(1980) 60 minutes
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Jerzy Grotowski, a leading figure in the avant-garde theatre, invited a film crew to travel with him to the small village of Nienadowka, Poland in 1980. It was there that he, his mother, and his brother were hidden by a peasant family during the Nazi occupation. Returning for the first time since the war, Grotowski hopes to rediscover the people, places, images, and sounds of his intensely lived childhood--memories that are indelibly linked to his art. Afterwards, in his aunt's apartment in the nearby city of Rzeszow, he speaks directly to the camera about the foundations of his work of that time, Theatre of Sources. And he tells us of what we can rediscover--our original joy, or what he so eloquently calls "the movement within the repose." With an introduction by Peter Brook.


AN ACCOUNT OF HOW THIS NIENADOWKA FILM FIRST CAME INTO BEING And Where It Has Been For The Last 28 Years, And Why It's Best To Watch The Film First Before Reading This Story. Jill Godmilow, 2008

I admit, it's a crazy story. My memory isn't to be trusted. I am attempting to write here about some mysterious things that happened 28 years ago . . . mysterious Polish things. And it's been a very long time since Mercedes Gregory, known to her friends as Chiquita, called me up and proposed that we take a film crew to Milan, Italy, to record various activities and performances at an international conference called "At the Frontier of Theatre," which had been organized to examine the radical new work of the legendary Polish theatre director, Jerzy Grotowski. The film, With Jerzy Grotowski, Nienadowka, 1980 developed out of that trip to Milan. I wish Chiquita was still with us to clarify some facts and to tell us-really-how things came about, and why some things didn't come about. To this day, these Polish adventures continue to be somewhat shrouded in mystery, and I write-still-in the condition of great wonder.

Back to Milan. In 1979, the Italian organization Centro di Ricerca Per Il Teatro invited theatre critics and academics from all over the world to Milan to hear Grotowski talk about his paratheatrical work and to participate in either or both of two projects-The Vigil, which lasted about three hours, and the Tree of People, which, as I remember, lasted 12 hours. Chiquita had brought me to Milan to direct a film about each event. We filmed the conference and both projects on videotape. (At the time, Grotowski's work had two "branches": paratheatre [1969-1978] and Theatre of Sources [1976-1982]).

What is this paratheatrical work? Or, para-theatrical work? I'll start with Jerzy's introduction at the conference in Milan: Ten years ago I decided to say that the word "theatre" no longer had any great significance for us . . . that the word "actor" no longer had a great significance for us . . . that the word "spectator" no longer had any significance for us . . . and that the word "performance" no longer had any significance for us. It was necessary to say this so that the general public could understand that there were certain boundaries in the existing theatre . . . that the theatre, as it had been defined in the last several hundred years, had its boundaries or limits. For us to be able to continue on our path, we had to break through these boundaries . . . to pierce a hole in The Frontier of Theatre.

I write not as a theatre scholar, or practitioner . . . but as an outsider . . . only a filmmaker. To learn more from the professionals about that "hole" and where it led Grotowski, I would first direct you to Peter Brook's statement at the beginning of the film: "For Grotowski, theatre is not a matter of art. It's not a matter of plays, productions, performances. Theatre is something else. Theatre is an ancient and basic instrument that helps us with one drama only-the drama of our existence-and helps us to find our way towards the source of what we are." This is the work that had begun for Grotowski in 1969 and was developing when this film was made . . . work that "helps us to find our way towards the source of what we are."

During the conference in Milan, Jerzy asked Chiquita if she could put together another film crew and bring them to the city of Rzeszow in southeastern Poland the next year. There were some people to meet, some places he wanted to show and some things he wanted to talk about there-on film. Chiquita agreed to find the money and to bring us to Rzeszow. This is the city where Jerzy was born in 1933.

Chiquita asked me to direct this "Rzeszow project" but would not say a word about what film we were about to make. She said we would meet Jerzy in Rzeszow and discuss things there. This is a very confounding way to prepare a film, but I trusted Chiquita. Likewise I trusted Jerzy, with whom I had already spent many all-nighters in Warsaw's Hotel Bristol, drinking cognac, smoking packs and packs of cigarettes and discussing not only the role of theatre but much more. "Jill, you have nothing to lose," I told myself.

Chiquita, producer; myself, director; and three crew members, Maurice Jacobson, camera; Lee Orloff, sound engineer; and Herbert Forsberg, assistant camera, traveled to Poland in August, 1980. Again, we brought with us 3/4" video equipment. (Please remember that this is the period just before the camcorder arrived-that lightweight video camera that would have made life much easier in the flooded potato fields of southeastern Poland.) We flew to Warsaw, then to Wroclaw, the home base of Jerzy's Teatr Laboratorium. There we picked up a small Polish van, and a photographer, Jan K. Fiolek, who drove us to Rzeszow. The next morning, I asked the crew to set up camera and microphone to record a breakfast meeting with Jerzy to discuss the film. The camera rolled and I asked Jerzy what film we were making. He smiled and winked and told me almost nothing: We would be shooting on a small farm in the village of Nienadowka, where, in 1940, his mother brought his brother and Jerzy, age 7, for shelter during the German occupation of Poland. We would also be shooting for two days in his elderly aunt's apartment in Rzeszow.

Nothing was spoken about it at the time, but somehow, at that first breakfast, I understood that Jerzy would be in some way directing the film and it would be my job to make it possible for him to do that, by arranging the camera and sound to record wherever, whenever, and whatever he wanted to do and say. In essence, I abdicated as director, and followed Jerzy's lead. This was hard for a moment, and then it wasn't. This, therefore, is the film Jerzy wanted to make.

If you've watched the film already, you know that in 1980, he had decided to show and tell-on film-what he had experienced as a boy on that farm during the war years, and how those experiences had become sources for his theatrical work. He wanted to show us the places where certain images had appeared to him and where certain connections were made. He wanted us to meet the very kind Polish family that had taken in the Grotowski family in a moment of danger. I believe he also wanted to shoot at the Nienadowka farm to evoke an image of his mother, then already dead, who in many ways inspired his work.

"And here I was born in some way the second time, in this village. All essential motives in my life started here," Jerzy says. It turned out he had not been back to the Nienadowka farm since the war, almost 40 years before.

As we shot the film, I felt that Grotowski was really searching for something, and finding it, in front of the camera's eye. So this film is a real documentary . . . a document of what happened in that place when Jerzy went to find something . . . something he needed to meet again, possibly in order to connect those four wartime years even more profoundly with his search for those theatrical and ritual processes that help with the work of discovering, as he says in the film, "What is it that is before 'I'. "If I understand him correctly, he was looking to discover, through various techniques, what is given to us-what is inside us- before the development of the ego. As I said, Grotowski's work project at the time was called Theatre of Sources. He was investigating various source traditions-Indian, Haitian, Sufi, etc.-all of which he believed could help, in different ways, in a search for the essential-for the grain of light, for "an original, pre-cultural sense of beginning." He was able to show us a little bit of that in Nienadowka.

In the film, occasionally you can catch Grotowski subtly giving me and the crew directions. An example: When he finds that there is no one in the farmhouse when we arrive, he signals that there is no one here so we should go away and come back later. Occasionally you hear me say, "Ready, Jerzy," and then you see him begin to walk or tell something. Sometimes this arrangement makes us all look like fools. Once Jerzy is standing in a grove of trees, searching for something that he can't seem to find. Then he approaches the camera and explains that somewhere here . . . just there-he points . . . was his "sacred tree." The camera swings over to where he is pointing-there is nothing there but grass- as Jerzy continues, "But it is no longer here." We are staring at just grass . . . Jerzy, me, Chiquita, the crew, the camera, and now you.

The farm in Nienadowka . . . it seems it was a special learning place for Jerzy. He recounts that he and his friends had many times watched a bull impregnate a cow and learned something about nature's simultaneous fecundity and cruelty. Grotowski says, "It was absolutely normal. It was not at all funny. It was very serious. And it was the very particular lesson about what it is, the nature . . . what I call the senses and their objects, in the meaning the big mother world. The mother world . . . the world which is in the same time giving the fecundity and giving the death . . . at the same time."

Later we are up close to Jerzy (it's as if our knees touch) in his aunt's apartment in Rzeszow. It's here he wants to speak to us directly about the sources for his work and how they began for him as a boy on that farm: his discovery of Jesus as his 'friend'; the lessons from nature; his mother's serenity in the face of danger and her interest in a "community of traditions." Beside his near-dozing aunt, Jerzy's impulse is to lean towards the camera and tell us how to find again that gift, our original joy, or what he calls "the movement within the repose."

Back in New York, I made a full rough cut of the film within a few months. Then Chiquita and I waited a long time for Jerzy to come from Poland to see what was there and what he wanted to do. When finally he was in New York, he watched the cut once, then again. He liked it. Then we all agreed that he would record some voice-over where it was needed to clarify what was going on, and that Jerzy would do it extemporaneously. So he is watching the film and when he sees the need, or when I ask him to, he is telling us what is going on, again, with great intensity. . . like he is there in Nienadowka again.

I still can't quite account for the way Jerzy connects all these childhood experiences with the Theatre of Sources project he was doing at the time, but somehow it's there in the film. Up and back the film goes from the farm to the aunt's apartment, where Jerzy maneuvers with his interesting Polish-Frenchified English to share his insights into what the theatre can lead us to. It has something to do with his own searching, his intense presence in both places, and his impulse to offer it to us, just then.

It was a privilege to help in this enterprise. The mysterious accident that put me in that potato field continues to inform my life. I have watched the film many times. It is always fresh and there is always something new.

With Jerzy Grotowski, Nienadowka, 1980 was never put into distribution. Jerzy saw a final cut with his narration and approved it. I don't know why it was held back, and after a while, I stopped pressing Chiquita for answers. Were there political reasons to withhold it? Was it just the wrong time? Had the film been made only "for posterity"...for theatre academics who would later write about Jerzy's work? Or for a personal record? Did we go to Nienadowka to film because somehow Jerzy divined that he would not have the opportunity, after 1980, to visit Nienadowka again?

The year the film was finished, 1980, was the year of the Gdansk shipyard strike that generated the national Solidarity trade union and eventually, by my thinking, the end of the sinister symmetry of the Cold War, which finally crashed in 1989 with the breaching of the Berlin Wall. (In fact, the strikes in Gdansk started while we were filming with Jerzy in Rzeszow.) When the shooting was done, we returned to New York but soon after, I tried to get back into Poland with a crew to make a film about the events in Gdansk and the Solidarity movement that followed. Warsaw by then was overrun with foreign journalists and camera crews and the Polish government felt completely overwhelmed. They denied me a visa to enter Poland with a film crew. (I ended up making a film on the same subject in New York City over the next four years. It was called Far From Poland.)

Somehow I lost personal contact with the Gregorys and Jerzy. What I know is that after Martial Law was declared in Poland, Jerzy found his presence there precarious and potentially compromising, especially after he refused to demonstrate support for the regime of General Jaruzelski. He left Poland with the help of Chiquita and her husband, Andre Gregory. Receiving political asylum in the U.S., he came to teach first at Columbia University in New York City, later at the University of California-Irvine. In 1986 Grotowski relocated his research to Pontedera, Italy, where he continued his work at a center that bore his name, Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski, which he renamed in 1996 Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards.

How this film finally made its way onto a DVD disc and into your hands-after all these years-let's just say it's another mystery, or a small miracle. I believe that the experience offered by With Jerzy Grotowski, Nienadowka, 1980 is as close as you can get to Jerzy in any medium. I believe we need to be with him now more than ever.