In Oscar-nominated Zofia Kowalewska’s feature-length doc debut, the filmmaker travels with her 92-year-old grandfather to a remote village in Kazakhstan, where he was exiled during WWII, in search of his first love.
Polish producer Stanisław Zaborowski claims that his decision to make the highly personal ‘road’ documentary Siskin wasn’t altogether a business one. “To be honest, there was a personal reason. I decided to help someone to realise a last checkpoint on his list.”
After 70 years, 92-year-old Zdzisław sets off on a 5000 km journey to a remote village in Kazakhstan, accompanied by his granddaughter, filmmaker Zofia Kowalewska. He is in search of his first love, whom he was forced to leave behind all those years ago. Meanwhile, Zofia discovers the source of the bedtime stories she heard as a child. As they grow closer, they get the chance to say goodbye. Zdzisław to the journey of his life, Zofia to her beloved grandfather.
“When we started we didn’t even know we would get the financial support but we organised the first trip and we took the long journey by plane and train, and that was exciting. I was very happy that we could help someone, person to person. It wasn’t just a business thing,” Zaborowski adds.
Zdzisław was also the subject of the director’s Close Ties, about a bickering couple who share the same cramped apartment, which was awarded IDFA Special Jury Prize for Student Documentary and shortlisted for the Best Short Doc Oscar in 2017. “This time she decided to go again with her grandfather on a very personal journey, because for her it was probably the last time she could travel with somebody so close to a place that is very important for him, where he didn’t have the courage to go before.”
Producer Zaborowski points out the significance of the film’s title. ‘Siskin’ was Zdzisław’s nickname in Kazakhstan and it references a red feathered bird. Among the dark-haired Kazakhs, Zdzisław was the only redhead.
As for the production, the monies are in place [the budget is €102,600 euros] and the Kazakh shoot is complete, so the film is currently in post-prod stage. “We have confirmed finances from the Polish Film Institute and from Polish national television, so mostly we are good, and we are aiming for Spring 2021 [delivery],” Zaborowski confirms.
During Krakow 2020 he is looking for a sales agent and distribution deals, as well as festival interest. “I would like to show it in Kazakhstan and post-Soviet countries because I think this story could be quite interesting for this part of the world. It could be exciting to distribute the movie in a country where documentary film is not a very common thing, such as in Kazakhstan.”
Of director Zofia Kowalewska, the producer is very complimentary.
“I remember I was very surprised when we first met to talk about the film. Zofia hadn’t finished film school yet, she turned out to be a very experienced and developed director. After the success of the short film Close Ties she knew exactly how she wanted to tell the new story, and also a lot from an industry perspective. Communication with her was very good from the first meeting,” he stresses.
“We started a good and constructive dialogue about the movie, what we want to do and what we want to say. It has developed a lot since then, but it is always constructive and the ideas are always evolving, which is very good for the film.”
“Of course we discuss the different story roads, but it is always constructive and the ideas are always evolving, which is very good for the film.”