Jerzy Skolimowski, born in 1938, is a Polish film director, screenwriter and actor, who is also a painter and a poet. He spent his childhood and teenage years in Prague, where he befriended future filmmaker Milos Forman and Vaclav Havel, a writer, philosopher and politician. He returned to Poland to study Polish Literature and Ethnography at the University of Warsaw, and eventually moved to Lodz, where he majored in filmmaking from the reputable National Film School. In 1961 he worked together with Roman Polanski on dialogues for the script of Knife in the Water, the film was later nominated for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. As a scriptwriter, he debuted in Andrzej Wajda’s Innocent Sorcerers in 1960, whilst his debut feature film, Identification Marks, was released in 1964.
From 1967 to the late 1980s, Jerzy Skolimowski worked in the UK, Italy and the USA- where he lived for almost 20 years before moving back to Poland. He directed 18 films all together, and after his big failure of 30 Door Key in 1991 he put his filmmaking career on hold for 17 years, while also concentrating on acting and painting. In 2008, Skolimowski directed an intimate picture entitled Four Nights With Anna, which won him a Polish Academy Award for Best Director and Cinematography. It also won the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Two years later, he made Essential Killing, a sensational political thriller which subsequently won the 67th Venice International Film Festival Special Jury Prize, Coppa Volpi for the Best Actor, given to Vincent Gallo, and CinemAvvenireAward for Best Film In Competition.
In 2015 Jerzy Skolimowski, yet again, surprised the audience with a fast paced thriller entitled 11 Minutes. The film was screened in the main competition section of this year’s Venice International Film Festival as well as at the TIFF in the Masters section. It was also shown at the 59th BFI London Film Festival, where View of the Arts got a chance to interview the director on the red carpet.
Mecwaldowski, Chapko and Skolimowski (Picture courtesy of the photographer)
I felt like 11 Minutes was a reflection on human existence and coincidences which conceivably rules our lives. Was it your intention for the audience to contemplate on the meaning of life?
Jerzy Skolimowski: Of course it was, this entire film is a story of coincidences. I am afraid that in the present world that we are surrounded by different sources, for instance technology, which, without a doubt, curves the way for an unpredictable coincidence. Which might also influences our lives, like you have seen in the film.
In several interviews, you said that it is a very personal film to you. Do you think that 11 Minutes has become a sort of therapy to what you have experienced in recent years? (Jerzy Skolimowski’s son died unexpectedly in India in 2012)
Jerzy Skolimowski: Yes, unfortunately life was very unkind to me, and when I started writing the script, I did use so called autotheraphy. I simply forced myself to write 4 pages per day, it took me several hours at times. Nevertheless, it helped me a lot, I definitely feel better than three years ago.
How long did it take you to write the script?
Jerzy Skolimowski: It took me 20 days to finish the script, you know 4 pages a day and after the 20 days I ended up with the 80 page script of 11 Minuts.
11 Minutes is a pure rollercoaster and due to the film’s fast pace, I wasn’t able to think what may happen in the next scene. Was that your aim for the audience to feel this way?
Jerzy Skolimowski: Certainly it was my intention, you have used a great word to describe the film: a rollercoaster. I really wanted to give the audience so called crazy ride.
After the press screening at the London Film Festival, I noticed that the younger members of the audience, mostly film students, admitted that the biggest attributes of the film waas the fast action, special effects, limited dialogue and the multi- layered narrative. Have you ever imagined that you will have more supporters amongst younger audience?
Jerzy Skolimowski: I have come across this sort of reaction before, I think it was in Poland at the Gdynia International Film Festival. Someone else said that it seems like the film was directed by a young person (laughs), which was nice to hear of course. I am glad the film has had a positive impact on a young generation.
How was it for you to be working with Jan Nowicki (one of the prestigious Polish theatre and films actors) again? It has been awhile since I saw him on big screen. And how was the younger generation of the actors on set? You chose some very talented actors.
Jerzy Skolimowski: It was very nice working with such an established actor, having said that, we have already worked together. Jan Nowicki was in one of my films, but that was years ago. In some ways, it is his come back to the international big screen. The young actors I have chosen are well known to the Polish audience, I am sure they were delighted to see them on the big screen too.
To be honest with you I am really grateful to everyone who saw the film and is about to watch it. I have been through difficult times for the past few years, I am so glad I managed to make this film. I do hope to make another film in the near future (laughs). Let’s see what happens next.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler.
Edited by Roxy Simons.
The feature picture courtesy of The Polish Film Institute