One of the reasons why I love documentaries so much is that I love learning through story.
Directors choose many different methods to convey their subject’s story on screen. The intimacy achieved by simply letting a person speak about their life is perhaps the most effective at creating a connection between subject and audience.
Ralph Nichols, an expert in the field of listening, once said, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
Made in conjunction with the Emigration Museum in Gdynia, Poland, “Faces of Polish Emigration,” a documentary directed by Andrzej Juraszczyk and Olga Blumczyńska, shares the vastly different emigration stories of two of the over 20 million people of Polish descent: Jerzy Tomaszek and Agnieszka Imbierowicz.
Jerzy’s story is one of survival. A history of his family’s forced migration from Poland after the Soviet invasion. The journey, he estimates, took at least 12,000 kilometers and included time spent in Siberia, India, and Kenya.
As he tells his story, he uses a hand-annotated map to point out the route of his harrowing migration. The personal photographs and drawings he shares are poignant and further add to the empathy one feels for his family’s plight as refugees. The shots during these scenes are tight and include panning similar to how one’s own eyes might be inclined to scan the photos and map in real life, as if one were at a loved one’s house visually searching the history held within the items.
In striking contrast to Jerzy’s story is Agnieszka’s. It’s a great inclusion to have opposite of Jerzy’s because it shows a side of emigration that doesn’t come from fear or necessity, but of curiosity and love.
“It’s a very simple story called “I met someone, I moved, because why not?” The decision was purely emotional,” Agnieszka states in the film.
Unlike Jerzy, who appears to have been filmed mostly in one location, Agnieszka is seen traveling by train, boat, bicycle, or on foot to various locations in Amsterdam. Incidental or not, I find there to be great symbolism in these scenes as they show life in continual motion. There are ever-changing prospects before us and many modes and methods we choose trying to attain them. The act of moving, whether for the purpose of survival or worldly curiosity, is one of constant adjustment, resilience, and on-going hope.
“Migration surely is a process of introspection,” Agnieszka states, “to incessantly ask oneself: What does it mean to be from Poland?”
It is a question each of us, Polish or not, can ask ourselves. What does it mean to be from anywhere?
There is no learning without listening, and in my opinion, this short film does a great job of teaching people about two unique individuals and the fascinating role emigration has had and continues to have on the cultural identity of Poles around the world.
If your travels should happen to take you to Gdynia, the Emigration Museum looks like a wonderful place to spend some time learning about the histories and stories of this diverse global community. As their website states:
The mission of the Emigration Museum in Poland is to recount the fates of millions of both anonymous and famous people – whose names emerge in the context of great achievements in science, sports, business, and the arts. It is the ambition of this institution to make them known to Poles at home, but it is also to encourage our compatriots living at home and abroad to get to know each other. Through educational and cultural projects, the museum hopes to become a place of encounter and discussion. We feel we fulfill a particular duty in achieving this end at the best possible address – Polska Street No. 1.