"Suddenly, the script started writing itself. It was amazing!"
Jarek Marszewski is an award-winning director from Poland.
Last year, Jarek won Best of Fest award (best film of 2017) at the New York Film Awards, with his feature film "Bikini Blue".
Bikini Blue is a UK based Post War drama, where an English-Polish couple look to build a new life in Britain, only for his past to come back to haunt them.
We asked Jarek to join us for an interview and were truly inspired by a passionate artist who doesn't let anything stop him from making films.
Tell us about your background. Did you always know you want to be a film director?
Almost always - I decided to become a filmmaker when I was seven, after watching a Japanese cartoon version of „Puss in Boots” which is the earliest cinema experience I remember, and it was when my desire to explore the magic of cinema appeared and has accompanied me ever since. Soon I started dreaming of going to a film school, even though I do not think that a film school is a necessary condition for becoming a good director. So many amazing films had been made before the first film academies were established that it practically should go without saying. Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick or Akira Kurosawa were self-educated directors.
In my early high-school years I began to attend a Student Film Club called „FOSA” in Wroclaw - my home town. They had a couple 16 mm cameras, good lighting and other professional equipment - a dream place for a teen filmmaker. The club was run by Janusz Nawojczyk who was a really awesome teacher and friend with lots of wit and wisdom. He passed away last year. I miss him a lot.
A few years later, I became a student of FAMU - the Prague Film Academy and untill now I am very proud that I passed the entrance exams with the highest score out of all the canditates! Just sitting in the same lecture rooms going to the same library where Milos Forman („One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, „Amadeus”), Milan Kundera (author, „The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, „Laughable Loves”) or Emir Kusturica („Underground”, „Arizona Dream”) - the outstanding graduates of FAMU used to study, was very inspirational. I had amazing teachers as well - Jaromir Jires, Vera Chytilova carried the „aura” of the legends of the Czech New Wave cinema of the 60s. I was not less lucky in Katowice: Krzysztof Zanussi („A Year of the Quiet Sun”) or Edward Zebrowski(„Hospital of the Transfiguration”) - having them as professors was a priceless experience.
What made you decide to go into film? Tell us a meaningful experience you remember from being on set.
As I mentioned above, the very first childhood contacts with the cinema had a really great impact on me - it was a sincere love from the first sight. Cartoons, westerns, monster movies - they all deeply moved and fascinated me. I also enjoyed drawing comic books, but cinema felt the best medium to tell my own stories.
The most meaningful experiences from the set? Probably the earliest ones - it was back in the „FOSA” film club where I made my first shorts and won my first awards, including the UNICA Gold Medal for the World’s Best Non-Professional Film in St. Gallen, Switzerland. My very first film was called „The Fly” (1986) - about a teenage girl who escapes from home and is chased by the police, which was intended as a metaphor of the martial law era in communist Poland. We shot it on 16 mm, black and white - quite dark, quite „post-punk” and depressing:))). The film tape was very expensive and the camera taught us how to work in a very strict discpline and how to create a fluent, coherent story from separate pieces of celluloid.
Bikini Blue - Teaser
Who is your biggest influence? What/who inspires you?
If I was supposed to take only one film to desert island, I would choose „One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” by Milos Forman. I adore this film for very many reasons: it is serious, profound and at the same time witty and truly fun to watch, so sensitive and incredibly well balanced in all elements with unforgettable performances from Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito and all the others. It does not date at all - Milos Forman was and will remain a great master.
I love the American Cinema of the 70s (Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Jerry Schatzberg, Francis Coppola), the British „Young Angry Men” of the early 60s (Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, John Schlesinger), the Czech New Wave of the 60s (Jiri Menzel, Ivan Passer and Milos Forman, of course:), but I also enjoy very many movies made nowadays - cinema in its constant evolution is a fascinating process.
Tomasz Kot and Lianne Harvey in Bikini Blue
What was your favorite part in the process of making BIKINI BLUE?
Working on the screenplay was an extremely exciting period for me. What inspired me to write this story was the fact - found in a historical magazine - saying that after World War II in the UK there were two mental institutions intended only for Polish ex-soldiers, and that Poles in Britain were suffering from mental diseases five times more often than the British and three times more often than other immigrants. I thought it was a touching metaphor of the exile’s fate and decided to tell a story around this fact.
I tried several different approaches. In one of them the protagonist was a young Polish boy. However, only when I looked at it through the eyes of a young English woman, everything seemed clearer. The script started writing itself. I just watched the main character go - an amazing writing experience began!
BIKINI BLUE is a period piece with an incredible aesthetic quality to it - the costumes, hair and make-up, set design and the coloring just couldn’t go unnoticed. What was it like to make a period film?
I admit that the 1950s, with the refined aesthetics, musical culture, literature and cinema that was so full of life, appeal to me very much. I am also interested in the theme of emigration, the cultural differences and similarities. I have waited for a story that would be a mix of the two for a long time. The hospitals I have mentioned gave rise to a new film story, and it was obvious the action needs to take place there.
The 50s is a very special era for me - with its beauty, visual taste and style on one hand and the fear of the nuclear apocalypse on the other. This period has always fascinated me - the growing optimism, lust for life clashing with the real threat of the total destruction of the planet. Year 1953 in which the action of „Bikini Blue” takes place is very peculiar - it was when the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place in Britain, when the most intense nuclear experiment in Bikini Atoll were conducted, when at the Cannes Film Festival Brigitte Bardot presented to world the first Bikini costume, and when the legendary George Pal’s „The War of the Worlds” was released. The title of this film is very symbolic for the 50s - the planet was literally split into two political blocks fighting against each other - the menace of the Soviet invasion on the Western World was very real. This is the background of the plot of my screenplay. Certainly, it all needed a serious research before and while working on the story but also had been very keen on this era before I even began to think of „Bikini Blue”. While shooting, I had a fantastic support from our creative team: Kasia Filimoniuk, the production designer, Basia Sikorska Bouffal, the costume designer and many others. I was very lucky in that respect!
Lianne Harvey in Bikini Blue
Making an independent feature film requires a huge commitment and entails big risks: money, time, etc. Was the film self-funded? Were there moments in which you thought it wasn’t going to happen? What were some of the other challenges in making this film?
Independent film making is a rollercoaster. When I wrote „Bikini Blue” and decided to go independent with it, I set up a company, bought a car and a Black Magic 4K camera, found a cinematographer (Jacek Podgorski) and the main actors. Also, I got a motorcycle, collected a number of other props and was determined to make it happen. A lot money was gone and I realised… I was still far away from even beginning to shoot. It was a stressful and frustrating moment, I remember sleepless nights:). However, it was when Donata Rojewska, Jacek Podgorski’s (our DOP) agent, handed the script over to Juiliusz Machulski from the Zebra Film Studio, one of the biggest studios in Poland. Shortly afterwards came another impulse, an especially satisfying one for me. It was the ScriptPro - the most important screenplay contest in Poland - at which the „Bikini Blue” script won the main prize. The production got its momentum and just a year after the film was complete.
Tomasz Kot and Lianne Harvey in Bikini Blue
Tell us about your work process with your actors. Do you have specific methods you find helpful in working with talent?
First of all I have to confess I had a limitless luck concerning the actors: all of them were amazingly gifted and fully dedicated, simply radiating with passion! For Lianne Harvey, who plays Dora was the first role in a feature film, but she felt like a not only gifted but also a very experienced actress. I thought to myself: “This girl had to play at least 15 roles before but was just too modest to say that.” She obviously owes it to her talent and immense dramatical awareness, despite her young age. It is important to add that she graduated from the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where several hundreds of candidates compete for a single spot. She was accepted at her first attempt, which obviously is no coincident. I was very lucky as a director to have Lianne with me.
Tomasz Kot is a very popular and respected actor in Poland, and his access to our project, his enthusiasm was one of the decisive factors to make this production happen. It was thanks to the producers Juliusz Machulski and Wojciech Danowski who invited and convinced him to become Eryk, Dora’s husband. Were it not for Tomasz Kot the „Bikini Blue” screenplay would probably have waited longer for its chance.
Actors are idividuals and they all demand personal, unique approach. Acting is an incredibly beautiful but also tough vocation. I trust and admire actors. I love working with them - this is my method.
What would you like your viewers to take from this film?
At the risk of sounding naive, I believe that love is bigger and stronger than politics, than borders and cultural differences. On the other hand, through its form „Bikini Blue” is a personal declaration of passion for the cinema of the era it deals with, it is a confession of nostalgia for the times of beauty and style.
Where can our readers watch BIKINI BLUE?
Our film had a theater distribution in Poland in 2017, now it is available on TV Canal Plus (also in Poland) and on DVD and VOD. Ian Taylor our London agent from The Red Door Vision Ltd. is helping us with the international distribution.
Can you give a word of advice to aspiring filmmakers around the world?
If I was to give any advice I would say: I you have a sincere passion for film, follow it and do not wait. If you feel you have an amazing story that has to be told, do it. The access to quality film cameras and other equipment is much easier than it used to be. Find people who share your passion, inspire your friends and create a team. If it all turns too big, too complicated and too risky, write a story for two people locked in a room, or just for one man driving a car, and make it gripping. It is possible - just watch Rob Reiner’s „Misery” or Steven Knight’s „Locke”. Elia Kazan shot „The Visitors” in his own house on 16mm within a few days and it is a great movie. Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, David Lynch and even Francis Ford Coppola made their first films with almost no budget. The history of cinema knows very many of such examples. So, do it yourself.
What are the most exciting projects you are working on now?
Currently, I am working on a story based on facts, which is set in the 20s of the previous century and deals with killing and sacrificing for love. It is filled with mystery and passion - this is as much as I can say for the moment.
Recently I had lot of luck and met a few really good and creative people with whom I will be more than enthused to collaborate. The best vibes come from London, so this is where my dreams and plans go to for the nearest future.
Jarek Marszewski & Ian Taylor. Photo: Beverly Hills Film Festival
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
Since very, very long ago, it has been my deep and secret dream to work with Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day Lewis, yet - if to believe in their words - they are both slowly quitting acting, which obviously will be a great loss for the world of cinema… However, speaking more realistically and optimistically - there are so many so incredibly talented actors and artists around us that we should not worry about future in this respect.
Where can we see more of your work?
I am not a social media expert, but I am available on Facebook, also „Bikini Blue” has its site there. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, so if you want to contact me, please do - I will be honored and delighted!