Siberia - Polish Vietnam ?

The programme of this year’s edition of the festival contains productions touching difficult topics concerning the history of Poland that we sometimes prefer to avoid. In fact, that is the part of our history which we should particularly remember – says Adam Woronowicz the leading man of the character of Jan Dolina, a former soldier who subsequently became a farmer and on the day of Red Army’s invading Poland is resettled to Siberia with his family and neighbours.  


Let’s find out what the authors of the film say about it. Thanks to this thriller story and dramatic profiles of universal protagonists we had a chance to make a very important statement about the grim fate of Poles, and other nations, during awful times which shouldn’t be forgotten especially nowadays. “Siberian Exile” means a forced transportation to Siberia, several weeks of journey on a freight train, Siberian hostile and odd reality with no hope for coming back to Poland, deadly cold, hunger, disease, NKVD terror and intrigues but also love, patriotism, and protagonists’ betrayals in this extremely different and strange world devoid of any prospects for returning home. People living in Czerwony Jar try to stick together but they gradually become outnumbered. Families have to face grievous pain of loosing their nearest and dearest. This atmosphere provides background for the terror, gulag intrigues, and a distant Second World War. Life goes on disregarding inhumane environment until the hearts are beating but how to face the most horrible enemy, hunger? And when the War is over, and the time will come, how to restore what used to be once beloved Poland? – asks Janusz Zaorski, the director.

Siberian Exile is director’s comeback to historical cinema, thanks to which he achieved the biggest international success (Berlinale Silver Bear for The Mother of the Kings, Grand Prix in Locarno for Lake Constance). The scenario is based on the book by Zbigniew Domino which is an in-depth narrative about the Poles sent down from their occupied homeland to the Soviet Union’s exile as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The fact that the author has been a Stalinist prosecutor and colonel adds much to the credibility of the story presented.

In order to vividly depict events in the movie its creators have made every effort for the realistic production, however this involved large expenses. Because of financial problems it took them 6 years to finally finish Siberian Exile. I knew it has to be genuine, that there is no space for compromise on castings and scenery, that Polish actors wouldn’t pretend they’re Russians and Zakopane wouldn’t become Siberia – explains Janusz Zaorski. So that, hired multinational crew comprised of four nationalities: Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazakh. Despite only 48 filming days the movie was shot on two continents and during all fours seasons of the year. This was meant to depict the 7 years of exile, started with the outbreak of the Second World War, with the highest possible level of detail. The majority of camerawork was done in Poland but – for the first time – Polish feature film crew travelled to Siberia to shoot some crucial outdoor scenes. Many of them were done with the use of powered hang-glider.

The film was realised thanks to efforts of many great film-makers like set designer Janusz Sosnowski (Kingsize, Sexmission) responsible for full-size reconstruction of Siberian camp Kalucze built near Warsaw with the use of 480 m3 of wood. Soundtrack was composed by Krzesimir Dębski (With Fire and Sword, The Old Fairy Tale: When the Sun Was God, Kingsize).

Siberian Exile is an exceptional production as it is the first Polish motion picture to highlight dramatic story of Poles deported to Siberia in the 1940s. It is also the first European feature film shot in majestic and austere Siberian environment. The location of the film set made a tremendous impression on the whole crew, especially on the actor playing Jan Dolina. This is a true immensity. One gazes into endless forests and impenetrable stretch of land and realises it is impossible to just walk beyond it. I quickly learned why those camps didn’t have to be fenced… This vast, total wilderness is an unforgettable experience. That’s why I admire those who had so much motivation and faith – whatever you call it – that one day they will make it back home.

Polish historical cinema has some complexes, we are ashamed of our past and we prefer not to talk about, while the fact is we should be proud of it. This film shows another amazing feature which we Poles do have, we are able to recover even after the most painful loss. Historically we tend to recklessly waste our own country. But we also posses a certain strength, even when we hit the bottom we show great will and persistency to win our country back. That is a remarkable feature.

It is not only a story of Siberian exiles but also about victory upon Stalin and freezing cold doing their best to get rid of us – Janusz Zaorski points out. When talking about the Second World War, we sometimes seem to forget about heroic attitudes of people deported to Siberia and we focus on Nazi concentration camps instead. There is still much to say on this subject and this movie is a unique voice contributing to it.

Siberian Exile is surely a must watch because it is kind of a tribute to those who lived, survived, and died in Siberia. As the director sums it up: It is a story of normal people in abnormal situation, a lesson of how to live, survive with dignity, and return to the homeland. It is definitely a story worth pondering on.


Edinburgh - Thursday 24 Oct 2013 Filmhouse, 6:00 pm

Glasgow - Thursday 31 Oct 2013 The Grosvenor Cinema, 6:45 pm

Oxford - Saturday 9 Nov 2013 Oxford Uni. Magdalen College, 6:00 pm

London - Sunday 24 Nov 2013 Clapham Picturehouse, 11:45 am

powered by
Copyright © Polish Art Europe ltd.
9 Murrayfield Place, EH12 6AA Edinburgh, UK
Company No. SC386003