This year, we have decided to give our award - Platinum Billy Goats - to Hanna Polak and Andrzej Celiński for The Children of Leningradsky. For the first time, we have given this very special award for work not for but about children and young people.
The authors have used a documentary as an instrument of improving and reforming the world. Their film makes us stand in awe and outrage, teases us and makes us angry; it does not leave us indifferent, throws us off balance and makes us watch although we would rather avert our eyes. Its makers give viewers an opportunity to get involved; prevent them from wasting their emotions. The authors are not saying: watch and feel sympathy! But: watch, feel sympathy and take action!
She was born in 1967 in Katowice. From 1989 to 1992 she studied acting at The School of Acting in Wrocław and Warsaw, drawing on the experience of working as an actress at The Theatre of Entertainment in Chorzów. Since 1995 she has devoted herself to photography. Her works have been published in numerous newspapers and magazines such as The Los Angeles Times (US), Ogonyok, Moscow Times (Russia), Avisa Norland (Norway), Olivia, Przekrój, Film, Zwierciadło (Poland). Many photographs of hers were made in Moscow, where she did charity work for homeless children. In 1997 Hanna Polak established a foundation called Active Child Aid, which has its branches in Russia, Poland, Norway, Sweden and England. The foundation provides aid to homeless children in Russia: www.activechildaid.org. To promote the charity Hanna Polak still publishes her photographs in European press. In 2002 she also undertook studies at the Cinematographic Department at The Russian State Institute of Cinematography (Wsiechrosijskij Gosudarstwienny Institut Kinematografii) in Moscow supervised by famous Vadim Ivanovic Yusov - an outstanding cameraman working with the masters of Russian cinema, including Andrei Tarkovsky. The first effects of her education were already visible in Dworcowa ballada (A Railway Station Ballad, 2004) directed by Andrzej Celiński, in which she, together with the director, was responsible for photography. She describes her first contact with Moscow children as shocking and deeply moving. As she herself emphasises, she decided to talk about that world to shake the international public opinion and to raise funds to help the youngest. 'While we were shooting the film, the children knew we wanted to help them, that is why they decided to trust us. We took to them and they took to us. And that is how we created a film which, in my opinion, is unusually honest, true and touching,' points out Hanna Polak.
The first short film she made on her own called Al - a film about a legendary film creator Albert Maysles - opened The Documentary Film Festival in Cracow in 2004, where Albert Maysles was given an award for his lifetime achievement. In Dzieci z Leningradzkiego (The Children of Leningradsky), a film directed with Andrzej Celiński, she came back to the problem of homeless children in Moscow. The efforts of the team were rewarded when the film was nominated for an Oscar, the American Academy Award, for best documentary short subject.
At the moment Hanna Polak is working on a few promising projects. She is making a documentary about Leon Chęć, an artist and a soldier in World War Two and she is shooting Pomarańczowa Rewolucja (Orange Revolution), a tale about an ordinary woman from a village in the east of Ukraine. She is also considering directing a sequel to Dzieci z Leningradzkiego (The Children of Leningradsky), this time about the youngest inhabitants of rubbish dumps in Moscow.
A graduate of The Acting Department and The Theatre Direction Department at The National School of Theatre in Cracow. An actor, film and theatre director, producer and screenwriter, stage designer in most of the plays he has directed; he has been co-operating with theatres in Katowice, Wrocław and Ostrava in the Czech Republic. In the 1997/1998 season he created the stage scenery and directed a play by Krzysztof Jaworski Szeherezada, czyli disco- polo live (Sheherazade or disco-polo live) awarded at The Comedy Festival in Tarnów. In 1999 he wrote a play Homlet, which he staged, directed and designed in Theatre Korez in Katowice, and two years later the play was also shown in Theatre K2 in Wrocław, where it was favourably received by both the audience and critics. The staging of Homlet was awarded second prize in The Polish Contemporary Play Staging Competition organised by the Ministry of Culture. The play was shown at Malta Festival in Poznań and The Comedy Festival Thalia, where it was praised by theatre critics. In 2001 Andrzej Celiński directed Sztuka (Play) by Yasmina Reza in Theatre Korez in Katowice which, according to reviewers, was one of the most interesting Polish productions of the play from the artistic point of view. His next theatrical undertaking was Usta Micka Jaggera (Mick Jagger'sLips) in Divadlo Petra Bezruce in Ostrava, a play which won The Czech Theatre Festival in Prague and received a prestigious title of the best comedy of the season Muza Thalie 2002/2003 - which is one of the two most significant theatre prizes awarded in the Czech Republic. The performance was then invited to one of the most important theatre reviews in Europe - Festival Divadlo 2003.
From 2003 to 2004 Andrzej Celiński wrote screenplays and directed four documentaries: Szary (Grey) - an impression on the artistic work of Rafał Milach, a photographer from Silesia; Zakręcony Świat (A Crazy World) - a film about the passions and work of secondary school students taking part in a short film competition; Czas na teatr (Time for Theatre) - a film about a performance called Wschody i zachody miasta (The Rises and Falls of a Town) shown in the theatre in Legnica and Kaegi - a film about a German happening artist and his show in which the camera and the audience follow the main character of the play along the streets and flats in Cracow.
In the years 2000-2003 he created his original documentary Dworcowa Ballada (A Railway Station Ballad) about the life of homeless children at Moscow stations. The film was awarded the jury prize for the best producer of Polish short films and documentaries and for the author's great creative work at the Film Festival in Cracow. In November 2003 Dworcowa Ballada took part in the most prestigious part of The International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam called Reflecting Images, which is an international panorama of documentaries created by renowned artists. In January 2004 Dworcowa Ballada was shown at the biggest European TV festival in Biarritz in France (Festival International des Programmes Audiovisuels), where it received the Grand Prix, a golden statue FIPA D'OR 2004 for the best short documentary and FIPA 2004 Prix du Jury des Jeunes Europeens (The Young Europeans' Jury Prize). The film also won the main prize at The Documentary Film Festival in Norway, where it took the Audience Award as well.
The materials collected for Dworcowa Ballada were used to produce another version of the film, targeted at the American audience The Children of Leningradsky (Dzieci z Leningradzkiego), directed with Hanna Polak. The film took part in Frame by Frame Festival in New York, represented Poland at the festival in Hot Springs in 2004 and at the greatest independent film festival in Sudance in January 2005. At the same time Andrzej Celiński, Hanna Polak and The Children of Leningradsky were nominated for an Oscar, the most prestigious film award in the world, for the best short documentary.
Filmography: Zakręcony świat (A Crazy World, 2003), Szary (Grey, 2003), Dworcowa ballada (A Railway Station Ballad, 2004), Dzieci z Leningradzkiego (The Children of Leningradsky, 2004), Czas na teatr (Time for Theatre, 2004), Zakręcony Świat (A Crazy World, 2004), Kaegi (2004).
THE CHILDREN OF LENINGRADSKY
A story about a place in which solitude terrifies and reality hurts. A story about children who are waiting because there is nothing else left but waiting...
"I live at the Leningradsky Station", the film directed by Hanna Polak and Andrzej Celiński starts with these words. And there would be nothing strange about it if not for the fact that it is a twelve-year-old girl Kristina who utters them. The low-budget amateur-camera documentary production takes the audience to a cruel and lonely world of the children in Moscow. Every day thousands of them struggle to survive dreaming of an unreal better and more honest life. In Hanna Polak's picture there is no sympathy. There is a bitter lamentation for a young life being continuously destroyed.
The main characters in the film are homeless children from the Leningradsky Station in Moscow. Lonely, sexually abused, addicted to drugs and alcohol; they have no chance of a normal life, because in the eyes of millions of the inhabitants of the Russian metropolis they just do not exist. They are alone and they think they have no reason to live…
HANNA POLAK. MY GOAL
When I saw homeless children in Moscow, I was shocked to discover that nobody needs the kids and nobody is looking for them.
Trying to help them, I decided to make a film that would show how the children live and die in the street.
I also thought that the film would have to capture the beauty of the children, their talents, sense of humour but also the brutal reality of the world they have to live in.
The Oscar nomination and the Platinum Billy Goats Award are a proof of a great success of the film, however for me The Chidren of Leningradsky will be truly successful if it helps to improve the life of at least one child.
ANDRZEJ CELIŃSKI. MY POINT OF VIEW
You become a director to share your internal world with people, to awaken their sensitivity to what you, as a human being, find moving, offending, terrifying and surprising. You seek to communicate with people, try to find a way to express what you feel and think, want to share your impressions, reveal this part of your sensitivity and experiences that, in your opinion, is worth going through. You seek emotional and spiritual contact with people who watch a film or attend a performance. You are happy when people cry where you felt like crying and laugh where you couldn't help laughing. That is why I am pleased if after seeing a film people are touched, when they come and ask how they can help. This means that what you intended is working, that you have managed to establish contact and to send the aura of your internal experience. For me the most important thing in a film is emotional message. Even if specialists complain that there is not enough information, that there is not enough documentary in a documentary, that one form or another is not adequate or that bare facts speak for themselves, I think that if you don't tug at the audience's heartstrings, all the nobility of documentary realism is a dead loss.
My point of view is special, first of all because I come from outside the film world. I have not seen too many documentaries, my film was not created within a particular school neither did it rebel against any esthetic tradition. I DO NOT KNOW HOW DOCUMENTARIES ARE MADE. I do not know what is right or wrong, if I break the rules of techniques used in documentaries or if I do not and, frankly speaking, I feel good with this lack of knowledge, because my internal censor is a monster, who, if he knew, would have destroyed the film before showing it to the world. The film records my experiences, my obsessive need for empathy, the need to see this world with the eyes of the characters presented, to enter their emotions, hopes and desires.
It records my feelings, the shock I felt when I looked at a group of homeless children in the middle of a gigantic modern city. My first literary association was Lord of the Flies. The humanist tradition of several thousand years shattered in a second and a comeback to basic herd instincts and reflexes. Being degraded to a status determined by the most basic biological needs and impulses. The grotesque of two parallel worlds: the world of the grey mass of blind passengers running along the corridors of the underground stations deafened by blaring commercials and the world of children - lonely, hungry, scruffy, sniffing glue, lost and bewildered by the magic of neocapitalist reality. A ghastly kind of grotesque and surrealism of the situation and the place first destroyed by a communist utopia and now bombarded by the wild scream of the free market offering its cheap temptations. A band of symphony orchestra members, busking to earn extra money playing Mozart in an underpass over the heads of sleeping kids lying there like rubbish.
The other association was Dostoyevsky. Everything that he says about the metaphysical scandal: the suffering of children. How can you explain the suffering of the innocent? The contemporary context of the question is the indifference of adults stupefied by new and old ideology. Their conviction that this is a norm in a capitalist world and the price we pay for political transformations.
This is a film about a twice broken promise. About dreams that turn into their opposites. About a lie whose shadow is the fate of the children. Its body is a bitter irony: the song is about a mother - there is no mother, it is about the sun - there are dark sewers, over the homeless children's heads there are flashy neon lights of casinos and the orchestra plays Mozart. The other lie is the lie of present times - the promise of dreams coming true in Mirindas, Sneakerses and some toys bought for the money begged - the temptation of luxuries behind a pane of glass, which will stay behind the pane - it is only glue that is real…
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