In the early 1980s, film director Rsyzard Bugajski worked under Andrzej Wajda at the Polish film studio Film Unit X. Bugajski had been developing a script about repression and brutality in Poland in the 1950s under Stalinist rule. As the studio was run by the Communist state, all film scripts had to be approved by the Culture Committee before a film could go into production. A script such as Interrogation, that was openly critical of the State, stood little chance of approval. However, at the time Interrogation went through the system in 1982, the authorities were preoccupied with preparations for the forthcoming imposition of martial law and it somehow slipped through the net. Interrogation was passed for production.
Interrogation was shot over the summer/autumn of 1982. The nature of the film made for a particularly intense shoot. This was not helped by the problems faced by directors working within a communist system at that time. At one point, Bugajski realised that there was not enough 35mm film available to complete the production. Being a communist country he could not just go and buy more and there was no more in Poland at that time. He contacted a number of friends and colleagues in Western Europe and the USA who clubbed together enough money to buy 30,000ft of film, which they then shipped to Bugajski in Poland thereby allowing him to finish shooting. The film wrapped only days before martial law was imposed in December 1982.
The morning of the announcement of martial law, Bugajski was woken by his Assistant Director urging him to come to the studio. They realised that they would have to hide the film if it were to survive. They eventually managed to take the rushes of the film and bury them under tarpaulin, bricks and snow in a remote part of the studio lot. Once the initial period of martial law had passed, Bugajski realised he was not going to be arrested and so started to edit the film.
On completion, the film had to be approved for release by the Polish Government's Culture Committee; a dictaphone was somehow smuggled into the meeting which considered Interrogation and the proceedings were recorded in their entirety. The transcript is a fascinating window into the inner workings of an oppressive State.
Full 35-page transcript (PDF)
Unsurprisingly the film was banned. Bugajski realised that the film could be 'lost' or destroyed and so, risking imprisonment at the very least, he surreptitiously made a copy on tape given to him by an American film crew. In what seems like a scene from a Cold War novel, Bugajski then met a friend at a bus stop and gave him the tape for safe keeping. From this tape VHS copies were made and were leaked out into general circulation.
Interrogation became a genuine underground hit. A population otherwise fed propaganda were holding secret viewings of the film all over Poland. This eventually came to the notice of the authorities and Bugajski was sacked from his job at the studio. He was also told by the SB (Secret Police) that they would make it impossible for him to hold down any decent job for long. Faced with a lifetime of persecution, Bugajski exiled himself and his family to Canada where he continued to work in film and television. Following the return to democracy in 1989, Poland was finally able to freely see Interrogation for the first time. Exactly seven years after the announcement of martial law, the film was given its premiere in Warsaw. The following year, at the Cannes Film Festival, Interrogation was nominated for the Golden Palm and Krystyna Janda won the Best Actress Award.
Ryszard Bugajski has moved back to Poland and continues to write and direct films.
Interrogation remains a profoundly powerful film. It is a testament to the determination of a director who risked everything to bring it to an audience. And now in 2005, sixteen years on from its first official public performance, the film is as relevant as it ever was.
Andy Townsend, Second Run DVD
Release Date: 3rd October 2005