From the 27th November – 9th December the ICA is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s 1989 masterpiece The Decalogue (Dekalog) with a rich and wide-ranging retrospective.

BA (Hons) Film Production Senior Lecturer Witold Stok BSC, who worked as Director of Photography on Kieslowski’s Personnel is to hold a special screening of the film and Q&A session on 29th November, 6.30pm. Witold talks to us about the sessions and his work with Kieślowski:

Dekalog was a groundbreaking series of ten 1-hour television films based on the Ten Commandments – except he mixed them. This is a great Stanley Kubrick’s quote: ‘These films have the very real ability to dramatise their ideas… You don’t realise until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.’

At the time, this style was in vogue. A few years later there was a German TV series called Heimat – a number of episodes thematically connected but not always with the same characters, just the general theme.

What’s interesting is that Nico Marzano – ICA Film and Cinema Manager, is also presenting very early Kieślowski – films which are completely unavailable in this country. Personnel doesn’t exist anywhere. It’s like archeology – they found one tape, which wasn’t in great condition!  In this season he brings a number of beautiful unknown films – something new. 

I’m presenting two sessions. The first is Personnel + Q&A on the 29th November. Personnel was Kieslowski’s first long fiction film ever and I was the Director of Photography. He was very green. All the traits that made him famous later on – are already in this film, so to speak.

The second session I’m presenting is on the 5th December – ‘Documentaries and Short Subjects with a panel discussion. I shot several of the films they’re showing. 

Nobody makes documentaries like this now. These are all 10 – 20 mins long. Documentaries nowadays are commissioned by television companies for slots of 30 mins or 1 hour.  If they pay you for an hour you do an hour even if the subject doesn’t sustain an hour. Fill the time… Shorter documentaries pushed you to be concise. They were beautifully constructed. 

In those days they were made as the first programme in a cinema screening. Poland was a communist country and commercials didn’t exist, so there’d be this type of short, and a newsreel, followed by the main feature.

 It’s interesting to see the questions people may raise 2 decades later, to see how these films relate to young people, and how the audience responds to black and white. Nowadays people feel like they are not getting full value if something is in black and white…

 I shot 25 feature films and over 50 docs – no one in particular stands out. It’s hard to say  – they are all your babies. Some babies are ugly but you still love them.

My wife, Danusia Stok, who wrote ‘Kieślowski on Kieślowski’ (published by Faber & Faber) will be on the panel of the Opening Gala. She conducted a series of interviews with him, translated them into English and edited them into the book. 

When teaching and passing on your experience, you start to look at things with a different eye. When you shoot a film, you do something instinctively, because you feel like it. When you need to explain yourself to students, you have to stop and think. With hindsight you process it a lot more analytically. 25 years later, you still think why did we do it that and not another way? 

I enjoy teaching at AUB , one the best BA courses in the country. And now we’re starting a MA course, an exciting departure. The students are lucky with the equipment we have – some places have nothing near to it. It is important to be able to bring in industry contacts to do workshops with our students – that connection with industry is vital. “

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