Interview with Roman Polanski on the Lodz Film School

LONDON–I interviewed Roman Polanski last October about his time at Poland’s Lodz Film School for a story I was doing for the International New York Times on the school’s 65th anniversary. He had some interesting things to say about his time there and its influence on his work:

Tell me about your memories of your time at the Lodz Film School?

When I was at school, as all other students, we believed that we were wasting our time but the perspective of a few years I realized how much I got from this school. It was a long study, five years, well fifth year was mainly designed to do the diploma film. But the four years were quite intense. Most professors did not give us much, except those teaching concrete things like optics, history of art, and so on.  But I think the best thing in school was the fact we could see a lot of movies. One [film screening room] served exclusively for the production, we shot films as you know of course. But the other one was for viewing the films. We had very close relation with the Polish Film Archives and if you needed a film for the study, it was enough to fill out the form, get it signed and get the film and you could run it. So as a result there was virtually constant screenings in that projection room, with many students skipping the courses and the watching the films. Now and then an assistant of a professor would stop the screening and scream, ‘all students of the third year production—out!’ (laughs). So the others would get insane, screaming, whistling, etc. We had these types of scenes from time to time. But then we did see a lot of movies.

You were there during the 1950s, not the most open of times in Poland.  

When I was at the school, these were darkest times of post-war Poland in the Communist perod, where under the Soviet influence and the films that you could regularly see in the cinemas were mostly films of the Soviet Bloc, Czech, Polish and Soviet films. But from time to time, the Film Polski, which was part of the Ministry of Cutlure, would buy a film for general release. But to buy those films, they would see many foreign films, sometimes Amerinca, a lot of English and French. So they were viewing those films, the film school was treated as some kind of exclusive institution and we had a very close relationship with that body as well. And they would regularly send us the films that they were viewing for eventually buying for the release. You understand, we were  privileged,  because we got to see many films of the Western productions that the normal Pole would never even dream of seeing.

SNAPRexFeatures_79polanski460What was it like being a student at the school back then? 

There was a lot of freedom at that time and an important factor was the intercourse between the students. We had those stairs, which still exist there.  Lodz was textiles city, and the school was in a former wool merchant’s palace. After WWII, the communist regime requisitioned many of those properties—ha, I say requisitioned but what I mean was they were nationalized, which they would have at their disposal that they would give to the school and film school was ,and still is, in the former residence of capitalists. And it has big wooden stairs on which, even today, when I last visited the place, they still sit on those as we would sit and talk. And that was a very important factor in our education, it was what was happening between students. Some were very bright, others less but we would learn a lot from each other. We would discuss, fight a lot, sometimes literally physically and we all remember the wooden stairs, the former students.

 What about the professors? Did you have any that you still hold in high regard? 

Some of them, you know, as it always happens, the good ones and the mediocre ones. I was lucky to have Andrzej Munk. Besides I was friends with him.  I was in theatre  before the school, so I had some short parts in movies. So I met many of the filmmakers, including Munk. So by the time I was in school, I was friends either with students from the more advanced years or some alums. I hardly spent any time with colleagues from my year. So it was good to have someone like Munk as a teacher in charge of group to which I belonged. There were others who were quite good but the majority, I can hardly remember their names.