In Conversation with Filmmaker Piotr Gołębiowski, Director of “Mother” now available on Amazon Prime
Updated: Aug 8, 2020
The Monmouth Film Festival (MFF) recently had the pleasure to ~virtually~ sit down with director and screenwriter, Piotr Gołębiowski, to talk about his film Mother. This film is inspired by true events in Legionowo, Poland and follows the Pełka family of four as they cling to survival when Nazi German officers seize their home during World War II. Now even if historically based films are not your typical “go-to“ genre we urge you to give this a view as Piotr takes a more personal approach by following one specific family’s story. Taking on this perspective really immerses his audience into a tragic, life-altering experience and piece of history. Here at the MFF we pride ourselves on bringing our guests diverse films from all across the globe and Mother surely delivers. When this film was featured at our 2017 event it took home the award for “Best Foreign Short.” Below we discuss with Piotr how he felt during that moment, as well as some background on the film that is now available to watch on Amazon Prime. You can check it out here!
Łukasz Matecki (Rode) & Piotrek Gołębiowski (director, screenwriter) on the set of Mother.
Photo Credits: Jack Łukasiewicz
First off I’d love to know where this all began. When did you first become interested in filmmaking? Is this something you loved from a young age?
I was drawing comic books and writing books when I was a little boy. Cinema was very important to me from the very beginning. The first two movies that I saw in theaters was Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi and Tim Burton’s Batman. I was a little kid and they blew my mind. Since that moment I knew that I would like to create and tell stories using the camera.
Is this the genre you typically enjoy creating films for or do you bounce around? What is your favorite genre to watch?
Well, I watch every genre. I’m a great fan of cinema, but you are right that in historic cinema there’s something that is interesting to me. However, I would like to be all around when it comes to directing.
I know your film Mother is inspired by true events, from a moment in history that everyone should be familiar with, but what inspired you personally to tell it, especially from this perspective?
I think it’s very simple. The story shown in Mother is the story of my family and has been with me for 30 years. It is a story of a family who face a certain fact, which in this case is the seizure of their own house by high-ranking officers of the German Army during World War II. Mother is also a film about nameless heroes of the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany. Those nameless heroes were civilians, who were subjected to ruthless extermination by the occupying oppressor, while struggling to survive themselves and protect their loved ones from death. I have always kept asking myself this question, how would I have acted if I had been Czesław or Otylia [the parents of the family whose home was seized]? How does one survive in a world where there are no rules, in a world where one day one action saves someone’s life and next day it means death? Mother contains certain symbols and sends out a message. It is a lesson of our tragic history not from the perspective of a soldier, but an average citizen. I had a fantastic grandpa (Jania) and aunt (Terenia). I made this movie to them. Jania had watched the movie before she passed away in 2016. Regrettably, Terenia didn’t see the movie. Filmmaking is the only thing I can do. So I thought that it would be a some kind of answer in kind to Jania and Terenia and their parents.
That’s a beautiful tribute to them and your family’s history. I’m sure they are so proud you are shining a light on them. So did you grow up in Poland as well?
I was born in Warsaw, Poland. This is my family city. I’m very proud of it. The city and its residents had been totally destroyed during that world war, but it has risen like a phoenix from the ashes.
What made you want to focus specifically on that turn taking place in World War II between 1943 and 1944?
In 1943 the situation on the Eastern front was slowly changing. Soviets and the Allies started air raids bombing military installations. Then German officers fearful of these raids started to sequester houses occupied by citizens. They knew that Soviets and the Allies would not have bombed non-military objects. In addition they would use civilians as slaves (e.g. washing, cleaning, cooking under supervision of their own chef – they were afraid of poison). It was not a principle. Germans as masters had the right to get rid of civilians whose houses they were sequestering. Don’t even ask what they were doing with habitancy, not so rare. So in 1943 they sequestered the Pełka family house. It was almost two years of some kind of living with the assailant under the same roof. In 1944 the Soviet army was on the right side of the Vistula and Germans had been forced to retreat. They were deserting Poland, stealing everything they could and killing a lot of civilians. It should be remembered that 6 million Polish citizens died during the second world war.
It’s truly heartbreaking, and also so important that you are honoring those people through your work. Now I have my assumptions, but why did you choose Mother as the title of the film?
Mother is a movie about a woman and her desire to break free from a certain stereotype. Otylia wants to assume some responsibility for the family and makes a life-threatening choice. Anyway It would be interesting to hear how you interpreted this. Film itself is such a beautiful phenomenon because every viewer can interpret the movie, its title and the plot on their own.
Yes that’s what I was thinking, plus the symbolism of Mother Russia when they enter the scene. I thought there could be some double meanings there. So where exactly did you film all of this? Not only the country, but how did you choose the actual ”set” that worked best for you?
We were filming in Otwock and Warsaw (Poland). We’ve filmed in locations resembling authentic house and streets in the past. I wanted to be as close to the true story as possible, to convey the climate of those days. The original house where the history happened is still standing in Legionowo (the suburbs of Warsaw). Unfortunately due to its fatal condition, partially scorched, it might have been risky for cast and crew. I decided to find a new location, quite similar to that house, which is how we ended up in Otwock. As soon as I saw it I knew that we needed to go and start shooting right there.
I think it‘s safe to say that was a good decision. It looked very realistic. What type of camera did you shoot on? Would you like to explain your thinking in choosing to present the film in black and white?
Mother was filmed on a Red Scarlett in 4K. To me the decision was quite simple, I would like to see these tough times through the black and white perspective. The members of the family in Mother are fighting for their lives. It was not easy when every night you could have been killed in your own house. In my opinion, definitely color was not fit to this kind of story. Besides black, grey, and white also have a great texture. You can paint beautiful images using only those three colors and their shades. Additionally, when I’m thinking about war movies first movie which is springing to my mind is Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg, also filmed in black and white. It’s a bona fide masterpiece. So it was kind of a reference to me somehow.
Now your film is currently available to stream on Amazon! Can you explain at all what that process was like for you? I’m sure some filmmakers just starting out would love any guidance you can offer.
You can easily find through the Internet ways to distribute your movies. Amazon through Amazon Prime helps independent filmmakers reach global audiences across hundreds of devices with the same distribution options and delivery quality available to major motion picture and television studios. We’ve taken Mother through the long road of both Polish and international film festivals. After that we’ve turned to VOD which is a natural process, especially today when almost all theaters are experiencing unprecedented turmoil.
Absolutely! I think it’s exciting that with these streaming platforms people can access so many stories that they couldn’t before, as well as share their own and reach those greater audiences. Plus, that’s also why we do what we do. We love having a live event for movie-lovers and filmmakers all to experience together to keep that theater scene alive, as you know being that you were a part of ours and many others. Can you talk a little bit about how you heard of our festival and what was going through your head when Mother was awarded “Best Foreign Short” in 2017?
I believe the first time I ever heard about the Monmouth Film Festival was the FilmFreeway platform. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be present during the ceremony. I know. It’s a pity. But, we have known each other already and I’m looking forward to my new projects. Maybe there will be a chance to meet you in person at the festival with the next ones, but we were very excited! It was something beautiful and unbelievable. Win in America? Seriously? With our independent, small, stiff historic movie with a complicated past during the second world war? Forget it. But, we did it. Sometimes dreams come true.
Would you like to plug any of those future projects now?
Well I’m working on several full length features including comedy, drama and even an action movie. I have also a project of modest, small horror where we have only three actors on board. This is The Watchtower, a film about loneliness and madness of a man. Another is called Once Upon A Time in Poland. Obviously, it’s some kind of inspiration and triggered by Quentin Tarantino‘s movie Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, but it’s original itself and this is an action movie. I’m looking forward to this project due to the fact that it is full of colorful characters and references, which is what’s the best in cinema. Furthermore, we are still waiting for the North America premiere of my first full length feature The Advocate, which had its local premiere during the biggest Polish film festival, the 44th Polish Film Festival in Gdynia in 2019. I’m also still working on new scripts and treatments.
That’s wonderful! We are so excited for you! Can you leave us with a piece of advice for our up and coming filmmakers?
Never give up and always follow your own way. I fully agree with Mr. Martin Scorsese that we’re living in dangerous times for indie filmmakers. We need to fight for our movies. If you want to tell your story it won’t be an easy journey nowadays.
For more Monmouth Film Festival news and interviews check us out at monmouthfilmfestival.org or follow us on social media @monmouthfilmfestival. We hope to chat with you at our 2020 'Hybrid' Monmouth Film Festival this August 14th-16th! View our complete schedule now!