For the first time in the history of one of the largest psychiatric institutions, the film crew was allowed to see the everyday life of patients cut off from the out‐ side world. ‘Where is the human soul? Is it in the heart? In the brain? Or maybe elsewhere?’, wonders an old doctor who has spent his life working at a psy‐ chiatric hospital in the Siberian countryside. This is one of the places that one does never leave. Behind the wall isolating the patients from the world, we meet people affected by serious mental disorders, schizophrenics, bipolar patients, a serial murderer and many others who ended there because they were not needed any more. For decades, they are waiting for someone to take them back to the normal world. Some should not even be hospitalised at all. The patients are taken care of by only five doctors and a couple of nurses, who devoted the best years of their lives to serving subsequent generations in the hospital.
The institution shows life in a lens – the world convex in one place, in all of its dimensions. The camera led by Łukasz Żal, who received an Oscar nomination for Ida, keeps close to the characters, but does not violate their privacy. The picture, full of sensitivity and brutality at once, is complemented by the music composed by Antoni Komasa‐Łazarkiewicz. Discreet, thoughtful observations of the patients’ everyday life turn into a meditation about the impenetrable human nature. The film is searching for humanity where there is no more hope.
We do not watch ill people, but simply people. Together with the doctor being our guide we have to face a mystery: of human mind, fragile psyche, and maybe even soul.
– Paweł T. Felis, Gazeta Wyborcza
“There are only people, and all around them is silence—that’s the earth.”– this quote from Dostoyevsky’s “ Gentle creature” was ringing in my ears during the movie […] It would be so much easier to film scandal, routine intervention, but we’ve seen this many times in cynical TV programmes. Kasperski is different, he’s gentle. He’s a poet who crashed the violence of the world that we have no influence on. As an artist he breaks the silence that Dostoyevsky wrote about, he sees a single man. The “Icon” is a movie about humanity.
– Łukasz Maciejewski, Dziennik
Wojciech Kasperski interviewed by Krzysztof Gierat, Director of Krakow Film Festival
Q: All your films are consistent in their own way. Each has a guide that shows us around ‘his’ land. All were edited by the same person; however, camera operators change, and so does their point of view.
A: Any camera operator to accompany me must be visiting Russia for the first time and cannot know the Russian language: these are my conditions. This way, they are absolutely in awe with a completely different world, different colours. And since they don’t speak the language, they follow emotions. While filming The Seeds I noticed that Szymon Lenkowski was indirectly becoming one of the protagonists of the film. Radek Ładczuk’s fear during the shooting of Chasm on the Kolyma, where we often found ourselves in physical danger, is palpable in the film. When we were filming The Icon, I would see genuine emotional reactions in Łukasz Żal. The camera operator’s role is extremely important; he is the one portraying the world depicted in the film, and since he is freshly immersed in a new context, a new situation, he focuses on what is essential.
Q: Even when your films show incredible landscapes, they stay very close to the protagonists. The camera approaches them at an arm’s length, as if they allowed your unlimited physical access.
A: We try to build a relationship from the start. I’m not telling my own story, I am a chronicler telling theirs. I don’t hunt them or stalk them. Before we start filming, we meet, sit down, talk. For the first week, we put the camera aside and we never turn it on. It’s not necessary. Once the protagonists start trusting us, we accustom them to the camera’s presence; we film everyday activities like washing your hands or going to the woods. Then we watch the material together, and once they accept our intentions, we start filming. Filming always takes a long time, at least one month. We watch the material as we film. All this is intuitive. Logical development and narrative strands are added at editing stage. I’ve always worked with my editor Tymek Wiskirski, whom I consider indispensable. We understand each other without word, but he always judges harshly the material that I bring. He always asks me ‘but why are we doing this?’. I must know the answer.
Q: The camera comes very close to the protagonists, but without giving an impression that boundaries were crossed. You treat your protagonists with gentleness. The camera is a teddy bear to be hugged, and not an aggressor. I found the idea of filming through glass windows and metal bars very telling: it makes us realise that despite certain proximity, we can never completely break through in our understanding of another person.
A: There is this story that I take very personally. When white colonists were conquering Africa and taking photos of local tribesmen, the locals believed that they were stealing their souls. I believe it. If you don’t want to steal someone’s soul, you must film only your own tribe. The people in my film are my tribe. I film people with whom I identify, whom I understand. I’m not filming animals in a zoo. They are not strangers to me. They know that I won’t hurt them, that I am with them. It’s not a contract. It’s some kind of non‐verbal message. I know the moment when the contract takes effect, and only then do I start filming.
Written and Directed by Wojciech Kasperski Director of Photography Łukasz Żal Edited by Tymoteusz Wiskirski Music by Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz Sound designed by Aleksandra Pająk Translated by Grażyna Bialik Production Manager Kamil Chomiuk First Assistant Director Anna Sajewicz Associate producers Monika Bednarek, Tatiana Kruczkowska-Dziergowska Co-producer Magdalena Zimecka, Zuzanna Brzezińska-Mich Producer Magdalena Zielska, Wojciech Kasperski
Country Poland Production Year 2016 Genere documentary Running time 52’ Production Companies Delta Film, Telewizja Polska S.A., Vostok8, Expresso Post Production Film co-financed by Polish Film Institute Film represented by Krakow Film Foundation World Sales Krakow Film Foundation
- 56th Krakow Film Festival, Poland, 2016 (Golden Hobby-Horse)
- 56th Krakow Film Festival, Poland, 2016 (Award for the Best Film Editing)
- 56th Krakow Film Festival, Poland, 2016 (Maciej Szumowski Award for Remarkable social awarness)
- 56th Krakow Film Festival, Poland, 2016 (PSC Award for Best Cinematography)
- 56th Krakow Film Festival, Poland, 2016 (FIPRESCI Award)
- 24th International Film Festival Camerimage, Poland, 2016 (competition)
- IDFA, The Netherlands, 2016 (competition)
- Artdoc Fest, Russia, 2016 (competition)
- Docpoint Helsinki, Finland, 2017 (competition)
- ZagrebDOX, Croatia, 2017 (competition)
- Febio Fest, Slovakia, 2017 (screening)
- New York Festivals International Television & Film Gala, USA 2017 (Silver Medal Award)
- Polish Film Festival „Vistula”, Russia 2017 (special screening)
- XXXI Pärnu Film Festival, Estonia 2017 (competition)
- 27th Mediawave International Film and Music Gathering, Hungary 2017 (competition)
- 36th Koszalin Film Festival, Poland 2017 (special screening)