Three years ago, a black and white, quiet, powerful drama reached for the top and won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. This was Ida, directed by Paweł Pawłowski and produced by the multi-talented and confident Ewa Puszczyńska. Although back in the day, she didn’t have a plan to get into the film business, fate had different plans. She started from the bottom and worked her way up, and now she owns a production company, leads multiple projects at the same time, fights for European cinema and searches for young talents along the way.
What made you join this industry?
It was a coincidence, I had nothing to do with this business, because I studied English literature. I liked films and watch a lot of them, but I never thought of working in the industry. I was translating subtitles of English films for Polish television and cinema, when a company called Opus film, which I’m still connected to, was looking for someone to translate at an international meeting. Later they called me again and asked if I could attend at a pre-production meeting, then the shooting itself, at the side of an Italian director. I was curious and I said yes, because I was not afraid of new challenges. This is how my adventure with filmmaking started. I became responsible for international relations, and after producing many commercials, I got tired of it and wanted to focus on feature films at Opus film, which at the time had just started to work on its first independent film production. My Name is Justine was our first co-production, in which I was allowed to take part as an executive producer. I was learning and examining along the way.
How do you choose the projects, what draws you into the production?
My philosophy is that I produce and work on films which I can personally feel attached to. From the beginning of my career, I have been very lucky, because I’m making films which are important to me as a human being, not just as a producer. If I can express my voice on subjects which are important for me, that’s how I choose the directors I want to work with. I develop myself as a human being, and learn something.
Did you ever imagine winning an Academy Award?
To be honest, winning the award was never really my dream. I have very specific feelings towards the Oscars, because I think that Americans took over a lot from the European market, and for some reason, they think that we worship the award. At the ceremony nobody really cares about foreign language films, we are unknown names and faces. This is my personal fight for European Film Awards, the people should respect European filmmakers, just as much as the Oscars. But of course I’m happy we got it, it was the first Academy Award for Poland as well.
Ewa Puszczyńska (Pic by Stanisław Rozpędzik)
What do you think about the neglect of women in filmmaking? This year is all about changing the inequality, not just in the film industry.
I’m a member of the EWA – European Women’s Audiovisual network and the Polish Female Filmmakers Association and I also organised a session for Eurimages on gender equality in Warsaw and it was a great success. I believe there is inequality in the industry, there should be more women, because they are not worse directors at all. But also I know that we have to create an environment for women, because nature is nature: men are not giving birth to kids and if a woman wants to have a family and be a filmmaker too, they have to sacrifice one or the other. They have to give up years of their careers and it’s difficult to get back, because the industry is changing rapidly. There should be some conditions created to make the comeback easier for them, so they can work, even when they have kids. Gender shouldn’t be a factor of awards or funds. It’s a very complex situation, it won’t be solved overnight, it needs years of stubborn work. As a producer, I try to bring as many women on the set as possible, in Pawel’s new film we had a girl in the electrician team.
In Hungary in the last few years the number of successful women producers is growing. Do you see this in Poland or any other countries?
I think I’m the only woman in my generation who does so many coproductions and when I look at the colleagues from a younger generation, there are more women producers than men, especially in their 30s. Women are taking over, and I don’t think it’s about counting money. I think women are more trust-resistant and braver in taking risks. We are fighters and I think we have better social skills – not just small talk, but in remembering certain details about someone, which makes them feel good and open up more easily. These all make us good producers.
Do you meet a lot of graduated filmmakers? Do you follow their work?
I try to follow young people’s work from all over the world. I had many opportunities to meet young filmmakers, because I was teaching in Łódź Film School and worked at Torino Filmlab, so I had at least two platforms to get in contact with them. And if I spot someone I find interesting, I try to follow them. I have to be careful not to get involved in too many projects, because I know that I can work only on a certain number of them at the same time.
Ida by Ewa Puszczyńska
What are you working on now?
At the moment I’m working on three projects. I’m finishing a film called War and I also started to develop and produce projects in my own company, which I established in 2006. Now I’m finishing development and went into financing with a relatively young, but still experienced director, Tomasz Wasilewski, who won the Silver Bear for Best Script in 2016, for United States of Love. We are working together now and hopefully we will start the shooting later this year. I’m also working on an arthouse feature animation film for adults, it’s a very interesting and beautiful project. I’m reading a lot of scripts and I’m looking for things, I may be co-producing the new film of Paweł Pawłowski, called Limonov.
Do you notice some kind of pattern in the young filmmakers’ films? Are they focussing on a certain topic now, for example women’s rights or nature?
It depends on which country it is, in Poland it’s a variety. Even if there’s a pattern, hopefully they create a different approach to the same subject. Each of them is trying to find his or her own way, although it’s very difficult not to repeat. What I’m looking for is not the subject, but the approach – the story is not that important as the storyteller. What are the visuals, the cinematic languages they use to convey their stories, because film is a language, it’s a visual discussion with the public. This is what I focus on when I watch short and graduation films.
What was the last film you enjoyed very much?
I watch European films because I’m a member of the board in the European Film Academy, so before the EFA, we watch the films before the voting. I particularly liked two films lately: On Body and Soul by Ildikó Enyedi, which I really loved, and Loveless by Andrey Zvyagintsev. These two grabbed my soul.
Do you have a motto or advice for first time producers?
I think they should prepare for a tough life, a lot of stress, and sometimes to be alone. You have to face and solve the problems. By being a producer, you are responsible for solving the problems. It’s not a beautiful life with 5-star hotels, red carpets and limousins. Don’t be scared, be daring, be prepared to take controlled risks, and try to find fun in that, a way to develop yourself as a human being. If treated this like a 9–5 job, it would not work – it’s life, whether we like it or not.
Read more in the World of Young Cinema – The Berlinale 2018 Issue