Adrian Panek • Director of Werewolf
Werewolf [+] by Adrian Panek won the Ecumenical Jury Award and the Audience Award at the recent Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (16 November-2 December). We sat down with the Polish director to talk about the film’s themes and its cast of young actors.
Cineuropa: Your film tells the story of pre-teen and teenage Holocaust survivors, who are trapped in an old palace that is raided by a pack of angry wolves, so there’s lot of terror there. What are you yourself afraid of?
Adrian Panek: I am more afraid of dramatic events than horror-related things like jump scares. I am scared of the things that usually frighten people: unexpected accidents or life circumstances, natural catastrophes or calamities that are just around the corner. They are part of our life experience and can actually happen every day, and I think that transforming them into horror is something deeply organic. And it has a long history behind it, too – just think about the fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm. They revolved around very tragic, traumatic events such as sex crimes, abuse, cannibalism and murders. They were taken from the everyday life of German peasants and turned into supernatural stories.
You’ve taken real-life, historical events and made them part of Werewolf – the nightmare of the Holocaust is turned into a pack of wild beasts. But horror as a genre is often used for a different purpose, too: to tell us about something very contemporary.
I think that the figure of the werewolf, half-human, half-animal, is contemporary here. We as humans used to think that we were civilised and cultured, or that we had a divine origin that made us stand out from the rest of nature. After World War II and the Holocaust – the mass slaughter of one group of people by another, in the name of the battle of the species – we altered that perspective completely. Now we’re seeing that beastly, biological element of humans more and more; we perceive ourselves as animals with overgrown brains, and it’s a complete change of paradigm. Horror has always been part of our culture, but now it’s on a different scale.
Most of your cast members are kids, and they contrast with that darkness, bringing a lot of light and energy. Except for Sonia Mietelica and Nicolas Przygoda, they are appearing on screen for the first time. Did you alter the script so that the characters would match up better with the personalities of the young actors you chose?
The casting process was very long. Indeed, we looked for kids with character, whose emotionality and energy would be a little unpredictable. We found children who had never worked in film or television before, at least at the time when they were cast. The two protagonists of the story – Władek and Hanys – were originally meant to be 12 years old, and we found Kamil Polnisiak and Nicolas Przygoda, who were exactly this age. But since the production was delayed by two years, they got older and we had to adjust the script – for example, if a 12-year-old sleeps in a bed with Hanka, it’s an innocent and sweet scene; if a 14-year-old is in the same situation, it is different. Also, during these two years, Nicolas started to act – he starred in Playground [+] by Bartosz M Kowalski – so that made a difference, too. In general, when I work on the script, I tend to describe the protagonists in detail, while the supporting characters often drew a lot from the actors themselves. This is what I did in my first film, Daas, and for Werewolf, I looked for a diverse, colourful group of kids to play the smaller parts.
Werewolf combines a number of genres – horror, dark fable, drama, coming-of-age film… Can you tell us about the editing process and how you balanced out these elements?
We had a first edit ready quite early on; it was pretty much an edit of all of the scenes from the script, and in this version, the drama was very prominent. We worked on subsequent versions with editor Jarosław Kamiński [an EFA winner for Cold War [+]] for many months, but we both agreed on that particular tempo. There are almost no horror films being shot in Poland, so we had to figure out ourselves how to narrate it in accordance with genre rules, or how to build effective jump scares. In general, the key element is information: if the audience has a lot of it, you create suspense, and if they have little information, you create mystery.
What are you working on now?
A project called Golem 74. It revolves around a conflict between two science-fiction writers: the USA’s Philip K Dick and Poland’s Stanisław Lem. Dick was obsessed with Lem; he thought that Lem never existed and that he was an invention by the Polish communist government. Naturally, this story is about neither of the authors… I have a script ready and am currently talking to producers.