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Aleksandra Potoczek • Directora de xABo: Father Boniecki

"Quería hacer una película sobre un ser humano"


- Hablamos con Aleksandra Potoczek, la directora de xABo: Father Boniecki, sobre un cierto hombre siempre de viaje, y sobre su túnica

Aleksandra Potoczek  • Directora de xABo: Father Boniecki
(© Joanna Miklaszewska-Sierakowska)

Este artículo está disponible en inglés.

In her documentary xABo: Father Boniecki [+lee también:
entrevista: Aleksandra Potoczek
entrevista: Timo Malmi y Milja Mikkola
ficha del filme
, fresh off its world premiere at the Krakow Film Festival and scheduled to hit Polish theatres on 24 July, courtesy of Gutek Film, Aleksandra Potoczek follows Father Adam Boniecki – or “xABo”, as he signs his texts and letters to friends. This is no mean feat, given that, despite being well into his 80s, he refuses to keep still (you can see a still featuring the protagonist at the bottom of this interview).

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Cineuropa: By accompanying Father Boniecki on his endless journeys, you basically made a road movie. Did it make him feel more at ease?
Aleksandra Potoczek: After the first few months of working without a camera, I realised there was no other way. I needed to find a solution that would feel natural to him and that would make us invisible. Sitting down, or some other controlled director’s move, simply wouldn’t work, as he can always spot falsehood and trickery. Also, it’s not exactly common knowledge that this 85-year-old man travels for 300-320 days a year. He gets into his car or hops on the train, and off he goes, to the ones who need him and who need support – he lives on the road. And he enjoys it a lot.

This sensitivity to falsehood is probably one of the reasons for his popularity. He doesn’t really do small talk. How do you work with someone like that?
We didn’t exactly plan this, but when I was talking to my cinematographer [Adam Palenta], we agreed that we had abandoned all typical methods of documentary filmmaking here. Usually, you meet your protagonist, get to know them and become friendly. That was also the case this time, but we immediately showed him our cards. This relationship needed to be built on honest attitudes and a fair exchange. No funny business.

The Catholic Church does not allow Father Boniecki to speak to the media [recently because of his eulogy for an anti-government protester], so how does a documentary fit into that? I heard he was praying for you to give up.
It makes it sound desperate, but I remember it as a funny moment. I told him I wanted to make a beautiful film, and he said he would say a beautiful prayer for it not to happen [laughs]. At first, he wasn’t thrilled about it, but not because of the ban – he just didn’t need it. He doesn’t feed on this kind of interest. So it wasn’t comfortable, but soon, having this crew following him around became a part of his everyday life. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get him into further trouble, so I met with his supervisor and explained that it was an artistic project, not a media report, and I am not a TV journalist either. I wasn’t interested in statements regarding some of the current, controversial and political issues. I wanted to make a movie about a human being.

Which actually makes it almost shocking. There has been so much talk about paedophilia in the Church, also thanks to the explosive films by the Sekielski brothers [uploaded on YouTube here], and here you are, with a story about a good priest.
These films were very much needed, and it’s not like I was trying to strengthen the image of a “good shepherd”. I wanted to make a film about this man: an intimate portrait of someone who has authority, but who also has doubts. He sees what is happening in the Church, he doesn’t approve of it, and yet he is still a part of this institution. It’s not so simple. We didn’t want to take sides – even though this divided Poland pops up in there somewhere – but rather show our need for guidance, for someone who can tell us how to live.

Many ask him these questions: how to live, how to be a better person. His message is very simple: “It’s worth talking.” Although, as he deadpans, maybe not to everybody at once.
Throughout the whole shoot, we felt concern mixed with anger. Each one of these people feels like they are the only one approaching him, but it happens 24/7. He gives and gives, but it’s his choice. Sometimes he gets tired of it, but he wouldn’t be happier without it. We have learnt that when someone approaches him, we need to wait because this conversation will be his priority. It’s not like he engages in long disputes every time, but this also makes him special. I remember hearing him say: “I don’t know; I don’t have the answer.” Or just sitting with someone in silence. I wondered what gives people the courage to come up to him, only to realise it’s all him: he gives you a signal saying that you can.

We joke that a bunch of people not associated at all with the Church ended up making a film about such a wonderful person. But we never wanted to make it too sweet. There are some difficult subjects discussed here, and some of them show the price he has paid for his choices. But I am glad that we ended this story with a statement that’s rather unpopular today: things can be good.

Father Boniecki (© Grażyna Makara)
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