Filmmaker Monika K Adler: “We can create a more valuable life if we work to expand our consciousness”

Development of our own consciousness is the only way for humanity to progress. We invest much of our resources in new technologies and the only advance we have is one: production of objects. Devoured by consumerism and degraded to the level of ‘ego,’ we’ve lost contact with our souls. By working to expand our consciousness, […]

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Development of our own consciousness is the only way for humanity to progress. We invest much of our resources in new technologies and the only advance we have is one: production of objects. Devoured by consumerism and degraded to the level of ‘ego,’ we’ve lost contact with our souls. By working to expand our consciousness, we can create a more valuable life.

As a part of my series about the rising stars in popular culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Monika K. Adler. Monika is a Polish film director and photographer, based in London. Her work has shown worldwide; in over a hundred film festivals, museums and commercial galleries. She’s now working on her debut feature film Sick Bacchus; which tells a story of the existential slavery of hyper-capitalism, set in the heart of London’s wealthy elite.

Thank you so much for joining us Monika! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

History and dreams brought me to filmmaking. I come from Poland, which has a difficult history of war, occupation and division; this left a terrible mark on the subconscious of many generations. When my grandfather Marian returned from a concentration camp in Germany, he became a movie-projectionist in a cinema called “Dawn” in a small town in Mazovia. Together with his wife and children, they built their lives around the cinema to forget the trauma of war. I suckled my love of film from my mother’s milk. The smell of celluloid and the image of the audience hypnotised by the stream of light from the projector, along with their own emotions, filled my imagination.

Film was an invitation to a better world, signposted by the colourful neon sign on the grey communist facade of the cinema in Gostynin, my hometown. Later, I attended the many morning screenings of ‘auteur cinema’ shown at the Muranów cinema, Warsaw; and as a result, I rarely got to school. At 13 years, I started to create my own images; first drawing and painting, then photography, video art, experimental and narrative short films. Now I am working on my debut feature film Sick Bacchus.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

It was autumn 2009, New York. Despite many achievements, I had to start everything from zero. It was such a difficult moment in my life that as a result I ran in the rain between the 5th and 6th Avenue in search of the right moment to jump under a yellow taxi. Yet even in this state of self-destructive melancholia, I still had a hope that my fortunes might change, by the result of an unfathomable turn of fate.

And that’s how it happened. Upon returning to my hostel in Chelsea, I found an elegant roommate, dressed in a burgundy dressing gown with a fur hem. Her name was Geneviève Gilles, French actress and lover of the legendary Hollywood magnate Darryl F. Zanuck: founder of 20th Century Fox, and producer of such films as The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Razor’s Edge (1946), and All About Eve (1950), starring Bette Davis, which won six Academy Awards, including best picture for Zanuck.

After an evening’s conversation, she took out her phone and booked my return ticket to Europe. ‘You can start all over again Monika,’ laughed Genevieve, stroking her blond bun, ‘I’ll give you some tips …’ She was my guardian angel. Genevieve restored my faith in people. I reminded myself that it’s not a matter of how many times you fall, but how many times you stand up again. Isn’t it a romantic story; akin to those of the Hollywood movies of the 50s?

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In our imagination everything is fast and simple, and people are talented, honest and helpful. Nothing could be more misleading than the above if you throw yourself into making a full-length film with little experience. The endeavour was naïve and romantic and not supported by enough budget, or skills of cast and crew.

The experience of producing The Beauty of the Shadow — the film I refer to here — was reminiscent of an amateur brass orchestra with an absent conductor — pure cacophony. Despite immense turbulence and personal conflicts, I completed the film in an experimental form, and have shown it in galleries, art museums and film festivals around the world. Its run of luck continues to this day. The experience taught me not to trust and make friends with just anyone.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m working on my debut feature film Sick Bacchus; a psychological horror set in London’s Mayfair. It tells the story of a woman from the city’s wealthy elite who becomes so consumed by her own emptiness it externalises itself on her body as a horrific illness. When she looks for help, she becomes caught up in a disturbing game with the Doctor who treats her; one that will show her the uncomfortable truth about herself and the society she inhabits. What she learns from him will change her forever…

Sick Bacchus is a provocation on, and examination of, inaction and it’s consequences. It’s an intimate production, almost a two-hander. Inspiration came from our experience of living in London and observing the particular way in which the agencies of capitalism and class operate here. Life and people have become ‘hollowed out’ by consumerism in a society which is still one of immense disparities of wealth and opportunity and dominated by entrenched hierarchies beneath its hyper-socialised veneer. Our powerlessness in the face of this has created a societal-level of depression. A narcissistic individualism, contrived to suit the needs of consumerism, has fractured our society; we live separately side by side, sharing only space — as a result loneliness is endemic. In Sick Bacchus, and our other work, we’re interested in addressing and creating dialogues around this; looking at the ontological issues of our time.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Each person carries an inspiration for others. You just need to see it. In the last few years, meeting Jarosław Bzoma, a Polish doctor and poet, has had an important impact upon changing my perspective on myself and the world. Bzoma is the author of a series of books entitled ‘The Landscapes of My Soul,’ which concern “individuation through self-observation in states of out-of-body experience, lucid dreaming and deep sleep.” He calls this ‘progressive dreaming’. In the series, he asks questions of, and tries to answer the fundamental psychological and philosophical issues of metaphysics — the epistemological and ontological concerns of human beings. It’s a Socratic guide to people’s knowns and unknowns; what they wish to learn of themselves and what often lies on the periphery of human consciousness.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

We need more life in life: joy and spontaneity. The values of late-capitalism and consumerism, which we have internalised, make us prisoners of our own self-image. We’re too dependent on other’s opinions, attention and approval. Artists have less and less to say and only bore us with their neurotic hunger for success. The square mind of the accountant has replaced charisma, style, and originality, and only calculates ways to gain the best publicity, win awards, and show its greatness. The pressure to succeed is brutal.

This competitive approach is effective in other disciplines, (for example: sports and finance) but exhausts and neuters artists. The result is a bloodless simulacrum of cultural life inhabited by shallow, superficially satisfied ‘person masks,’ who in their pursuit of fame become consumed by depression and physical illnesses. Others see their labours and laugh; because success is an illusion. Future generations will judge us only by the beauty and strength of our creativity.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Development of our own consciousness is the only way for humanity to progress. We invest much of our resources in new technologies and the only advance we have is one: production of objects. Devoured by consumerism and degraded to the level of ‘ego,’ we’ve lost contact with our souls. By working to expand our consciousness, we can create a more valuable life.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Patience. We live in a time that forces us into haste, trying to achieve as much as possible in the shortest time, and envisioning shortcuts which lead nowhere. According to the Greek philosophers, haste is a humiliation for a human being. Impatience has caused me many problems. Reckless decisions have had negative consequences. Now I’m different. I know that by going slower I will go further.

2. Do not listen to bitter men. During an exam for a film school, a lecturer and film director regarded me with contempt: “Women are stupid and mentally weak, they should not work in film,” he said, whilst looking through my portfolio. My silence and strange smile irritated him. He continued with anger: “So what do you feel when you see a lizard in the forest?” I sensed that this was a rigged question and replied “I feel nothing.” He shouts: “What a lack of sensitivity, how can you feel nothing when you see a lizard in the forest. You are an empty doll, do you even know why you dye your hair?” It was disconcerting at the time; now, after years of encountering men of his kind, I can see right through them. Patriarchal ways of thinking always seek to exert power over others, and reduce them to their preconceived place in the hierarchy. Misogynistic attacks are still a frequent reality for many women.

3. Think for yourself. For many reasons, we look for support and guidance in others. We consult them, explaining our choices, seeking approval or expecting them to decide for us. People will only give advice from their own perspective; their experiences, fears and beliefs shape what they tell us. As a young artist I depended too much on such advice. Now I have only one rule: think for yourself. Today, there’s a surfeit of advisers; only psychological and emotional independence; critical thinking; conscious development and your own experience will lead to the best results. Even at the cost of mistakes, and despite the fashion for perfectionism and illusory achievements on social media. Don’t follow others, think for yourself.

4. Nothing by force. I have learned to ‘let go’ of events, people, and my own illusions. Pressure creates resistance. By letting go we open ourselves to new possibilities, live more carefully, without a fight, and move in the stream of higher necessity in which we are happier.

5. Less is More. Calmness is the highest achievement of self. I overcame the societal coding based in rivalry. I do not believe in the illusion that if we do more, try harder, life will be better and people will admire and respect us; in reality other people just don’t care. This masochism leads nowhere. Less is more. Good things come easy.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

No matter how many obstacles you meet in life, never give up on your dreams. Success doesn’t happen overnight. Being an artist requires many sacrifices. There are many obstacles: work without payment, exploitation, friendships that become entirely usurious, mockery and the constant urging of family and friends to stop unprofitable work are a few. When most of your peers build a stable standard life you live for your passion and everything else is secondary. In my case it resulted in homelessness and starvation. The city is a full buffet though, you’ll always find something. That said, sometimes passers-by must have wondered why the lady in the elegant coat pounces on sandwiches thrown from car windows, collects bread for birds or gathers abandoned oranges. If you persevere the rewards will come.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Everyone in our life helps us to develop; yet sometimes it’s better when we have to count on ourselves. The potential liberated at those times creates our self-assurance and gives us stronger direction. The person who has given me the most valuable guidance is Aeon Rose, my husband, best friend and adviser. His style, talent, and knowledge of art history and the history of ideas always impressed me. An artist, curator and writer he has worked for several of London’s best galleries.

We met at an art opening in London; behind the gallery, in a sculpture garden cloaked in darkness — as a result I accidentally walked across a million pound art installation of steel spheres floating on a pond there (Narcissus Garden by Yayoi Kusama). The gallery staff were not pleased…

Aeon and I are now inseparable, he is the co-creator of my successes. He’s one of the few people I take advice from in professional matters. When you work together, it’s best to cultivate humility and value constructive criticism. Self-delusion, blind optimism and surrounding yourself with sycophants is a road to nowhere.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I think a lunch with the film distributors Curzon Artificial Eye would be most valuable for me. This British company specialises in distributing independent, art house films. My debut feature film Sick Bacchus, and a new production which starts development in 2020, are titles that fit their profile.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @monikakadler

Official Website:


Sick Bacchus:

Facebook Page:

Twitter: @magickadler

Art + Commerce & Vogue Italia:

Art Stack:

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

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