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Far from Poland
Jill Godmilow's documentary about the making of a documentary focused on the rise of Solidarność in Poland provides an intriguing but ultimately unconvincing look at the largest anti-communist movement from the ex-Soviet block. Occasional bits of revelatory info suggest that the director knew where to look for authentic material. Sadly, pic fails to convincingly deconstruct the social conditions that led to the Velvet Revolution.
Setting out to shoot a film in the early 80s about Solidarność, Lech Wałęsa, and the social changes that took place in Poland must have been quite a challenge. Especially if you were an American director with a laughable budget and a passport lacking Polish visa. Yet, Jill Godmilow took the challenge.
What the director's determination produced is a controversial film where the emphasis on politics is unexpectedly countered by numerous references about financial and bureaucratic difficulties notably blurring pic's agenda. Not surprisingly, even those well versed in Polish history are likely to find Far From Poland disappointingly inconsistent, lacking the meticulous chronological order a good documentary necessitates.
Pic is structured in a manner allowing the director to provide scattered, self-formulated, analogies about the genesis of Solidarność by resorting to reenacted "interviews" based on historical data. Anna Walentynowicz's dismissal, an act of tremendous importance for the formation of Solidarność, is analyzed in close relation with the arrival of Lech Wałęsa. Other notable events are also highlighted in order to explain why and what was crucial for the success of the movement.
Unfortunately, Far From Poland also tracks Jill Godmilow's personal life while deconstructing key political events. The director is seen struggling to promote her work while intentionally drawing parallels between the events taking place in Poland and her misfortunes at home. Scattered between three key reenactments (Anna Walentynowicz's "interview" being the most successful one) Jill Godmilow's thoughts about politics, social ordinance, and bureaucracy feel too out of touch with the purpose of this film. They notably affect its fluidity, focus, and ultimately credibility.
As a documentary Far From Poland does not impress. It leaves mixed emotions amongst its viewers and, at best, only partially suggests why Poland underwent a massive socio-political transformation with the old communist leadership comfortably observing the events. The inevitability of the upcoming changes is easily detectable but hardly analyzed in a manner allowing casual viewers to grasp its significance. As a result the personal lamentations of the director regarding the events preceding the collapse of the communist regime undeservedly take precedence over key historic data.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 the print provided by Facets appears to be in less than healthy condition. In fact, I have every reason to suspect that it was delivered from a dated VHS. Colors are unconvincing even for mini-budget documentary, contrast is quite problematic, and more often than not I was able to spot tiny scratches and debris through out the print. The overall quality of this release truly does not exceed that of, what I assume, was seen on the original VHS release.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with an English DD track the audio quality as expected varies. During the interview fragments I did not detect any notable issues that needed to be reported: the sound was unimpressive but well in tune with pic's low budget look. During some of the archival footage understandably the audio was less than impressive. Overall, there is nothing here that would detract from your desire to see this film if such of course is present to begin with. Unfortunately, the print does not offer any subtitle options.
The only piece of supplemental material on this disc is a very short introduction by the director where she quickly states her reasoning for shooting this film. This being said, apparently the final version of this release arrives with a collector's booklet by the director which unfortunately I was not provided with (all that I received was a single disc in a paper holder).
Other than recommending this film to curious viewers with particular interest in Jill Godmilow's work I must conclude that there are better and more expansive studies on the rise of Solidarność in Poland. Perhaps, Far from Poland could be a good supplemental material to some of them.