Life on Marz

A documentary by Marian Marzynski

18-26 of November, Centre for the Culture and Languages of the Jews, University of Wroclaw, Poland screens several films by Marian Marzynski, with the Emmy and Dupont Award winning filmmaker present. Such titles as “Return to Poland”, “Life on Marz: a memoir of a film teacher”, “A Jewish Mother”, “Shtetl”, “Anya”, “A Jew among the Germans” and “Settlement” can be seen there.

Get yourself to Wroclaw for this event or seek other opportunities to watch the Marzynski’s work and perhaps even meet him. (He resides in Boston and occasionally lectures around the US.) In addition to being a great documentarian he is also an inspirational film teacher.

My rave recommendation to seek contact with Marz comes from experience: years ago, being his assistant powerfully influenced the way I see a documentary film. Here are a few things I learned from him.

Marz’s example proved merit of an openly personal approach in telling a story. He did not shy from putting himself into the frame. His strong presence filtered a subject matter and in doing so made it personable and therefore accessible.

Working with a DP Marz insisted to cover a scene with a continues moving shot. Such technique was quite demanding on whoever operated the camera. It pushed an operator to think fast in editorial and therefore conceptual terms while observing the scene, framing, managing focus and keeping the shot steady (without a steadycam). Astonishingly, Marz managed to convey this approach without ever touching the camera. It worked. The Marz’s “cinematographers stable” includes names with Oscar nominations for documentary cinematography. I was never a cinematographer but being often responsible for shooting things for Marz’s Governors State University classes put me in the training and left a strong imprint on my filmmaking style.

Another lesson of Marz had to do with the heart of his stories: diving into our past to embrace the forces that have created us in a primal way.

And finally his passion for teaching and for documentary making: here is a quote from Marz’s book “A Polish-Jewish dream book”:

“Who to make films for? For oneself? For the public? Perhaps only for the intelligent ones? Wouldn’t I want to touch the millions? Here’s my answer: (I want to make films) for those who see more than I would want to show”.

It is a puzzling quote which upon reflection makes perfect sense. We make films to dialog with others, to present our points of view and to hear responses. The responses are intriguing if they bring out a new and true aspect of that which we originally presented. In this way the screen becomes a facilitator for mutual betterment. I like that.

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