Bogna Kowalczyk currently works as a creative art director, director, and animator at Warsaw Production. Since 2009 she has been directing animated films and music videos and has supported dozens of student productions as an animator, CGI expert, script doctor, and assistant director. She has worked with Universal, Sony, Netflix, and other major production companies.
“Boylesque” is screening at the 2022 Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival, which is taking place April 28-May 8. Find more information on the fest’s website.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
BK: “Boylesque” is a bittersweet story about living life to the fullest despite being of a certain age and not conforming to social norms. It’s about taking a patient and aware look on hope for a good life, actively seeking love at an elderly age, and self-acceptance in a judgmental world.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
BK: Curiosity. Authentic conversations with the protagonist revealed glimpses of the mystery that I felt drawn to investigate. The rest was a process.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
BK: I would like them to stay perceptive and reflective at least for a few minutes. I want them to go inward and have a conversation with themselves and people who are close to them. I do not want to preach but rather provoke the viewers and ask questions.
I hope the film sensitizes our souls at least for a few seconds.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
BK: Ageism. It’s a sneaky and extremely hurtful paradox that we breathe like air. I could obviously sense it in the protagonists. It was another level of tension we needed to ease up with trust. They were scared of tokenization, [of being made fun of, of being made into a meme.]
As filmmakers, we put a lot of effort into staying open-minded and alert [so we won’t] slip into hurtful stereotypes. We made it a priority and it has affected the way we built a story. For example, we decided to introduce scenes about love and sex later in the story to give the viewers time to get to know Lulla first, and only then to address the challenging subject.
I think people in a youth-oriented world are scared of what they can’t control and aging is one of the things that will catch up with them sooner or later. It also affected our creative decisions: we put extra pressure on aesthetics, trying to extract the beauty of old skin and wrinkles.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
BK: The film is a Polish-Czech co-production. The leading producers are Tomek Morawski and Kasia Kuczyńska from Haka Films, a Warsaw-based company, with whom I started this journey. Then HBO Max was the first partner that decided to back the project, encouraged by our pitch at DOCS TO START at Krakow Film Festival. Next, we gained a Czech co-producer. Bionaut loved the project instantly and was able to secure funding from the Czech Film Fund. On the Polish side, as most of the shooting was done in Warsaw, the Mazovia Warsaw Film Fund, which supports productions made locally, joined the project as a co-producer.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
BK: I guess I’m a sensitive person. Storytelling is my need to reflect, to invite people to a conversation. I’m doing a lot of things that are connected with mindfulness, psychology, philosophy, and art-making, but all of them, including filmmaking, are about this one thing: this metaphysical, global, intergenerational thought process and conversation that takes place in culture all around us. I actually think it builds us as a collective and as individuals. I believe that apart from aggressive, loud voices, we also need these sensitive appreciations and mind-twisting questions about the only tools through which we perceive, thus create, our reality: our minds.
Languages used to describe the world, pictures used to make templates about reality and models of beliefs we choose to live our lives by, are not objective reality but cultural imprints. Filmmaking, and generally content we see in media, has a huge influence on it. I like to play with this idea by sharing my own doubts and feelings. I like to ask difficult questions myself. It’s sometimes painful, but it’s also exciting. If someone can join me in this conversation, I’m glad.
W&H: What’s the worst advice you’ve received?
BK: Why would I remember? I try to remember conclusions from mistakes, not mistakes themselves. Crisis creates breakthroughs. I prefer to stick with what I learned, not what was hurtful.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
BK: If you want to be interesting, stay yourself. Seek within and be authentic. It’s magnetic and no one can do you better than you. Being yourself is hard work at the beginning and it’s usually frustrating that you need to seek answers within while it seems easier to project but it gives so much clarity later on! I wish someone would have told me that at the beginning.
Don’t waste time and get to know yourself, observe, reflect and you will be surely a better filmmaker. It sounds cliché, but seriously, we can tell a story about the hardest emotions but I believe to actually be able to weave them into the story that is immersive, we need to have some distance from them and this comes through going through the middle of them within us.
Also, if you feel you want to be a filmmaker, imagine what you will feel when you become one. Then take care of your needs in other ways — fewer frustrations, more mind power. You can do much more from a place of fulfillment. It’s also easier to hear your own voice when you are not starved emotionally. This is advice for all people, no matter what gender. Noting defines you apart from the things you choose to define you. Go within and trust the journey.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
BK: I don’t have a favorite one and this question makes me feel like I need to choose. There are amazing animators, painters, artists, and filmmakers of all genres and they all create narratives. When I see a good movie, I’m happy I watched it.
But perhaps it’s an opportunity to talk about some of the Polish filmmakers who inspire me. Lidia Duda is such an amazing director with her painfully authentic narratives and amazing power to confront us with reality in skillful documentary making. Renata Gąsiorowska creates such smart animated worlds, but I’m also inspired by the unbelievable Tomek Popakul, who is a man but his storytelling is so sensitive and magical. However, I believe in positive discrimination as a part of a process of getting us used to the new — filmmaking is non-gendered for me.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
BK: As everybody’s life, mine also fluctuates, but I like the change — even when it’s challenging.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?
BK: I really appreciate content about culture and sociology. There is a YouTube channel called “Pop-Culture Detective” that tackles the idea of hidden misogyny, homophobia, or tokenization of people of color even in the films that seem to champion the cause. Inclusivity itself needs to be smart and authentic, and this comes with deeper reflection.
The film industry has the same problems as society. Just like greenwashing misses the ecology, sometimes “tolerance” loses the human aspect in symbols and the need for “looking good.” We need to get more educated about ourselves and reflect and answers will come from authentic places and they will be local, precise, and successful.
I think we need to educate — also in the film industry — and I’m happy to see more and more panels about challenging subjects in film festivals, for example. Of course, we would all prefer to learn in a way that is easier to digest than thick books and long lectures, but for us as filmmakers, long lectures might be the key to then passing their influence into what we do in film and in the industry itself. For society, as much as books and lectures are amazing, they are content for people who already know stuff. I would love to have more education about us as humans, made for regular viewers.
In my opinion, a key to evolving as a species is self-awareness, and as I said, content is an amazing tool. It’s like a chain when you change a book into a lecture, a lecture into a YouTube video, and a YouTube video into graphics, and so on. I like this bridge between science and art — let’s make it stronger!