Published on: 13 October 2016 in Industry

Andrzej Wajda: a personal recollection

Reading time: 3 minutes and 11 seconds

Director Andrzej Wajda sadly died earlier this week at the age of 90. Widely celebrated as Poland’s greatest filmmaker, Andrzej’s films both reflected and interacted with the recent history of his country.

The influence of Andrzej’s films was felt far beyond Poland. Directors UK member Udayan Prasad writes for us about what Andrzej Wajda and his work means to him:

By Piotr Drabik - Flickr: f12451640, CC BY 2.0,
By Piotr Drabik - Flickr: f12451640, CC BY 2.0,

I first heard about Andrzej Wajda in 1974 when I was an art student at Leeds Polytechnic. My film tutor showed us A Generation and then every film made by Wajda that was available in the UK at the time, the last being The Wedding. Every one of them held my attention in a way I had rarely experienced. I didn’t understand some - The Wedding, in particular - and the full meaning of the white horses, the red poppies and the sabres escaped me, however, their presence in Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds, Everything For Sale and others did nothing to divert me for even an instant from what was happening on the screen. I was gripped from start to finish by the stories and the complex and utterly truthful characters inhabiting the worlds of those stories. The extraordinary energy emanating from the screen, along with the command of cinematic language left me breathless. I was hooked and rarely missed seeing a Wajda film whenever one came to London.

As with Bergman and Scandinavia, Fellini and Italy, Ozu and Japan, Wajda’s films became my window into Poland, its people, history and culture. Here was a filmmaker, completely rooted in his own culture, whose work transcended national boundaries and communicated with a kid born in India; a kid who, by then, had spent more than half his life in the UK.

Then came Man of Marble and Man of Iron and confirmation that for Wajda the pursuit of truth and justice was inseparable from his work as an artist. The fight against oppression was not to be shirked even when the odds seemed completely stacked against you. What was truly impressive for me was that his approach never descended into simple cliché or sank to the level of the propaganda being churned out by the oppressor. Humanity never left the screen.

I could never have imagined that Wojciech Marczewski, one of Wajda’s film-making comrades, who shared his vision for Poland and was an equally unique artist of the cinema, would one day ask me to join him as a teacher of film directing at the NFTS. Nor could I have imagined that connection would eventually lead to my sitting next to Andrzej Wajda on the tutors’ table in the extraordinary film school he and Marczewski had established in Warsaw. There I saw and heard him share his thoughts, ideas and experiences with a selflessness driven - it seemed to me - by a desire to infect his listeners with a love for cinema as intense as his own. I did feel a fraud sitting next to him but thanked fortune for the opportunity of learning from the man who had been such an inspiration for so long.

Udayan Prasad is a television and film director, best known for his films Brothers in Trouble (1995) and My Son the Fanatic (1997). His most recent work includes The Musketeers, The Tunnel, Silent Witness and the feature film The Yellow Handkerchief.

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