TIFF 2021 Interview – SILENT LAND director Aga Woszczyńska

Jason Whyte | Get Reel Movies

SILENT LAND is a film about the collapse of a relationship, but more than that it is about the collapse of the value system in the world today, about the indifference to reality and social lethargy. Ultimately, my film is a tale about alienation not only from each other but also from the world, about conformity and passivity, where the need for safety and convenience is a strategy for survival.” Filmmaker Aga Woszczyńska on SILENT LAND which screens at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Hey! You have a movie at TIFF! Is this your first Toronto experience?

Yes, this will be my first time in Toronto and in Canada, as a matter of fact. I am beyond thrilled to be presenting the world premiere of my first feature film in such a prestigious world-renowned film festival, and especially in a respected programme such as Platform; with all these great international filmmakers selected, I’m definitely in great company! I’m not entirely sure what to expect but I am coming to festival with wide eyes and an open mind.

So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past!

To me, filmmaking is more than just a business; it’s a mission through art. I graduated from the visual anthropology department and the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Since I was a teenager I have been attending film and photography courses. In film school I made several documentaries and feature short films. Some of them were programmed at film festivals and broadcast on TV. My diploma film FRAGMENTS premiered in Cannes in the Directors Fortnight parallel section. Later on it was presented at nearly 40 film festivals, clinching awards from many of them. I am, of course, grateful with all the critical recognition, but most importantly to me, my film impacted people in many countries. I actually received a lot of messages from people on how FRAGMENTS had changed their life. This is the biggest reward for me! Then I wrote (with my brilliant co-writer Piotr Jaksa Litwin) and directed SILENT LAND. And here I am at TIFF with my world premiere. I feel so honored.

How did SILENT LAND come together?

I made my short diploma film FRAGMENTS about the same couple, Anna and Adam performed by the same actors (Agnieszka Żulewska and Dobromir Dymecki) with the same cinematographer Bartosz Świniarski. Afterwards, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this short film was not enough to tell the story about emotional bankruptcy…as I like to call the state of my characters. I needed more screen time to let the audience understand them. Whereas in FRAGMENTS, the focus was more on Anna, SILENT LAND is more about Adam.

I found my brilliant producer Aga Wasiak from Lava Films who liked my short and trusted me on the script of SILENT LAND. We began as a partners and friends on a five-year journey to make this film happen. I always knew that I didn’t want to make film just for a Polish audience. I wanted to explore working with people from different countries. It was an amazing experience to make my first feature with three co-producers from Poland, Italy (where the film was shot) and the Czech Republic (where the film’s post-production took place), as well as shooting the film in five different languages: in Polish, English, Italian, French and Arabic. This international collaboration opened different points of view for me. I also believe that it made my film more accessible for viewers from around the world.

What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?

Writing a script always feels the same to me: this need to find in my story something that is beyond just a story; this urge to talk about important things and to comment on the painful reality of the state of the world today.

On set, it’s pure adrenaline. I adore working on film sets, whether it be as director, or as a first AD. I love to organize, work with the crew and actors. I always try to establish a film family, where everybody is equal regardless of their role: be they an actor or a gaffer. I hope I’ll shoot my next film with the same crew, with the same amount of care and love I’d poured into making SILENT LAND, and not with aggression and disrespect.
What was your biggest challenge and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
In one word: time. It took me five years to make this film. When we were ready and packed to fly to Sardegna, where the entire film was shot, we had to postpone the shoot due to COVID and this was a really tough time for me: with so much waiting and uncertainty, I didn’t know when we would start our work again. We had the crew and actors from all over Europe. Until the very last minute, I wasn’t entirely sure if everybody would appear on the set. Day after day new information was coming that other shooting plans in Sardegna were closed due to COVID restrictions. The biggest reward was that we eventually made it! We made a film in the middle of a pandemic! And now I can present it to Toronto’s film-hungry audience as well as to the rest of the world.

I must get on the technical side! I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how it was made.

Thank you for this question. The cinematographer of SILENT LAND is Bartosz Świniarski known from APPLES (the Greek Oscar candidate which originally premiered to great acclaim in Venice last year). Bartosz is an extremely talented cinematographer and a friend of mine. We made my diploma film FRAGMENTS together; so we knew exactly how SILENT LAND would look like in terms of framing, lenses, mise-en-scene, etc.. We were very prepared for the actual film shoot. On set we didn’t even have to ask one another where the camera should be placed; Bartosz knew exactly what I had in mind; so there was little need for discussion.

The film was shot on Alexa Mini Camera with old Zeiss Superspeed lenses with an aspect ratio in 1.85:1. We used mostly 35mm lenses in the first act of the film; later on we switched to 40mm and 50 mm. The film is about distance — emotional, social and physical — so there are almost no portrait shots or close ups. SILENT LAND is a ‘slow cinema’ film made out of love for old European films such as Antonioni’s many masterpieces. Thats why we added a lot of grain to have a film stock look. Camera is static or there are long takes in the film. Most of the scenes were done in one shot. Framing was very important for us as a lot of crucial moments in the film actually happen beyond the frame.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at TIFF?

My biggest dream is to show my film to as wide and as international audience. There is this real deep need to spread my message on my perspective on how I see the state of the world today. I hope that TIFF will be the first step in making this happen. I’m also looking forward to talking to the audience during the film’s Q&A, to find out how do they feel and perceive my film.

Clearly this is such a different time with hybrid festivals and online screenings, and TIFF is no exception as some are attending in person and some are doing it virtually. How do you feel about the future of film festivals?

Just a very sincere hope that we will come back to ‘normal’ times. On the other hand, with the pandemic, online screenings have made films more accessible around the world…although admittedly, it’s an entirely different experience.; I’m one of those cinephiles who believe in the magic that happens when the lights go out in a movie theatre.

Where is the movie going next? More festivals? Theatrical release? Streaming?

I’m unable to reveal much at this point in time (since the official announcements haven’t been made public as of yet), but there are some great festivals ahead of us post-TIFF. In Poland, I’m in great hands, with the distributor of my dreams: Gutek Film, I’m so honored and couldn’t expect a better one! Gutek has brought to Poland films of my masters and has allowed me to discover new ones. As for the international distribution of the film, I leave it up to New Europe Film Sales, my wonderful world sales agents.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or work in the business. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into filmmaking, especially now as things are evolving at such a fast rate?

I would tell them that filmmaking is far from being a piece of a cake. It’s extremely hard work. It’s not enough to have a super new camera. You have to know where you put the camera and, perhaps more importantly, why.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

Well… It would be very unfair to mention just one film or a single director. Most of the filmmaking masters I admire (Zwiagnicew, Haneke, Dumont, Reygadas… just to name a few), I’d discovered at one of my most beloved film festivals: the New Horizons International Film Festival.

This is one of the many movies playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. For more information on this movie and all of this year’s lineup, point your browser to www.tiff.net! Special thanks to TIFF PR for helping us out with coverage this year!

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