“Dark, sexy, eccentric, estrogen-fueled comedy about a Virgin Mary-obsessed 50-year-old woman who never had sex in her life. That’s MARYGOROUND, my story of Maria, a woman entering menopause and overdosing on hormone patches. As Maria unleashes sexual havoc within herself, she needs to confront her younger alter ego Helena, the liberated and profane niece who declares she’s done with men. The rest is up there on the screen, and it was a great ride to put this story together.” Director Daria Woszek on MARYGOROUND which screens at SxSW 2020 Film.
Editor’s Note: While SxSW was officially cancelled on March 6th, 2020, the below interview was one of many that already took place prior to the festival. To respect the creators, all already performed interviews are presented in their unedited entirety below. All of the below works WILL make their way out into the world in one way or another, and we will update this article with updated information when we have it. — JW
Welcome to SxSW! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?
This is my first time here and I’m very excited. I will be attending all three screenings of the film; I’m very eager to see the audience’s reaction to MARYGOROUND.
So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past?
I attended the Krzysztof Kieślowski Film School in Katowice and then did courses at Wajda School in Warsaw. But my roots go much deeper than that: my late mother was a ballet dancer and I practically grew up backstage at the Silesian Opera in Bytom, in the South of Poland. The world of artifice and spectacle runs in my veins. At film school, my great friend and mentor was the late director Marcin Wrona (DEMON), who really taught me the most valued lessons in how to direct a film. After graduating, I made DOGCATCHER in 2015, a short film that won a number of awards, including the top prize at Rhode Island IFF in Providence, which was my introduction to the American festival scene.
So how did MARYGOROUND come together?
It really all started when my mom and I started to discuss her menopause at some point. I didn’t expect to have this talk with her, but suddenly we opened up to each other and she told me invaluable things. I then started to ask my mature female friends about this phase of their life and they all said the same thing that menopause was liberating. That it lifted a whole bunch of social expectations from their shoulders; it allowed them to ask themselves who they really were. After that, we started to toy with the idea with my co-writers, Sylwester Piechura and Aleksandra Świerk. We developed the script, which then went through Less Is More workshop and ultimately won pitching contests in Hong Kong. The key was funding we received from Polish Film Institute. After that, we entered an intense shooting period, mostly in a built set. Postproduction took a long time, since the film is quite intensely stylized in terms of music, sound, color and cutting. Our goal was to achieve a sort of campy, operatic, slightly artificial look that would express our main character’s personality. Music was so important in that process: Marcin Macuk did a fantastic job composing the score.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
The story itself. Seeing the story take shape; witnessing the dream slowly crystallized into reality.
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
To create the character’s world in a built set was quite a challenge; we aimed for an insular, slightly old-fashioned and boxed-in world. Maria is not a liberated character at first and I wanted the set to cramp her a bit in the early scenes. The most rewarding aspect was to work with the wonderful actress Grażyna Misiorowska: she’s a seasoned theatre actress making her screen debut as a lead. I learned so much from her, and she really opened herself up in the intimate scenes. Also, designing and cutting the climactic dinner scene proved incredibly difficult and immensely rewarding at the same time.
I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with and how the movie was photographed.
The cinematographer on MARYGOROUND was the wonderful Michał Pukowiec, who accompanied the process from very early on, and was present at long discussions I held with my actors in my apartment in Kraków. Most scenes were shot in long, perpendicular takes with very few match cuts, which was a challenge in itself. Michał designed the color-rich lightning of the film to resemble the pools of colorful light seen in Kraków’s stunning church of St. Francis of Assisi, with legendary stained glass panels by Stanisław Wyspiański. These pools of color turned Maria’s apartment into a sanctuary of sorts, which corresponds to her religious fixation. Thanks to artificial lightning and skypanels, we had full control over hues and colors of light that are different for every hour of Maria’s day. Due to many horizontal tracking shots, we used Arri Alexa Studio with global shutter, plus Arri Alexa Mini for aerial shots. After many tests with light, background and make-up, we ended up using anamorphic Cooke S6, enhanced with a number of filters. The last scene used Angenieux OPTIMO 24-290 with anamorphic adapter.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?
This really is the world premiere, so I am incredibly curious what the audience reaction will be like. I grew up watching American films; I am privileged to show the film to American viewers.
After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?
We have more festival screenings planned, but I cannot yet disclose which ones!
If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?
I would choose Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theatre. Since I grew up backstage in an opera house, I absolutely love the fact that Walter Reade is part of a larger theatre complex. The idea of screening movies right next to the Met Opera house seems so wonderful and organic to me.
What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?
Pay attention! This is a movie about every woman you have ever known!
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?
Never explain. Never apologize. Do your thing.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?
Michael Haneke’s THE PIANO TEACHER. I saw it right after high school and it is fair to say I was in a state of shock. Haneke doesn’t flinch from showing the raw, elemental nature of female desire. He doesn’t make any excuses for the main character; he presents this remarkable woman on her own terms. It’s a masterpiece.
For more information on this film and to follow its progress into the festival world, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!