Raindance Film Festival, founded and run by Elliot Grove, has been helping emerging filmmakers since 1993. Although one wishes for more diversity in the festival programme – there is not enough Asian, South American nor African cinema – it is good to see that Eastern European cinema has been recognised for its talents. During the 28th Raindance Film Festival, we had the pleasure to see some good quality films, including a Polish production, The Day I Found a Girl in the Trash. Directed by Michał Krzywicki and written by Dagmara Brodziak and Michał, the narrative is set in the near future, in Poland, 2028. In this world, people who committed undisclosed crimes, according to the Human Recycling Project, must be stripped of their feelings and memories, so that they can serve society in sectors such as the military, social services, or family support. They become automatons. The film is saturated with anxieties, reflections and fears of young people, exploring topics that the current generations can relate to.
Image © Beata Bieńkowska
One of the good sides of attending physical film festivals are opportunities to meet the talent and discuss the creative process behind filmmaking. On the cold and windy day, and on the last day of the festival, I met Michał and Dagmara for a chat about their aforementioned work. Michał and Dagmara met while they were both studying at the Warsaw Film School in the Acting Department. Although they didn’t build any sort of professional relationship at that time, a decade later, we saw them making The Day I Found a Girl in the Trash together, which they both wrote and starred in. Made on a shoe-string budget, the couple pulled it off in an epic way. And while sitting down and chatting about their beginnings, I was surprised to learn that the idea for the film came about in Bangkok.
“So, five years ago we moved to Bangkok”, Dagmara says enthusiastically.
“After completing our first feature, we needed a break, we wanted to distance ourselves from that project. We wanted to see a new culture, a new view from our window, so we ended up in Bangkok. Also, at the same time, Michał was writing a script for another project called Naked Coast”, Dagmara adds.
“One that is not yet made”, interrupts Michał with a chuckle.
While in Bangkok, Dagmara wanted to work on her own script, or at least on a treatment for The Day I Found a Girl in the Trash. Even though she came up with some ideas, she left it for two years to rest as the couple was concentrating on something else. During their time in Asia, the Polish Film Institute opened a new programme for financing first and second features with a micro-budget plan.
“We thought that Naked Coast would be too big of a project for the Institute to accept, it wouldn’t fit within the micro-budget”, admits Michał, with Dagmara adding: “So, we sent The Day I Found a Girl in the Trash and were awarded the budget.”.
Image © Szymon Brodziak
Prior to coming up with the idea for the film, Dagmara saw a short YouTube video of a colour-blind man, a 60-year-old whose family brought him special sunglasses through which he was able to see colours for the first time in his life. His joy turned into tears; such a small thing made the man happy. One then wonders, how much we take things for granted, seeing colours seems so trivial, but what would happen if we couldn’t see them at all?
“When I watched that video, I started to think about our senses in general. And I was reflecting on the subject of ‘what would it be like if all our senses were taken away from us’. Also, what would happen if we took our memories away too, who would we become? This is how this thought of mine started the whole idea for the film”, says Dagmara.
During the Bangkok stay, Michał and Dagmara extensively discussed the story, characters, and how the film might look like. While chatting about the starting point of the film in great detail, Michał adds that “Dagmara was also looking intensively for visual images for the film. She searched on Pinterest”.
“Oh, yes. You are right”, says Dagmara with a big grin on her face.
“Through all the pictures that we put up on the walls of our apartment, we wanted to see how we could convert our imagination of what we see into the film”, adds Michał.
Image © Beata Bieńkowska
Talking to Michał and Dagmara brought so much laughter, they are both friendly, kind, and very open about what they do and what they want to achieve in life as filmmakers and actors. Even though one could easily say that Michał and Dagmara work well together, they didn’t shy from admitting that while being occupied with The Day I Found a Girl in the Trash, they experienced many artistic differences, but this didn’t stop them from finding common ground and producing a good film.
“Oh dear, I think the biggest artistic difference we had was when we thought of the ending”, Dagmara admits candidly.
“Yes, the ending was the biggest compromise”, agrees Michał. “In all honesty, while working on this film, we came to the conclusion that it’s just impossible to be unanimous. We decided that if there is a vital decision to be made, I’d be the one who makes it. You know, when you have so many creative minds in one room, you will always have many ideas [floating around]. All the ideas are good, and just because we have different perspectives on things, doesn’t mean they are wrong. It is not about whose idea is right or wrong, it’s about finding one that works for a story”.
When the couple received their funds to make the film, it was relatively a quick process to bring the project to life. It took two years to complete everything.
“The script was ready just before shooting the film. The process was that we pitched the draft to the Polish Film Institute and we worked on the script until the last moment. We were writing it without thinking of a budget, trying to skip some financially difficult parts and make them into simpler yet still cinematic and meaningful scenes”, says Michał.
Image © Greta Burzynska
There is no denial that the current political situation in Poland is depressing. Like in the film, the Polish nation is split for and against the government. While our nation has often been passionate about things, now we are slowly moving to a dark and unpredictable place. Although the couple didn’t aim for the film to be relatable to the present occurrences in their homeland, a Polish viewer, and perhaps viewers from other parts of the world, can correlate.
“We never aimed for [the film] to be a political statement or anything like that, we wanted to make a movie about the relationship between humans, but the world proceeded in the direction it proceeded, and suddenly we woke up in this reality which is corresponding with what we took as a sci-fi factor in our film. Also, the fact, as Michał said, that our freedom nowadays is being taken away from us, millimetre by millimetre, not necessary in a visible way”, Dagmara tells me with a great conviction, then adds that “the system gives so many reasons for us to be afraid of another human, and somewhat wins”.The three of us were contemplating on the subject of fear and freedom for a good 10 minutes. I have always been fascinated by discussing such topics, especially what freedom really means to us. While Michał had a speaking role, Dagmara was “stripped” of it. Many think that dialogue is a vital part of every film, however, performing without it can turn into a bigger challenge as one has to showcase emotions through body language more than anything.
“I shaved my long hair for the role of Blue. That act itself was an ultimate gate to get into the character, there was no way out. Also, I had an amazing acting coach, Dyba Lach, who trained me for four months through meditation and body movement. She was with me on set, which was a huge support. We didn’t do much during the filming, but knowing that she was there was priceless for me”, says Dagmara. “Michał knew what he wanted to achieve with my character, and, as we are a couple in our private life, we were able to rehearse a lot during the lockdown. Even that scene when he finds me in the trash… Through long rehearsals, also improvising rehearsals, we found the language of Blue”, Dagmara sums up.
Michał’s role, on the other hand, was very different. But how did he approach the character of Szymon, a young man determined to commit suicide?
“My role was definitely easier in terms of technical stuff. Szymon is just an ordinary man. We live in a world where we sometimes experience hopelessness. I think I just focused on this when I was thinking of Szymon. I “left” the feeling of happiness behind for that movie”, explains Michał. “We also incorporated Butoh dance into the film, a Japanese dance theatre which blends a various range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, and movement”.
“There is that scene when a man is dancing at the beginning of the film, that’s the Butoh dance. That dancer Wojtek Matejko was our coach as well”, Dagmara further comments.
“He helped us to find the core of emotions that both of the characters, mine and Dagmara’s, would need in the film. To know how our bodies should move, how to find the right tension”, says Michał.
Image © Beata Bieńkowska
While preparing for the film, Dyba Lach suggested that the couple should live for a week without talking to each other. An entire week of silence… Dagmara had to communicate with Michał through her body language rather than words.
Michał handed over the cinematography to Łukasz Suchocki and editing to Agnieszka Białek-Zaborowska. Given Michał and Dagmara’s initial vision, I was wondering if the end result was what the director wished for the film to be?
“We worked very closely with both of them, also a person who was equally involved in working with us on this film was our sound designer, Bart Putkiewicz. We worked with Łukasz on our previous film. I think we understood each other well. Łukasz not only knew how to capture good pictures, but he also knew how to use them. He was with us from the beginning, really, since the moment the script came to life”, says Michał. “He did visualise what I had in mind very well. Of course, there were moments where we weren’t on the same page, but the good part of working with him was that we found the right solution together”.
In terms of editing, Michał and Dagmara worked with Agnieszka for the first time. As Michał stated, he was delighted that the editor trusted him as a filmmaker and that she was patient with him as well. He also said that he was truly grateful that they were able to work well together in the editing room.
Image © Greta Burzynska
Since everything about this movie came together so naturally, it had to be very challenging to make it in that way. Michał honestly admits that the most obstacles that came out of this filmmaking project was negotiating contracts and production being postponed.
“These were the most frustrating obstacles”, admits Michał. “We had a lot of creativity problems, and we couldn’t afford some locations, so we had to have a plan B”.
“Of course, if we had more money to make this film, we would have had more shooting days available to us. We only had 17 days to make our project. Wait… sixteen and a half days, actually, that was difficult”, adds Dagmara.
“Great crew, great preparation, and then Covid”, Michał replies with a chuckle. Although Covid was in full swing during the time of filming, the cast and crew managed to film in a short period of time.
Furthermore, the film’s title is an intriguing one: “The Day I Found the Girl in the Trash”. I have always been interested in the process of naming films, and this is no exception.
“We had different titles for the film, actually”, admits Dagmara. “The first working title we had was Blue and Mr. P”.
“Mr. P” because of a scene that didn’t make it into the final cut. It was when Szymon finds the girl in the trash and calls the police, and then Blue hears the “beep beep” sound on the phone. She starts mimicking the sounds and begins to call him P”, Michał explains.
The reason they chose the existing title was because they needed a Polish one as they were applying for funds. Michał, who came up with the name, hoped that it would be great for the title to be a direct part of the story.
Now that the film was screened at film festivals back in 2021, the couple is ready for another adventure. They are currently working on new scripts while travelling between Rome and Warsaw. As Michał stated: “We always want to make movies together. Artistically speaking, we bonded so much that we need each other now. And we have two scripts in the works. One is a very personal project called Naked Coast – I would call it a neo-western type of a film. And the other one is a film that might evolve into a sci-fi film”.
Dagmara and Michał are the next generation of very ambitious filmmakers. They don’t necessarily aim for the commercial release of their films, but for their films to be intelligent and meaningful. Our delightful conversation lasted around forty minutes, and while chatting to them, I realised how much I loved and still love The Day I Found a Girl in the Trash. There is no denying that I will be looking forward to seeing their new projects in the future. In the meantime, let their creativity run wild and bring even more amazing films to the big screen.
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Featured image © Courtesy of Michał Krzywicki and Dagmara Brodziak