AP Interview: new Polish movie honors Lech Walesa

AP News
Posted: Aug 30, 2013 3:03 AM
AP Interview: new Polish movie honors Lech Walesa

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Solidarity leader Lech Walesa has largely fallen from grace in the eyes of his Polish countrymen. Oscar-winning filmmaker Andrzej Wajda says he wants to restore his longtime friend as Poland's hero in his latest movie — which he calls the hardest of his life.

"Walesa: Man of Hope" is the last part of the Polish cineaste's trilogy about how worker disillusionment with communism helped to bring about the system's demise. It shows how Walesa grew from a regular worker at a time of violent food protests to a charismatic strike leader who negotiated with communist authorities and finally to national hero and international statesman who won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize.

The movie has its world premiere next week at the 70th Venice Film Festival, out of competition. Meanwhile, Wajda told The Associated Press in an interview that he is laying the groundwork for screenings in his homeland, planned for October.

"I think that this false image of Lech as the source of trouble and defeat must not be spread around," said the 87-year-old Wajda. "No one seems to remember anymore that he brought us freedom."

Walesa's reputation was badly tarnished in Poland during an authoritarian 1990-95 presidency in which he clashed with consecutive governments, alienated friends and advisers and angered the Poles with welfare promises that he could not keep. He has also faced accusations of collaboration with the communists, which he denied and which have been dismissed by a special screening court.

Amid the controversies, Wajda said he felt a need to present the true Walesa to the world — and remind people of the Solidarity leader's enduring legacy.

"I am an old man, an old film director, and this might be the last film in my life," he said. "But I would not want to part with life without having made this movie. This is my duty."

In 1995 Walesa bitterly lost his re-election bid to former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, and has withdrawn from active politics. He lectures around the world about Poland's peaceful transformation to democracy, culminating in June 1989 general elections. That vote paved the way for similar change in other countries of the communist bloc.

Wajda, who received a lifetime achievement Academy Award in 2000, said he wanted his film to show his "admiration" for the man. In Poland, Wajda's friendship with Walesa has raised questions about how objective the filmmaker can be in creating any movie about the Solidarity leader's life. The film ends before the start of Walesa's controversial presidency.

Wajda met the electrician Walesa during the 1980 wage and labor rights strike at the Gdansk Shipyard, where he successfully led thousands of protesters and founded the free Solidarity union, rising to be the nation's independence leader. Wajda still believes that Walesa is the "hero of our times" — and wants his movie to help young people appreciate Poland's history.

"My aim was to make a movie about a people's hero, a politician who came from the social lows and rose to his position purely and only thanks to his own will, his own strength, his own energy, his intelligence."

But he conceded that it was the "hardest movie that I ever made" because it tells a story that is still in the making, with the hero still alive and able to comment on how he was portrayed.

Neither Walesa nor his family were consulted during the making of the film. But Walesa recently saw it in a private screening and his reaction was "good," Wajda said — albeit with a hint of hesitation.

Contacted at his office in Gdansk, Walesa said the movie was "excellent, very well done, but there is a problem with me."

"Wajda based (his movie) on the idea that only a conceited man, a supercilious one could have won. But I was not so haughty," Walesa told the AP. "If I had been so, then workers would not have carried me on their shoulders."

Wajda's two previous movies in the series about Poland's workers' discontent with communist rule were the 1975 "Man of Marble" and the 1981 "Man of Iron" — about the rise of Solidarity, with Walesa appearing in it — which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award.

The Venice festival was chosen for the latest movie's premiere because it was there that, in 1957, Wajda won international renown for his out-of-competition movie "Ashes and Diamonds." In 1998, Wajda received the festival's Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.