Małgorzata Bialokoz-Smith leads such a rich and varied life, that director Maj Jukic had rich pickings when it came to crafting his short documentary “The Artists Life”. With a delicate sensitivity, he allows Małgorzata to tell her story in her own words, without fear of interruption. This choice allows the viewer a direct connection to both the artist and the woman behind the canvas.
Filmed in Małgorzata home, it is immediately obvious that her art and life are utterly inseparable. One could not exist without the other, As she sits, surrounded by her work (including one a day triptychs to commemorate the millennium and drawings borne from phone conversations) it is plain to see that her life is art and vice versa.
Małgorzata story takes her from a child born in Warsaw in 1937, to Gdansk, to the United Kingdom and beyond. A life filled with joy, it has also been tinged with tragedy. Tragedies that will resonate with many and that have clearly shaped both her character and her art. She shares that the one constant throughout her many losses (apart from her cherished children) is her artwork. She softly express how she feels it “kept my sanity” and how she “couldn’t live without it”.
The film takes the time to quietly appreciate the artwork that hangs throughout her home, moving through rooms carefully, to show the prolific amount of work she has created. Given the space and time to chat openly, Małgorzata reveals that she does not create with a specific financial goal in mind. She creates because she must. She has an innate compulsion to “take a line for a walk”. At a time when society seems reluctant to slow down, continually rushing for an end goal or reward, this could not be a more poignant reminder of the importance of doing things to fulfil the soul. For those who love art, stories and people, then “The Artist’s Life" will leave you feeling ready to accomplish anything.
Keen to know how the film came to fruition, I chatted to Director Maj Jukic and started of by asking him how he met Małgorzata. Over to Maj…
Chance encounters play quite a role in Małgorzata life. How did you meet her?
A woman once walked into a pharmacy and started chatting to the pharmacist behind the counter. They were both Polish and, as they later found out, both painters so they kicked it right off. The woman returned to that pharmacist with a book and a few months later the pharmacist decided to return the book. So she rang up the lady and went to meet her in her house. “It’s completely packed full of paintings” my wife told me “It’s like walking into a gallery, you should see that, it’s amazing! Anyway, she would like someone to make a short film about her so she has something to leave for her children so I invited her to the premiere of your film to see if she likes your style.” “So she’s coming to see The Pitch next month?” "Exactly.” Come March and the premiere of The Pitch Malgorzata really came to our premiere. She watched the film and after it ended she came to me and said "I really liked it! Ours is going to be just as good except with much less f**king.” (You might want to watch The Pitch to know what she’s referring to) “We’ll do it in June when my garden is blooming and the days are longer and sunny.”
What was the shoot like?
The shoot took three days I think, well, we went to her place three times. First day we shot about two and a half hours of her interview and as it was quite an emotional roller coaster for her. We wrapped it up and returned the day after, when we shot most of her showing us around the house. And then the third day she showed us some additional things and kept telling stories, so by the time we finished I had about three and a half hours of her life-story and a few memory cards of B-roll of her art. As for the crew it was just my wife Magda and me, I was taking care of the picture while she was mainly interviewing and helping out with setting the shots.
Małgorzata's life is a rich story. How did you pick manage to condense it so nicely in to just under half an hour?
Well it wasn't easy since there's two and a half more hours of her stories and there's some pretty unbelievable ones in there as well. I kind of tried to keep the story as bare as possible so that you get a general idea about her and what she went through. There are a lot of people she mentioned and a lot of small stories and adventures that had to be left out. Yes, it did hurt cutting those.
What have you personally learnt from working with Małgorzata?
Meeting her personally and becoming friends with her (we're still in touch and meet quite regularly - she makes a mean cup of tea and some pretty delicious pastry!) and seeing how she still has that childish curiosity and still laughs at silly things and keeps creating every single day without ever asking herself "why", I think she became part of my 'creative engine'. Whenever I find an excuse to not do something, she pops into my mind and reminds me that that's just bullshit and you need to keep creating things in order to stay sane. My wife and I are constantly quoting things she would say.