Interview with ASFF 2013 Artist Filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz

Interview with ASFF 2013 Artist Filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz

The Aesthetica Short Film Festival is open for entry, accepting submissions in all genres, including the diverse category of Artists’ Film. Offering both emerging and established filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work to an audience of industry figures and cinema fans alike, the festival attracts participants from across the world.

One such filmmaker is Canadian Sofia Bohdanowicz, who travelled across the Atlantic to attend the festival in 2013 and watched her artists’ film Wieczór (An Evening) screen in venues across York. We revisit an interview with Bohdanowicz, whose compelling shorts are inspired by her late great grandmother’s poetry.

ASFF: What attracts you to filmmaking as an art form?
SB: I’m transfixed by the way I can use film to transport others into a world that I myself have imagined. Being able to create and manipulate this world and then take the audience on a journey that I’ve manifested on my own terms is thrilling.

ASFF: Your short films are based on your great grandmother’s poetry. Can you talk us through your inspiration here?
SB: As a child, I knew that my great grandmother, Zofia Bohdanowiczowa had been a poet and I was curious about her work. One day I did an internet search on her name and stumbled upon a poem of hers entitled Dundas Street. She wrote it after immigrating to Toronto in the 1960’s with her husband to join her only son and daughter-in-law. Tragically, within months of moving there her husband passed away.

She had never lived in an urban world before and had a very hard time adjusting to it. Living in the Junction in Toronto at that time meant living in a dirty, industrial neighbourhood, adjacent to a railways and a slaughterhouse. She struggled with social and physical connections, and often romanticized about fleeing. If it weren’t for her family, I’m sure she would have. Although this poem was written over 50 years ago, and Toronto is another universe today, I often feel myself identifying with many of her feelings of distaste for city life.

Three years after discovering her work, I am working on a series of films all based on Zofia’s work and poems that were written in Toronto. For me, these poems are a very important part of my family’s legacy; it’s crucial for me to remember the struggles entailed in leaving their homes and moving here to create a new life in Canada. I am named after Zofia, and I feel as though I have been entrusted with the role of keeping her life and work alive – a keeper of the flame so to speak. Her stories and poetry are a part of who I am. My films connect us further.

ASFF: Tell us more about Wieczór (An Evening) in particular.
SB: Wieczór (An Evening) is the second film in a trilogy I produced based on the last days of my Grandmother, Maria Bohdanowicz (Zofia’s daughter-in-law). I filmed it with my partner Calvin Thomas one week after she passed away.

I preserved the last traces of her presence in her home, by photographing each room after she died, and before our family dismantled it. I had a very hard time coming to terms with losing my grandmother, and the whole world that her home held for me. Making Wieczór (An Evening) was a way of holding onto her a little longer.

In the poem that accompanies the film, Zofia talks about observing nature as the sun sets and watching it slowly get darker and darker until she can eventually see a single star. I matched this poem in filming the interior of her home to symbolize my coming to terms with the way that my Grandmother’s material presence was slowly disappearing. All in a day’s light we know that it begins brightly, and gradually fades; we can recognize landmarks in a day, morning, afternoon, dusk and evening, although we sometimes don’t know how we got there. I wanted to create something that forced audience members to be present on that journey of arriving with me at a state of total darkness – and absence.

ASFF: Why do you feel it is important for film festivals to include an artist’s film strand?
SB: I think it’s important for film festivals to programme a wide spectrum of films, especially pieces that are experimental in nature, and have non-traditional narratives. One of my favourite avant-garde, experimental film programmes is TIFF’s Wavelengths programme (programmed by Andréa Picard). The films chosen for this section are truly courageous works that really push the boundaries of what’s possible on screen.

One film I saw this year entitled Un Conte de Michel de Montagne (Jean-Marie Straub) started off with 10 minutes of a beautiful piece played by a quartet paired with a black screen. I was immediately moved by this approach; I thought it was a perfect way for this piece to prime its audience for the content to follow. It was something I had never experienced in a cinema before, I felt very excited. These kinds of films are what pave the way and make space for more experimental work to exist and be recognized. I very much enjoy watching long film essays that leave you in silence or darkness, and that toss you around with creative camera work.

I go through many phases in watching these kinds of work, at first I am gripped, then I might lose interest and work very hard on focusing again; and then I feel angry and impatient – and then usually quite satisfied and then proud to have made it through the film! My favourite kinds of work are ones that force you to work, call you to action, and stir you up a little.

ASFF: What made you want to make such a long journey to attend ASFF?
SB: Wieczór (An Evening) premiered at ASFF and because it’s such an intensely personal and experimental film I was so very curious to hear gauge the audience’s reaction. This kind of feedback is precious to me; it’s the only way that I can expand and improve my practice.

Films are screened in alternative and unique venues like manors, museums and galleries at ASFF. There was no way that I could pass up an opportunity to be part of it. When applying to this festival, this aspect is part of what drew me in. When venues are more intimate, they create a positive camaraderie with filmmakers and audience members. There is a film series run in Toronto that I like to attend called Early Monthly Segments and it’s run out of an old city hotel, called the Gladstone. The films are always screened in a small room with about 30-40 seats and an 8mm projector clattering in the background. The experience of viewing films in this kind of environment is always more intimate than being in a massive theatre, in which the energy can sometimes be stale or sterile, in comparison.

Entries for ASFF 2014 are open until 31 May. Visit www.asff.co.uk/submit for more information.

Credits
1. Image still from Wieczór (An Evening) Sofia Bohdanowicz (Independent) Canada, 2013