Jan Komasa is at the forefront of a new wave of ambitious young Polish directors whose uncompromising films are writing the next chapter in the country’s rich filmmaking tradition. While at film school, Komasa’s debut short film, Nice to See You, placed in the top three in Cannes’ Cinéfondation competition, which he followed up with the short film Warsaw in the ensemble directed Ode to Joy . The 29-year-old director recently wrote and directed his first feature film, 'Suicide Room' , which has already racked up huge audiences in Poland, unusual for an independent local film.
Komasa’s unflinching look at teenage alienation doesn’t always make for easy viewing with its graphic depictions of self-harm but it’s a compelling portrait of a privileged and disaffected teen, Dominik, who seeks solace in a virtual suicide club after a harsh incident of facebook bullying leaves him incapable of facing his daily life. Dazed met up with Komasa at the New Horizons Film Festival in Wrocław Poland, to ask him about the next generation of Polish cinema.
Dazed Digital: Where did you get the idea for 'Suicide Room'?
Jan Komasa: It started when I heard about Hikikomori, a Japanese social withdrawal syndrome, and I felt it was entering into Polish culture in a different form. Virtual culture is really spreading along with a culture that promotes keeping everything inside, but then you can see yourself as the problem and that’s when suicides increase.
DD: You were eight when communism dissolved in Poland – how did that impact your early cinematic influences?
Jan Komasa: it was the VHS era and everything was underground. Poles are known for piracy so it wasn’t like North Korea, it was the most open country in the Eastern Bloc. I was watching Ghost Busters and Star Wars. My early film inspiration was always The Godfather and I really liked Japanese anime. My father is an actor so I also went to the theatre a lot. With Polish cinema, I’ve always liked Andrzej Munk, Wojciech Jerzy Has and Roman Polanski.
DD: Is there support for new directors in Poland?
Jan Komasa: It’s funny because we’re always complaining that everything in the west is better, but recently at the Kraków Film Festival, there were a lot of filmmakers from the US, Canada and Australia, and suddenly Suicide Room was the biggest budget film among them. These guys were telling me how hard it is to gather the money for an independent film and I was like ‘what was I complaining about?’
Polish cinema was strong in the 60s and 70s because the state used to help the film industry, but that ended in 1989. Suddenly we were free, but there was no money anymore for film. But the Polish Film Institute was founded in 2006 and it has big budget that’s growing better every year. So there’s a new wave of young directors in Poland finally, after this big gap between 1989 and 2006.
DD: Does this new wave of filmmaking share a distinctive approach?
Jan Komasa: The thing with Polish cinema is that we’re still trying to find our own style. For a while everyone was just copying American culture - there were like 20 romantic comedies in a short space of time and it’s still happening somewhat. It’s shit and false, and now we’re trying to create our own way of storytelling. This festival, New Horizons, really helps. The founder, Roman Gutek, is a great authority here in Poland and the festival has a big impact on culture.
DD: What are you working on now?
Jan Komasa: My next project is about the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 and a boy who enters the resistance and then meets a girl. I’m interested in how love and hatred collide and in using different styles of storytelling. It’s a lot of responsibility, because everybody wanted to make the movie. It’s Poland’s own Pearl Harbor. It was a slaughter in the centre of Europe.
I’m also looking into make a film in English and I’ve had an offer from an American production company so that might be an option. But I don’t want to be another guy who comes to Hollywood and makes a B movie. It would need to have an independent approach and I’m looking for a new idea.
'Suicide Room' is showing at the New Horizons Film Festival Nowehoryzonty.pl
Follow Karen Orton on Twitter here @AaronKorton