interview with director
Lee, where did you get the Idea for Matka (The Mother)?
I was working on a great play about an Irish immigrant family based in London and this was the beginning in terms of thinking about the drama of families, the family institution, responsibility for children and about the fear of failing them, these types of questions, something in fact I hadn’t really come across in previous projects, so this was the first point, the seed of an idea. During the research for the play I was collecting images and the idea for a film came to me from an image I found of a woman; she had this strange physical presence full of contradiction (the film subsequently almost unconsciously has similar themes).Something about her seemed distressed, yet there was a calmness also for example, and one starts to ask questions: Who is she? Why is she here at this very point in her life? What is she doing here? What’s her story? Does she have a husband? Is she a mother?
So this was the starting point. Then when you start asking questions about this person answers start forming and a drama begins to unfold. It really deals with the consequence of action, if you keep doing the same thing, then you’ll end up at the same place, so why does someone (the woman in the photo) keep doing this and what are the challenges in breaking the cycle (so the idea of addiction came in here), emotionally, psychologically and physically that needs to be confronted in order to bring her to a change point in her life; or even: is this possible at all?
Of course one also reflects on one’s own family and how your own life experiences are reflected in the story. Once I had outline of the main characters, I was able to begin writing, but I wanted this process to be a sense of discovery, of unpredictability, of a dynamic sense of momentum where by none of the characters are in control of their destiny, in a sense this is what binds them together. I wanted to uncover new things about these people during this process, so it started as a script based in the UK and ended up being made in Poland! I actually ended up writing it whilst in Australia though, this is the second script I’ve written whilst visiting Australia! That seems like a long way to go just to write a script, but it’s the distance I needed to go through for the writing process, I guess whatever works? Although made in Poland, what I subsequently felt is that this story is one of universal themes so in many senses could’ve been made almost anywhere.
How long did it take from writing the script to shooting the film?
Quite some time, a few years in fact, far too long, mainly because I was out of the industry (actually not sure I was ever in the industry), I was off doing other things, building businesses in Europe, Middle East and Africa, dealing with other challenges in life! This is interesting in itself as it created a distance from the story and when I came back to it, the colours appeared differently to me and it kind of challenged me in a different way which felt was exciting and immediate, the thinking I had about the story now was somehow more layered, but the emotional pull of the story was as strong as ever. I would say two events were the trigger in making the film, firstly meeting Werner Herzog (Rogue Film School) in London, I left there with his impassioned fatherhood like plea wringing in my ears ‘Lee, you must seize the opportunity to be a film maker’ (he’d seen a 5 minute teaser that I’d put together with Pawel Dyllus our DOP) and within 6 months the production company was set up, the finance in place and we’d begun pre-production, the second point was becoming a father, wow, yea, now that’s cool.
Why make the film in Poland, what was it like to make there?
For me Poland was a discovery by chance, having being invited to work on a production of Macbeth at Theatre Slaski in Katowice, I ended up staying and am now based in Silesia. The region is so diverse, I felt an immediate connection here and it dawned on me one day that this is the perfect canvas in which to paint this story on; cinematically I wanted to create a documentary style narrative but to focus on the under layers of raw realism, so the events in the film are hidden in the documentary format, the locations in Silesia made this cinematically possible as well. The country after the collapse of communism and joining the EU has and continues to tackle and deal with the transition from old to new, and this energy including the uncertainty formed an interesting back drop to the film for me, more from a social economic point of view, rather than a pure political perspective.
Also to make a film you need a lot of elements to come together, key people, actors, crew, location, these were available to me in a way I never imagined possible in Poland. I guess being an outsider helps! I have a second (film) family here now and the possibilities are very interesting moving forward on that one.
What is the story about?
Well, the obvious answer here is to say watch the film and if you have any questions, thoughts, observations afterwards then please email me, I’d be delighted to respond in person.
How was the shooting process? How do you feel about the project after the shooting period? Did you find anything interesting or new working with Polish film makers, crew and actors?
The whole process was a very enjoyable experience, I would say incredible really, sure making a film is hard but the journey was amazing. People involved were there because they wanted to come on an adventure with us. I made this clear before we signed them up! From finding the actors, which was a long process in which I travelled all over Poland watching them in plays or simply meeting them, to finding the crew. The main thing is that everyone brought into the process that we were trying to adopt for this project and added so much richness to the story. Our goal was to use the energy of the actor’s performance to connect with the audience emotion, we were very clear about not wanting anything to interfere with the audience reaction, I also didn’t feel the need to explain everything, and we were just following the events as they unfold. From a technical view we wanted the actors and the space to determine the movement of camera and we worked a lot at trying to explore and uncover new things which we’d previously never considered during preparation.