"LAST SEASON" BY SŁAWOMIR WITEK - INTERVIEW WITH THE FILM'S AUTHOR
Daniel Stopa: "Last Season" resembles documentary films made before the era of television. It is a film in which the image plays the key role in storytelling, there are no dialogues nor verbal commentary. Did you know from the beginning that it would be such a classic short documentary film?
Sławomir Witek: Yes, the first idea was to express the entire meaning of the film with cinematography, to build a certain mood with images, to avoid words, but I did not think in such a rigorous way as to totally eliminate words. My favourite classic documentary films are without words, there are also ones in which there are words, but the most important thing is that these films can also be understood without them. Because "Last Season" was intended to be a short film, I believed that such a technique will work.
I began with the formal aspect of the film, but I also wanted to ask where did the idea for the film come from? Was it observing the situation, familiarity with the protagonists, the need to illustrate a specific idea?
First, I found the protagonists. I had to take a series of photographs about Gdynia, to get a credit at my film school. I thought about fishermen from harbours less known that the one in Orłów, famous from the postcards. I found a tiny settlement on the very border of the city, in Babie Doły. When I asked one of the fishermen whether he would mind my taking a few photos, he invited me to fishing. After 12 hours, I was chilled to the bone, but I knew that I wanted to film it. Although I live in Gdynia and I have already seen some films about fishermen, I was not aware how gruelling this work is. In addition, the fisherman set out with his son and both of them looked very well in the lens of the camera.
You mention that you were chilled to the bone during making the documentary. The strength of "The Last Season" is that through the cinematography we feel the presence of the elements - wind, water, rain, that is, all what the protagonists have to struggle against, and what they have to befriend at the same time ...
The fact that these people are so close to the elements made them very interesting also for me. Every time after shooting the film, I needed two days to recover. For them, it is the natural environment. Cold, wind, danger is their everyday life, and nevertheless they do not want to quit it. If this element had not shaped them, they would be totally different people. Maybe it is similar in the case of miners.
In the film, the protagonists seem lonely people. They spend a lot of time together, but in fact they do not talk much, we watch them during their work, or when they are deep in thought, when they look at the water, at the birds, listen to the whistling wind. Is it their world?
I noticed that these seemingly thick-skinned people have an incredibly romantic and reflective approach to what they do. They value peace and communing with wild nature very highly. Hunting is also such a primeval profession. When they are at sea, the element is the only power.
At the beginning, we do not know who the protagonists are for each other. We see an older and a younger fisherman and we think: master and apprentice. "Last season" is also the story about transferring experience, knowledge, traditions, but the title suggests that the world we watch is passing away. Did you portray the world which is becoming history?
Yes, though it is a long process, but this world is passing away, and my protagonists are almost always accompanied by the fear that it may be the last season at sea. In their settlement, only 25 years ago there were 15 boats, now there are 4, and the catch is getting worse. Originally, the title was intended to apply to a specific event, because the settlement was to be eradicated, and this is how I wanted to finish the film. It did not happen, but I left the title, because in general it applies to the state of mind of the majority of fishermen. Everyone is aware that it is coming to an end.
In the end I would like to return to the question about making the film. You are the director, scriptwriter, cameraman and co-editor of the film. Which creative stage was the most difficult one?
Cinematography was the most difficult thing, mainly because most of the fishing takes place at night. In the morning, it is extremely cold. In addition, the decision to go to sea is often made just before the action itself, after checking the weather forecast and looking at the sea. That is why at two in the morning I often returned home with nothing done. Taking into account the closed fishing season for codfish, unattractive cinematography in the summer, freezing of the sea, problems with the boat and two-month long periods of downtime, when the European Union pays the fishermen equivalent for the catch, as the result the shooting of the film was much prolonged.
Thank you very much for the interview.