Pawel Pawlikowski has won praise and awards for his low-budget British features “Last Resort” and “My Summer of Love,” but part of him still misses his first love, making TV documentaries about his native Eastern Europe.
That’s how the British-based Pole started his career in the early ’90s, winning prizes at TV festivals around the world. It was only when public stations started chasing ratings and stopped giving him money that he was forced to find a new direction in drama.
“For me, these documentaries were the most interesting and inventive work I made,” Pawlikowski says with a hint of regret. “But TV has gone all populist now, and maybe people aren’t interested in that part of the world anymore.”
Instead, he has brought improvisational documentary methods and a decidedly un-English sensibility to his British work.
Popular on Variety
“I grew up somewhere else. My emotional baggage is very Polish,” says Pawlikowski, who came to England in 1971 at the age of 14 when his divorced mother, a university lecturer in Warsaw, married a Brit, after his father had fled to political exile in Vienna.
“Last Resort” dealt with asylum seekers — “it’s about arriving in some place you don’t understand the rules of,” Pawlikowski says. “My Summer of Love” revolves around the intense friendship of two teenage girls in Yorkshire, removed from what Pawlikowski characterizes as the usual sociological obsessions of British filmmaking.
“Mona (played by newcomer Nathalie Press) is the kind of complicated, soulful character — where intellect fights against emotion — who could easily be Polish,” he suggests, adding that, stylistically, his documentaries were never “the Anglo-Saxon, empirical type. I just followed people around.
“In my films, I try to combine a narrative through-line with an attempt to generate and capture unique moments. There’s not a script in the conventional sense. I provide the outline with key turning points, but always some gray areas to be fleshed out.”
BBC Films topper David Thompson calls working with Pawlikowski both nerve-wracking and exhilarating.
“His filmmaking is organic; the characters are created as he goes along,” Thompson says. “You have to accept that what he comes back with will not necessarily be a full film, and he will need to shoot more. He can only do what he can make real, and he doesn’t know what that’s going to be until he finds it.”
That begs the question whether Pawlikowski will be able to translate his talents onto a larger, more mainstream canvas. Before “My Summer of Love,” he dropped out of the Sylvia Plath biopic “Sylvia” because the schedule didn’t allow room for his unconventional methods.
But he has actually written a script for what he hopes to be his next film — a WWII drama titled “Heck.”
He’s also adapting Booker-Prize-winner “Vernon God Little” for FilmFour — “but I’ve changed the story to the point where it’s unlike the book,” he confesses, “so maybe I’ll get the sack.”