris. You will find it hard to believe today, but you could not convert money at that time. So, if I was going to interview famous filmmakers like Jean Luc Godard over a cofee, my issue was who would foot the bill? Can I ask Godard to pay the bill, knowing that he is famously stingy? If I paid, I will have to skip out on my lunch.”

But Zanussi wasn’t about to come back from Paris without taking something crucial home. This was the time of the New Wave, the French filmmaking movement that upturned classical notions of how films are to be made, and Zanussi came back to the film school to learning all the irreverent tools that greats like Godard and Francois Truffaut were practising in Paris.

But that wasn’t appreciated. The innovations of the New Wave hadn’t reached the school in Poland and they  threw him out, seeing the sort of films he made now, to set an example for the other students.

But they eventually took him back in, and he went on to make his acclaimed diploma film.

He screened parts of the diploma film for the audience at BIFFes and it was easy to see the eye for detail and characterisation that would go on to be fully utilised in his later films.

The veteran, who was the one to discover Christoph Waltz (adding “although it was Quentin Tarantino would make him famous”), is not impressed with the films of the day. “You shouldn’t care about Netflix. That is not good cinema, that’s just mass production,” he replied to a question from DH.

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Zanussi said the quality of cinema today is much lesser than it was 30 years ago. Talking about a time before the digital era when people “did not even know what their own voice sounded like”, he said filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky produced films that were more in sync with the nature of the medium.

This session, however, had one embarrassing moment for everyone seated there. During a conversation between Raghavendra and Zanussi on the how the films in countries like Romania, Hungary and Russia respond to their earlier dictatorships, one member of the audience interrupted them saying: “Sir, we are more interested in watching the films. If you can please keep your politics out of this. Moderators should learn to moderate themselves.

Raghavendra repeated the sentence “moderators should learn to moderate themselves” loudly and laughed it off, while Zanussi appeared a bit taken aback and said “I suppose you’d all want to go home a little early”.

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