Far From Poland by Jill Godmilow, 1984 (106m)
Sunday November 28th at 6pm
56a Infoshop, 56 Crampton St London SE17
A filmmaker - a woman steeped in the documentary traditions of the Left - sets out to dismantle the sinister symmetry of the Cold War single-handedly and show the world the road to salvation through the miracle of the Polish Solidarity movement. When denied visas to shoot in Poland proper, she constructs a film in New York City called FAR FROM POLAND. Over the barest bones of documentary footage, she drapes dramatic re-enactments of Solidarity texts, formal vignettes and swatches of soap opera, to engage the audience in her personal, complex, contrary and contradictory understanding of the Polish struggle.
FAR FROM POLAND is probably the first American non-fiction film (Godmilow calls it a "drama-tary") to explode cinema verite's mythic claim to be the only trustworthy mode of representation for discussing the real world, and in particular, social and political issues, on film. Refused a visa to travel to Poland, "Jillski" (her Polish nickname in the film) has to literally re-invent the documentary to deal with the Polish situation and she does so with a particular eye to deconstructing not only documentary's specific claims to objectivity, but also the bourgeois audience's desire to sit comfortably in their seats, feel compassion, feel themselves part of the solution (not part of the problem) by having felt compassion for the poor oppressed Poles, who, Godmilow would argue, are far more acutely aware of their situation and what forces oppress them than the liberal American folk in the movie house.
In the course of the film, she interviews Polish exiles who try to help her "organize" some footage from Poland. She has long telephone conversations with Fidel Castro who wants her to stop making the film. (Fidel asks her, "Is it always going to be like this... is great art always going to be in conflict with the state? Jillski says, "I didn't want to break his heart so I didn't say a word.") She re-produces, with superbly performed re-enactment, four long, now famous interviews published in the Solidarity press - with Anna Walentynowicz, the fired crane operator for whom the strike started in the Gdansk shipyard; with ex-censor, K-62, who is now looking everywhere for a new job; with a Polish miner, interviewed by a reporter from the New York Times who can't quite fathom the notion of a "workers' movement in a workers' state"; and with General Jaruzelski (fictional), years after the imposition of martial law on his own people. There are Polish jokes, from both sides of the Atlantic and soap-operatic self-criticism. (Jill - explaining the Solidarity movement to her boyfriend Mark: "For 35 years, the Polish workers have been told that they own the means of production and now they're calling that bluff. They'll decide for themselves what to make, how to make it, and what it's worth." The phone rings - Mark gets it. He listens for a moment, then covers the mouthpiece, "It's Karl Marx, from Workers Utopia. He says, 'Jillski, come home.' Jill retorts, "Why do you have to turn everything into a goddamn joke?" Mark, "Because I don't have anything as important as Poland to hold my miserable little life together. I'm tired of you walking around seeing the goddamn light all the time. I'm tired of all these Poles sleeping on our sofa."