Jeremy Glaholt met me at the Hermosillo in Highland Park on a warm November afternoon. I had just returned from a trip to Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavik and he was on the eve of a trip to Poland, but insisted we have a beer for my birthday. Jeremy is a Los Angeles based independent filmmaker and cinematographer. We’ve been as close as brothers since our junior year in film school and roommates twice. Anytime I want to see an obscure film, new artist or band, Jeremy is the guy. That’s why when he told me he was attending the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Camerimage for the premiere of his short film, it was a must he contribute to Hearts Are Analog. This story is about an independent filmmaker’s travels through Łódź and Bydgoszcz with tips and recommendations for street art, food, drinks and the Poland art scene.
First, a little background…
The International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Camerimage brings together professional cinematographers, students and industry insiders each November. It’s been held in Bydgoszcz since 2007, but has been active since 1993. The Golden Frog is the highest award in each category. Past winners have included The Piano, Secrets & Lies, Amores Perros, City of God, and Slumdog Millionaire. While living in Berlin for 6 months in 2013, Jeremy had written, directed and shot the short film, Catch. In Jeremy’s words, Catch explores the intricacies that arise when someone attempts to both explore and control their sexuality. Set in Berlin, the story revolves around Gia, a young woman exploring her newfound sexual independence gained from the anonymity of her online persona. That is, until she meets Yusuke.
After a few beers and a trip to Gimme Gimme Records, a personal favorite, Jeremy headed home to pack his bags. My two requests: bring back a good bottle of Polish vodka and some solid recommendations for travel. From here I’m turning over Hearts Are Analog to Jeremy.
The trip began in Łódź (pronounced Wootch), Poland. They’ve been a previous host of the Camerimage Film Festival and happen to be one of my favorite cities. Small in size, but with a fascinating history in art, film and culture. When people ask me why I like that city so much, the only way to explain it is, well… it’s got a soul.
With only a day to spend in the city, friends of mine and Łódź residents Kasia, Agnieszka, and her husband Piotr ensured I take full advantage of the layover.
Łódź is a thriving part of the Poland art scene and the city embraces street art almost universally. They’ve re-invigorated the city through many large-scale murals by both world-renowned artists and local alike. Urban Forms is a great resource for information on artists, maps, projects and city tours. They believe that large format paintings done directly on the side elevations of buildings change the appearance of a given space permanently and adds life to a city. Agreed.
After checking out the murals, we headed out for food and drinks. The OffPiotrkowska is a vibrant area of the city center that brings together designer’s studios, architects, music clubs, restaurants, exhibition spaces, and places to find a great cocktail. The area is touted as an “alternative to the consumer mainstream”. It is bohemia designed, where people and their imaginations are the only limits to the extent of cultural activities.
A former factory built by Francis Ramisch, once an example of peak cotton manufacturing, is now a full on place of creativity and culture. There is a good cotton gin joke here, but we’ll forgo the pun and go straight to the cocktails.
Cafe Wolność is named for the Wolnosci Square it sits on – Wolnosci translated to “Freedom Square”. The communist era bar immediately reminds you of the steeped history of this city and the spectrum of change that has occurred in a rather short period of time.
Anatewka serves strong traditional Plum vodka (aka Moonshine). Plum vodka not only warms the soul with a unique turpentine sting, but it’s a reminder to get back up and face the cold head on with a clear and intoxicating courage. If we had any hopes of prolonging this evening, we needed to get some food.
Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa is a chain of bars in Poland that are inspired by the socialistic era. It literally means, “vodka and beer pump room”. We started in on delicious Tar Tar, a beef with raw egg on top and lemon vodka. There is really nothing like a raw egg followed by a lemon vodka shot to get you back on the horse.
From the chill of the night we stepped into Kaliska, a famous bar named after the 1980’s era artist group. Kaliska is an inter-media artistic group that formed as a new vanguard to probe perception and registration aspects of the photo media oriented nature, especially pertaining to photography, experimental film and performance. The bar surrounds you with the highly erotic and iconic art of this group, a definite dark and surreal environment. The women’s toilet has a two-way mirrored window looking out at the main dance floor. The bar has become more of a tourist attraction today but not that long ago there were a lot of wild happenings. Akin to CBGB’s last days.
A bit groggy, but happy – this was the last stop before I travel to Bydgoszcz…
After a change in sponsor, Bydgoszcz became the new home for Camerimage. It’s charm, river and beautiful 18th century buildings provide a picturesque experience. Bring a camera and plan an unplanned walk. Discovery is ripe for those who seek it. Along the way check out these spots for accommodations, food and drink.
My highest recommendation for the city is Kuchnia. The menu changes daily depending on what fresh meats come from the butcher. Like most Polish restaurants it is not the best place to eat if you are vegetarian or vegan. For the omnivores, the fresh homegrown meat, soups and vegetables are prepared perfectly. Three out of the five nights in Bydgoszcz, I ate here.
Jadłodajnia MÓZG is an art forward intellectual’s bar in the heart of the city. It’s dark and moody with avant-garde art throughout. There are awkward low entrances that lead you into even darker hangouts and dance spaces. If you’re hungry, the main patron will cook you a small plate he has prepared for the evening. The first night in town I had a vegetarian curry dish that was delicious. Unlike traditional polish food everything here is vegetarian.
I stayed in an old Polish post office (photo by ghiac2011). Kasia stays here every year she visits the festival. The only other guests that stay here are post office workers coming in town to work during busy times of the year. Every time I entered, the non-English speaking guards had to unlock the main door. I was met with a lot of strange looks and laughter, but always managed to make it to my room. To favor passage, I learned the following phrases:
Lead actress Lydia Schamsula, who played Gia in Catch, joined me for the screening along with fellow actor Phillip Kleinfelder. Wonderful to see these two talented creatives again. Lydia became one of the strongest collaborators on this film, always challenging me to find the meaning in her actions. Surrounding yourself with talented collaborators is a true blessing not only for the spirit, but for the work.
Prior to the screening of Catch, we took in some films both long and short format. The Polish student short films were mature and interesting. But after a few consecutively, an enveloping desire to slit your own wrists set in. It seems popular amongst the students to create extremely dark and dreary films. That being said it was refreshing to go to a festival where challenging the viewer in so many extreme ways is the norm.
Hardkor Disko was a film that particularly caught my attention. The film’s narrative is centered on the children of a contemporary metropolis who are absorbed in hedonism which ultimately leads to rising anger and tension as the story unfolds. Directed by Krzysztof Skonieczny, this film is a Polish version of Trainspotting with a hint of The Edukators – just darker.
As the theater began to fill, my anxiety thickened. Lydia, Phillip and I sat nervously waiting for the projector to light. Catch was the headliner of this particular series. In a screening of Alan Rickman’s directorial debut, I witnessed the audience laugh out loud (it wasn’t a comedy), so I could just imagine how they would rip us apart. These festival goers do not hold back.
Showing your film on screens of this size brings out every nuance, every flaw – you are totally exposed, naked to the audience. I was anticipating every soft focus, every extra frame in the edit. The film began to play and within 30 seconds I had exhaled. It made me proud to sit with my collaborators and enjoy the fruits of our labor. The film was well-received and we were encouraged. If only film school me could see me now. Thousands of miles from home and with subtitled work. Polish subtitles at that.
The festival came to a close and I was traveling back to the U.S. with a short layover in Berlin. Passing between terminals, I stepped outside to a typical cold and foggy Berlin morning. A wave of melancholy overcame me as realization set in on how things had come full circle. It was in this city that my wife and I landed, with all that we had, to live as full-time creatives. It was the city that inspired my short film which would lead me to Poland and this experience. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face making my way to the gate. When you take chances, step outside your comfort zone, your country even, that is when you experience the new and different. This allows you to expand your perspective through the perspectives and talents of others. Catch is not only a film, but a passport to experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
To my fellow collaborators and those that read my story… Thank You.
Connect With Me: Jeremy Glaholt
Cover Photo: Christian Thomas
Street Art Photos: Provided by Fundacja Urban
Local Guide: Kasia
Blog updated 1.16.2015 to correct information about where to get lemon vodka and tar tar. Fact checker was drinking lemon vodka. Sorry.