Polish director Monika Kotecka discusses her project The Plague – which draws parallels between the current coronavirus and the 1963 smallpox outbreak in Wroclaw – ahead of its pitch during the CEDOC market.
The Plague is described as a film essay about the emotions we exhibit when a virus, whether smallpox over half a century ago or COVID-19 in 2020, distorts our perception of reality. Both become, stresses director Monika Kotecka, “a backdrop to talking of fear and anxiety”.
Back in 1963, she underlines, the disease started like a flu, but if left untreated could lead to serious complications which often resulted in death. Those potentially infected were detained and Wroclaw became a space where fear and suspicion reigned, and where everybody avoided contact with each other. Centralised policies of containment fomented a sense of isolation and loneliness. Sounds familiar?
The 70-minute project, produced by Paweł Kosuń and budgeted at €214,000, may have started out with Wroclaw and 1963 very much in its sights, but it was soon obvious that the brief had to be widened to accommodate the times we are living through.
“What is important for us is [how] the mechanism of reactions are quite familiar, from the 60s to now. All the conspiracy theories and the closedown, and once again nobody feels safe,” says Kotecka. “When it comes to that basic human reactions, they are actually quite similar.”
The KFF pitch document underlines how The Plague will be a portrait of human fear. “Inspired by the historic events and the current situation, it examines what happens between the news and the numbers – within words, stories and emotions of the protagonists. We observe patterns of behaviour imposed by the epidemic: whether in a state‐controlled society of the past, or that of the contemporary world, dominated by technology and aggressive media.”
Does Kotecka feel a pressure to deliver the project ahead of the stated date of September 2021?
“To be honest I don’t like the extra pressure that it must be finished by a certain time, and I think that the film would be better without this pressure,” she says. “I think that I would like to have the privilege to work within a regular rhythm, but of course it is important not to deliver it too late. But the creative process is also very important and so it should only be presented when I feel it is ready.”
It is, she feels, a film about psychological response to the current situation, the fear it engenders and the existential change to our lives that it represents. “I think that the pandemic has profoundly affected all of us, which is another reason to make this film. It might be interesting to mirror ourselves in this film,” she concludes.