Date: Wednesday, October 1 at 4:00 PM
Location: Drown 210
Running Time: 20 minutes (additionally, there will be a Q & A)
Wisława Szymborska (1923 – 2012) is a Polish poet and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature.
After receiving a grant from Lehigh’s Mountaintop Experience to make a film about Szymborska, Professor Elizabeth Fifer chose three undergrads, Sava Marinković, Karen Huang, and Peter Schadler, and one graduate student, Avi Setton (me), to complete the film over the summer. Along with a copy of Miracle Fair, a volume of selected poems by Szymborska, Professor Fifer provided us with the work, inspiration, and cinematic vision of her entire English 11 class. In pairs, the students completed nine films about Szymborska and her work that ranged from biographical accounts to interpretations of her poems to detailing her poetry’s influence on Polish music. From this class, Karen and Peter were chosen and offered the group a great deal of insight having already studied Szymborska and recently acquiring filmmaking and editing experience. Studying in London at the start of the summer, Sava also honed his filmmaking skills by shooting and editing shorts for class.
In all, we were falling in love with Szymborska’s poetry and eager to translate her work to film. Professor Fifer’s English 11 class proved that Szymborska’s charming personality as well as her ability to inflict humor in difficult, troubling concepts, which she profoundly describes using so few words, could make for a moving, beautiful—if not at least, thought-provoking—cinematic experience.
Our original idea was to make a documentary about Szymborska. To make a long story short, almost all of Szymborska’s relatives and friends live in Poland, and flying the four of us to Poland with a vague notion of a documentary about a deceased poet and (after weeks of research and dozens of e-mails) only one potential interview with a friend and fellow poet who stopped communicating with us when we mentioned the possibility of a Skype interview, we deemed it an unfeasible request for the Mountaintop fund. Deep down, as four creative individuals, I think we all secretly wanted to put our imaginations to use and experiment not only with the art of cinematic collaboration but also with the art of adaptation or translation from poem to film.
Thus, after weeks (mostly spent in our editing cubicle) of brainstorming and researching while sifting through, combining, and shooting additional footage to the English 11 student films, new ideas emerged, and the four of us wrote the names of our favorite Szymborska poems on index cards, printed strips of paper with our favorite Szymborska quotes as well as quotes about her, grabbed a handful of thumb tacks, and began to indulge in the generous spread of cushioned interior in our cubicle. In truth, our film was brought to life from the few dozen scraps of paper that we organized into neat, little rows on the cushioned interior of a cubicle in the basement of Linderman over the summer when Lucy’s (the coffee shop) is closed.
In the end, we became so inspired that we several times abandoned freshly shot footage and fully edited sequences (as well as weeks of work) in order to create a completely new film that not only captures the essence of our collective summer experience but also brings Professor Fifer’s original idea to life. Szymborska’s poetry will now reach a wider audience and hopefully continue to inspire those who are fortunate enough to experience it, whether it be read or seen.