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Polish film director Andrzej Wajda (1926-2016), whose début films portrayed the horror of the German occupation of Poland, won awards at Cannes which established his reputation as storyteller and commentator on Polish history. He also served on the national Senate from 1989-91. [Listener: Jacek Petrycki]
TRANSCRIPT: To survive, to have enough money to last me through the year, I had to make one film per year. I had no other source of income. Film-making didn’t bring in much money. For ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ I got – I have the contract to this day in my records – 37,000. A car, the kind that I could buy for myself and not get it from a minister, but could buy on the open market, cost around 120,000. The French-manufactured Simca came on the market then and we all dreamed about owning one, but I didn’t have 120,000. I bought a used one for 100 which I saved up for from the next films I made. But if anyone says that cinematography in socialist countries was state-funded, I have to say that wasn’t true. Those films were paid for by us. We, the poorly paid, gave the state the opportunity, even if these films were so badly distributed in this respect that if ‘cinema matters the most to us’ according to Lenin, then a cinema ticket had to cost the same as a box of matches, not even as much as a packet of cigarettes. In the light of this, it was hard to expect these films to make any returns. They were an object, this was the decision, and even when the price of tickets gradually went up, the increase was so minimal that the films were being made for nothing. Our work cost nothing. If I earned one-third of the cost of a car, then how much could the director of photography be earning? How much did any of the others earn? Years later, my wife, Krystyna Zachwatowicz, was in a film in the ’70s called ‘The Young Girls of Wilko’. She used her earnings to buy herself a sweater in a very elegant shop in Warsaw. But that was all. Therefore, it wasn’t that the state laid out money for production of a film, it was that we worked for so little pay. The materials were also cheap and so each film paid for itself more or less on the Polish market, to say nothing of the many films which were released internationally. The exchange rates for the dollar were totally crazy. Therefore, it’s not true that we made films that were state-funded. Many films were obviously failures and sank without a trace but those that were successful… they undeniably compensated their creation in financial terms. I think this is quite important because this slogan is often quoted at us, but it isn’t true.