I Just returned from Poland. Bydgoszsz, Poland to be exact. It’s pronounced (bid-goe-sh.) Yeah pronouncing it took a while. For the longest time before my business partner Richard and I took the trip, we were just calling it Badonkadonk. We were there for Cameraimage, the international cinematographers film festival.
It took four planes to get there. Halfway through the journey I was trying to figure out exactly why we were going in the first place, especially on the last plane, a small prop plane that was pitched around in the winds and seemed like it was going to land upside down. Oh yeah and the plane before that which Richard proclaimed looked suspiciously like the one from the movie ‘Alive.’
With any trip to a culture that is completely foreign, the answer doesn’t come until you’re there. I checked out some travel sites before we went, one of which proclaimed it was unclear why anyone would want to go to Bydgoszsz, but if you did, after a few day you would find it charming.
You see it’s a rather strange place where the sun rises at 8:30am and sets by 3:30pm and they are not even in the shortest days of the year yet. It’s cold, (see Richard’s over compensating coat) and the architecture is a mix of new post Berlin Wall, Soviet era cheap housing and pre WW II buildings, some stucco’d over in places to hide the cracks of age and bullet holes.
That being the case, I found that Polish people seem to rely heavily on three things: 1) Vodka, 2) Various dumplings and 3) Cold cuts. Those of you who know me know I am not a drinker. However I can attest that the dumplings and cold cuts rock. Richard assures me that the Vodka rocks as well.
The people are not what you would expect. After decades of Soviet propaganda, you would think they would be either be wary of Americans or downright hostile. Not the case at all. It seemed to me that only about a third knew how to speak English. When I found myself trying to communicate with a non english speaker, they would hurridly look around to find someone to translate, dragging them over, genuinely and happily wanting to speak with me. No one was put out that I dared to come to their country not knowing the language.
The short day messes with your internal clock and produces an active nightlife. Not a big city at all, the Bydgoszsz Holiday Inn (yes, there was a Holiday Inn) came alive and blossomed into a huge party at midnight. So, when the sun went down, there was a tendency to retreat to nap for a few hours, grab a late dinner, then hit the Holiday Inn. People proceded to stay up until 5 or 6 am, then grabbed a few hours sleep until the sun came up at 8:30a and started their day. I’m pretty sure they didn’t do that every night, but you never know.
The festival itself was pretty cool. Films from everywhere in the world and more importantly, the people from everywhere who made them. The whole experience reinforced in me the importance of people. We talk about great films, great performances, great technical innovation, great distribution platforms. But, it’s groups of committed people, coming together and finding ways to communicate a vision. First to each other and to the world. Any endeavor depends on this. In the information age when you would think communication advances would bring us closer together in meaningful dialogue, we seem instead to be dumbing down the quality of our collaboration.
I used to talk on the phone to people all day everyday. Now it’s all email and iChat and a few calls a day. It’s faster, more efficient and creates a communication economy of scale. But, direct conversation creates a deeper bond and a more visceral truth.
Renown Cinematographers from all over the world came to teach master classes. Young Cinematographers came to take them. There was a spirit among the teachers and students alike of: “I may know a certain amount, but there’s always more.” In that lies a creative delight.
Ah yes, then there’s truth. In Bydgoszsz there was a lot of talk of truth. Films that were “true to character, true to story, true to vision.” That comes back to people gathered around a camera face to face, deciding to achieve that truth.
So, if I learned lessons in Bydgoszsz they were these:
1) Cold Cuts can be a dietary staple and are delicious.
2) If your day is more like night, learn to live in it.
3) Just because a plane looks like one that crashed into a snowy mountainside in the Andes, doesn’t mean you’re going to end up dining on a stack of pancreas and someone’s foot.
4) Popularity does not define successful art, truth does.
5) True masters realize that there will always be more to learn and they take joy in teaching others the art of trying to understand this.