10 October 2016
Andrzej Wajda, the great European film director, upholder of historical truth and the ideals of freedom and democracy, son of a Polish officer shot by the NKVD in Kharkov, has died at the age of 90.
Andrzej Wajda was born in Suwalki (an area currently in the Polish district of Podlasie) in 1926 into the family of a regular horse artillery officer and a school teacher.
The future legendary director managed to finish seven grades of high school before the German occupation began. To avoid forced labor in Germany, Wajda worked during the war as a stevedore, draughtsman, storeman, and as an aide to a local artist restoring wall paintings in Catholic churches.
He swore an oath to the underground Home Army, the organized resistance group fighting against the German occupation.
Andrzej Wajda's father was shot by the Soviet NKVD in Kharkov in 1940. Many years later, in September 2007, Wajda's film Katyn, the first detailed cinematic account of this Polish-Soviet tragedy, was released. Andrzej Wajda himself called it "the most difficult film" of his life.
"A tragic situation - caught between two hostile armies, there is no place for the Poles anywhere. I wanted to make a film based on real people, real documents. For me it was very important that the film was not anti-Russian, but anti-Soviet, anti-Stalinist. On Beria's letter the signature is not that of the Russian people but that of Stalin," Andrzej Wajda said in an interview with the BBC.
The theme of anti-Stalinism was fundamental to the Polish school of cinematography, which is usually dated from Wajda's film debut "Generation", made in 1954.
He intended to join the military, but didn't manage to finish the cadet corps before World War II broke out.
When the war was over, Andrzej Wajda entered the Academy of Visual Arts in Krakow as a student of painting, and three years later he switched to the film school in Lodz.
His first full-length film "Generation" is part of a trilogy, followed by the films "Kanal" (1956) and "Ashes and Diamonds" (1958). Kanal, the second film in the trilogy, was awarded a special prize at the Cannes Festival and brought the director international fame.
In his book, Cinema and the Rest of the World, Wajda wrote: "The Lord gave directors two eyes: one to look into the camera, the other to follow like a hawk what happens outside the frame."
In 1981 Andrzej Wajda's film "Man of Steel" became the first Polish film to receive the Palme d'Or of the Cannes Film Festival, and it was also nominated for an Oscar. His film "Danton" won a BAFTA award in 1984.
Wajda was the recipient of the highest awards from various film festivals for his contribution to world cinema: the Golden Lion of the Venice Film Festival (1998), an Academy Award (2000), and the prestigious Golden Bear of the Berlin Film Festival.
In his long career he also made movies that were popular with viewers and critics such as "Promised Land", and the biopic of Poland's former president Lech Walesa, "Man of Hope".
Apart from film, Wajda also became famous as a theatre director, staging modern versions of Hamlet, The Possessed and Crime and Punishment.
Wajda's last project, a biographical film about the artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski, will be released in theatres early next year. It has been put forward by Poland as a contender for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Translated by Alissa Leigh-Valles
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