I was born ten years before communism collapsed in Poland. I grew up when Poles were learning to live in a modern democracy. As a grown man I started to realize that many social, political and ethnic animosities, unnoticed to us, drive our public and private lives.
In particular it was shocking to realize that under their skin some Poles harbored resentment toward Jews, even though few still lived here. Jews who visit Poland often come in fear for their physical safety, as if to prove to themselves that Poland is still anti-Semitic. This especially bothered me because I was raised in the former Jewish district of Krakow, where Jewish identity is celebrated with the biggest festival of Jewish culture in the world.
Over the 8-year journey of making this film, I have come to realize that my generation is the first to be free from the anger and pain of war and communism that often led people to do evil things. We can look to people who came before us with empathy for the circumstances in which they lived. And we can bring that empathy up to date to understand why their choices and omissions continue to impact our lives so much today.
I am a Catholic Pole. My film partner, who got me involved in this journey, is an American Jew, 40 years my senior. While making this film the fact that we’ve learned to see things with one eye assures me that the message and the empathy we’ve learned from our protagonist will be a lesson to any audience no matter their age or where they come from.
Most important to me, “Bogdan's Journey” / "Przy Planty 7/9" is my personal answer to my generation of Poles who are so eager to comprehend the past and want to know why our reality is the way it is.
I want to know what history means in my own life and in the lives of others, in my own country and in Europe. I want to know why people do things and, when they do things, what impact their actions have on other people. Having spent time working in communist nations, I am particularly interested in how people emerge from communism, and what their lives are like now in post-communist societies.
I went to Kielce, Poland, looking for a person whose biography would reveal larger historical issues. I encountered Bogdan Bialek in a press conference setting. When he spoke, even in rough translation, I could feel the eloquence, analytical acuity and, mostly, the moral compassion which animated his voice.·
From that moment on, with much help from my newly acquired filmmaking partner, Michal Jaskulski, I realized that as portraiture, with Białek as the subject, we could paint a picture that was intimate yet looked out onto society. Biography would reveal history.