Interview with Adam Uryniak (Szamota,s Mistress)

Interview by Monica Magdalena Semzuki.

Adam Uryniak, a graduate of the Crakow School of Film and Audiovisual Communication, tells us about his various film productions and the latest film project – “Szamota’s Mistress” by Stefan Grabiński, and wonders about the state of horror film in Poland.

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself. When did your adventure with film started and why did you choose this direction?

The first video I did for fun, with friends with whom I studied film theory. We named ourselves Butcher’s Films. The initiative has grown, with each film we learned something new and eventually, most of us took up film in a professional way. In the heroic times of the Butcher’s Film, we were actors ourselves, as well as sound engineers, operators, and if necessary, even make-up artists, so we know the ins and outs of working in different dimensions, we are still supporting ourselves in a similar way. I was attracted to directing in the first place. I made a few short films, and in 2011 I directed a full-lenght film called “Zniknięcie”, based on a short story by Olga Tokarczuk.

In your words, how would you describe the film you’re working on, and why did you chose “Szamota’s Mistress” by Stefan Grabiński?

What’s most important is the mood and creative use of the iconography of a horror movie. “Szamota’s Mistress” doesn’t have to be an ordinary scary movie, I want to create ambiguous, gripping intrigue, which also contains criminal elements. I care about the visual aspects of the film. Moreover, an idea for a film grows out of this area. My scenographer showed me the story, and we wanted to adapt it to a very short movie, a candy created for mine, operator’s and stage designer’s pleasure, in order to utilize our creative forces. The story inspired me, however, to expand it significantly, and before I knew it, I had written a much bigger film script. After a few adjustments, it seemed quite natural and obvious to us, that there is no return, and we just have to do this movie. Unfortunately, the project size makes us to look for different sources of funding.

Who are the main characters of your film?

The main character is Joseph Szamota, the notary, who comes to some old palace to estimate the value of the property. There, he’s on the trail of family secrets of former inhabitants of the palace. Some strange things begin to happen around him, Szamota stops to trust his senses and suspects that he fell into madness. The main female character is Jadwiga Kalergis, a character so interesting that her ontological status is unclear. She’s an unruly niece of the count, causing him some trouble in the past, because she liked to be friends with a lot of men, also of peasant origin, and for the Count – proud Sarmatian and a great fan of hunting, it was a major discredit to his honour.

Horror films are not very popular in Poland. Why do you think this happens, and why did you chose this kind of movie?

In Poland, there are many fans of horror, both literary and film. There is a very lively fan life, vibrant clubs and conventions, there are magazines about widely understood fantasy. Interesting fact is that, however, Polish film makers pass indifferently not only by the horror, but by every film genre. To see all Polish horror films, two or three days are enough. Most of them are television productions. After 1989, horror films were made only as school etudes or as a part of independent cinema. I really like such stories, so I decided to face the genre. Another attraction was the work of Stephen Grabiński, the writer, who is venerated by Polish horror fans. He wrote many excellent stories, which are just waiting to be filmed. Unfortunately, the last time the cinema reached for it, was almost 30 years ago. “Szamota’s Mistress” was shot in 1927 for the first time. Unfortunately, this film didn’t survive to our times, and if you believe reviews of the era, it was very interesting and stood out among other Polish films. Therefore, my version of the story will be also an attempt to restore “Szamota’s Mistress” in the sphere of Polish cinema.

Tell me something about your previous films. Were you driven by similar motives?

I am making films for over 10 years, many of my first productions were more fun than serious cinema. All of it changed in 2009, when I worked on “Podglądacz”. It was the first time I worked with professional actors and I had decent equipment. I lived through a period of fascination with cinema noir, and this film is a nod to the genre, both in feature and formal terms. I have a great sentiment for “Podglądacz”, because I travelled through some festivals with him, and generally met with good response from the audience. I mentioned about “Zniknięcie” – my last film so far. Here, you can see the trailer: It’s a bit of a thriller, a psychological film containing some metaphysical motifs. I really like to mix genres and under the guise of, for example, thriller, smuggle other content, something more from myself. It seems to me, that this is the way to create non-obvious cinema, surprising and simply addictive, interesting in its reception.

Which directors and movies inspire you?

I like every, well narrated cinema, but I also find inspiration in films which seems to be bad, but have their own characteristics, such as Roger Corman horror films. I watch both art-house cinema and also Hollywood blockbusters. In every genre you can come across something interesting. It would be hard for me to name the directors that I admire, and which I treat as a role model. It is never like the entire work of some artist equally appeals to me – there are better and worse films. Besides, I am not a supporter of treating the director as the only author of the film. Cinema is a collective art and you can be never sure whether an item in a movie, that intensively affects us, is the brainchild of the director or someone else from the team.