The Energy Manifesto!


In March 2012, Close-Up hosted a screening of artist and filmmaker Józef Robakowski's The Energy Manifesto! Series, followed by a live video Q&A with the filmmaker from Poland.

Question: Do you consider your work autobiographical?  

Józef Robakowski: Indeed. All of these works combined form a long film about my life.  

Q: What prompted you to make the film About My Fingers (1982)?  

JR: I really like fairytales and this film was like a fairytale to me. And I like little puppet theatres. I think that was another idea behind itThis film is just a short note on my biography. Putting it together with my other works it all becomes more of a complex story. It is an ongoing discovery of myself through these works, and this film is just a fraction of the whole project.  

Q: My Videomasochisms II (1990) has been shown on TV. I was wondering what does a TV audience, a kind of populist audience, make of that film?  

JR: It is a sarcastic yet cheerful film at the same time. It’s a dialogue with some Polish performers who cut and pierce themselves with various objects. I find this whole idea amusing. But I can assure you, I experienced no physical pain here at all...  

Q: You went to Łódź Film School. How did that influence your work?  

JR: It is a very interesting school.  I tried to get into it in 1958 but wasn’t admitted, so I decided to take another course. I studied Art History. Then in the 1960s I finally got accepted to the Łódź Film School. Back in socialist times that school was synonymous with freedom. That was one of the main reasons I really wanted to be there. I found myself among other present day famous filmmakers like Polanski, Skolimowski, Królikiewicz or Piwowski. Not only were they fabulous artists but also my colleagues and friends. The lecturers came from different countries such as Russia, France and Germany. This international overtone was exceptional in socialism. I wanted to cultivate something that I call

"miniature cinema", to step away from mainstream and typical feature films, and rather strive towards a pure cinema as it was in the interwar period. Stefan and Franciszka Themerson were the founders of this type of cinema, they were the masters of our group.  

Q: Was there any kind of community for more experimental filmmakers like yourself while you were at the Łódź Film School? Something like The Film Makers' Cooperative in New York or similar organisations, or even a smaller group, slightly different from the names that you’ve just mentioned, like Polanski.  

JR: I was studying among Zbigniew Rybczynski, Ryszard Wasko, Wojciech Bruszewski and Andrzej Rozycki. This was the time when the Film Form Workshop[1] was established, in 1970. We didn’t have any specific contacts or connections with Western artists or filmmakers but we would often travel to Moscow. We found the prototype for experimental film in the works of Dziga Vertov. We had the privilege to see his entire body of work. He also had a brother and together they kind of created this template for experimental filmmaking.[2] But what was also interesting about them was that they were originally from Białystok. So there was a Polish connection as well which gave this a special resonance.  

In 1972, we were invited to a film festival in Edinburgh, by the Demarco Gallery, where we had the great opportunity to screen our works from Film Form. It was a really important time for us, as we established contacts and made friendships with many important experimental filmmakers. We had a privilege to meet and show our work to Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman and other artists of the Western avant-garde. In 1974, we were invited to the [International Photo] Festival in Knokke-Heist, where we were able to show a completely different approach to experimental cinema. This was what we called “analytical cinema”, so we analysed the film form and by doing that we fundamentally went beyond the core program of the Łódź School.  

During the time in between the First and Second World Wars, Władysław Strzemiński and Katarzyna Kobro settled down in Łódź after illegally emigrating from Russia. They were on the forefront of experimental filmmaking and, back then, they were our masters. The difference between our films and their work was that our films were very short. What is important here is that we worked on 35mm film, but unlike the Western sort of productions, which were kind of long and nostalgic, our films were much shorter and kind of more snappy. All this lead to an invitation to documenta and later to the International Avant-Garde Film Festival in London, where we established contacts with the international experimental filmmaking world. The writer and film critic David Curtis was our host in London and looked after us.  

Q: Were there any British experimental filmmaker whose work you admired?  

JR: Yes, people like Malcolm le Grice, Chris Welsby… they were invited to Poland, so we became very close. We were also quite close to some US filmmakers, predominantly the representatives of the pure cinema movement. Our group was not very popular in Poland, because this cinema, or what we did, was too difficult for the audiences but never the less we have managed to sort of work towards this really high opinion around the world.  

Q: How did your analysis of film form as you were developing it in the Film Form Workshop changed when you started working with video?  

JR: We graduated from the TV production and filmmaking school and we didn’t really care whether we were making film or television productions. That was in strong contrast to what was happening in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s were they were purely filmmakers. To us, what was important was this variety of form, the multiform. And what was quite interesting for us, was the fact that we had access to very professional equipment, made available through the school. That was back in the days, when portable cameras were not very widely used. In 1973, we created this television event called TV Transmission. We had access to this professional transmission van from where, with a help of very long cables, we transmitted three images into three different galleries. One of the cameras was at the crossroad. The other one was in somebody’s flat and the third one was in the carpenter’s workshop. The cameras were there for twelve hours and they transmitted the images into the museum for twelve hours non-stop. Back in 1973 even Nam June Paik did not do it.  

Q: In the final film that we saw tonight, From My Window (2000), we hear the biographies of your neighbours. How did they react when they saw the film?  

JR: It is quite a popular film and there are many copies circulating, both in Poland and around the world. It tells a short history of a transformation from socialist into capitalist Poland. This metamorphosis is told through the lives of my neighbours. None of the Polish documentary filmmakers managed to capture the moment, and I was the only one who did it, only because I had a camera in my kitchen for twenty years.  

Q: Are all the stories you tell in that film actually true?  

JR: Well, they are very fictional, but real at the same time. This fictional realism is very close to the stories and reality of the time.


[1] Warsztat Formy Filmowej was the most important Polish neo-avant-garde group
[2] Dziga Vertov had two brothers, Mikhail and Boris Kaufman, both became noted cinematographers

We would like to thank Dominika Klimas for her assistance with the translation.