Kamila Tarabura: “Don’t overthink your ideas”

I think it’s important to remember that there is no full democracy on the film set. The final decision is yours and you should never compromise because you will regret it in the editing room. As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Director Kamila Tarabura. […]

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I think it’s important to remember that there is no full democracy on the film set. The final decision is yours and you should never compromise because you will regret it in the editing room.

As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Director Kamila Tarabura.

Born in 1990, director/screenwriter Kamila Tarabura graduated from the Warsaw Film School and The Wajda School. Her short film debut Into the Night won “Best Short Live-Action Film Award” at the 36th annual Warsaw International Film Festival, making it eligible for Academy Award consideration. Currently, she is developing her first feature film. She is also working with Nina Lewandowska, the writer of Into the Night, on an original coming of age drama series. Kamila gained her film experience by making short fictional films, commercials, and music videos, as well as through her work as an assistant director, which includes the TV series Krew z krwi (Penoza) by Jan Komasa and the film High Life by Claire Denis. She is interested in themes of family, and specifically, the mother-daughter relationship. Her cinematic storytelling focuses on observation of human nature with a keen eye for unique characters and stories.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

When I was in primary school, I was a very energetic and creative child who liked to be in the limelight. I wanted to be on stage in the various school plays and competitions. And when I grew up and went to secondary school everything changed. I became really shy and couldn’t cope with public speeches at all. But I still had a very strong desire for creating and I was really unhappy that I was blocked from expressing myself. I told my mom how I felt, and she suggested I should search for different ways of self-expression. I guess she was the one who told me ‘you can be a director,’ And it really worked… I established a theater group with my friends in school and wrote and directed my first play. At that time, I also started to use my parents’ Sony camera to make short funny videos.

There were no other filmmakers in my family, so for a long time no-one could imagine that I might become a professional filmmaker. It always was considered just as a hobby, something I do in my free time. My parents wanted me to go to a medical university in the future. Still in secondary school, I made a friend named Robert who was also interested in cinema. We started making short films together. We won a film festival for amateur filmmakers. After that, we believed we could succeed at film school and we started to dream about it. I believe that if you are a young person, it’s very important to have a friend who wants to share his or her imagination with you. I’m not sure if I would have been brave and crazy enough to change my plans for the future if not for this particular friendship at that moment in my life.

Later, I went to Warsaw Film School where I studied directing. I also worked on professional film sets as a director’s assistant. I worked with Jan Komasa and Claire Denis. I learned a lot from them.

After film school, I realized I learned the film craft but lacked the humanities knowledge. Basically, I didn’t know what I wanted to say as a person. I had big struggles with writing just a simple story. Also, when I was collaborating with screenwriters, I was changing the scripts all the time, so people didn’t want to work with me. I decided to take a year off just for traveling, meeting people and reading. After that, I started to pursue cultural studies. I loved it and I believe that this was an important step in my career.

Two years ago, I met Nina Lewandowska who showed me her screenplay about a teenage girl named Krysia, who was very shy and depressed. Now, since I told you my story, you can guess why it was so close to me and attracted me as a director. After our film succeeded at the Warsaw International Film Festival this year, together with Nina, we started writing our coming-of-age series drama. Thus, I believe I am not as problematic as a co-writer as I was in film school.

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

In addition to the new project with Nina, I am working on my full-length feature debut. It will be about sexual trauma told from the perspective of three fascinating female characters. For me, it will be a story about rebuilding one’s identity and learning how to experience sensuality in a new way. I’m excited to work with the famous polish actress Katarzyna Warnke on this film. Katarzyna was also my co-writer for this project.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

My friends love to hear the stories around my first steps in film school. After many years of making amateur films with Robert, I used to be very creative with set design. I moved to Warsaw for my studies, but I didn’t know the city at all. That’s why every time I had to shoot a two-minute etude for a monthly exam, I invited my director of photography to my family town. My first work was about a miner trapped during a mining accident. There are a lot of mines in my region, so my director of photography (DP) was more than sure I was taking him to a real location. Instead, I took him to my grandma’s basement when I had a cartoon wad with irregular polystyrene foam painted black and nothing else. I wish you could see his face. Next month, the next project. This time a story about father who visits his son in prison for the first time and they have a conversation. My DP comes to my town again and I take him to the same basement. There is a table with a glass from the clip frame which is stuck to an old fridge, two chairs and two old telephone receivers. He said, “of course, what was I thinking.” But the best lesson was that it actually worked. Those films were really good and during the exam no-one could imagine how we obtained this result. Cinema is the art of a lie. And also, I should mention that the main actor for all my first-year films was my dad, who isn’t an actor, but a businessman. I wish I could show you those films.

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

I have met many interesting and inspiring people. I think I learned the most from the directors whom I assisted. For example, thanks to Claire Denis, I understood that it’s important for a director to stay open-minded on the set. Denis is very sensitive to the beauty around her. She sees things and reacts to everything. In turn, Janek Komasa taught me how to work with actors. He is always perfectly prepared, calm, and relaxed. I noticed how the atmosphere he built on the set influenced the actors. They clearly feel comfortable, safe, and focused. Thanks to that they brought great ideas and solutions to the film.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

Always and forever my biggest inspiration and role model is the Polish rock star from the 1980s — Kora. She formed the band “Maanam.” Unfortunately, she died two years ago, but I think her music and lyrics are immortal. She was a very creative person. Fascinating and extremely strong personality. She was involved in the political situation in Poland and was always fighting for freedom and democracy.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Well, diversity illustrates the importance of representation. I believe that for young people who grow up without respective representation in films and TV, it may be difficult to build one’s identity. It may have a negative impact on them. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to do a film for young people. I was trying to be as close to their truth and needs as possible. I conducted extensive research and talked to many teenagers from Warsaw, but also from smaller cities. I wanted to have the full picture. They inspired me to include the important elements in the story like the depression of my main heroine and also the LGBTQ aspects. Every character and every scene in “Into The Night” is somehow inspired by the real stories of real people. I am happy that there are more and more great films and drama series about teenagers.

I wish the situation will change for the better for the representation of people with disabilities. In fact, in Poland people who have movement disabilities cannot study acting in national academies. Consequently, there aren’t professional actors who are physically challenged. And the vicious circle works is created. They are not included in the screenplays and even when there is a disabled character, he or she is usually played by an actor who doesn’t know what it means to spend a life in a wheelchair.

After all, the more inclusive we are as filmmakers, the bigger chance we have to get to a broader audience.

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. 🙂

I won’t be original here. I would steal the idea of repaying the kindness to others from the film “Pay It Forward.” It seems to be so simple but can change so much for the better.

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

I remember what Darren Aronofsky told me when we met at the Camerimage Film Festival. When he heard that I am a student of film directing, he said, “persistence, persistence, persistence” and I think it was the best advice I could get. There are so many moments when you have to fight for your film, and so many obstacles on every level that sometimes it’s easy to lose enthusiasm. But in fact, at the early stages, you are usually the only person who believes in your film and you really need to be persistent.

Next thing is to not overthink your ideas. Often when you are a young artist you want to say so much to the world that it becomes too complicated. Simplicity is the key and sometimes you should rely on your gut instinct. When I was in film school the great Polish director Wojciech Marczewski told me that everything you say as a filmmaker has to be in your own voice. It sounds simple, but it’s important to remember about it while creating. I mean, every story needs to be filtered through your own perspective, experience, or imagination. Marczewski said that you should consider each of your film characters as being yourself.

Third, I wish someone had told me was to build a good team and listen to others’ ideas. Being a leader doesn’t mean you need to know everything and do it by yourself. You need to be prepared but stay open for changes.

On the other hand, I think it’s important to remember that there is no full democracy on the film set. The final decision is yours and you should never compromise because you will regret it in the editing room.

And last but not least, try to have fun in your work. Work with people whom you like and with whom you like spending time. In some way your film crew will be your second family.

We are very blessed that 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 dream about having a conversation with Paul Thomas Anderson. He is a genius. I love his visual sensibility and the unique rhythm of his storytelling. His films inspire me and there are so many questions I would like to ask him.

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

I would quote Charles Bukowski “Don’t try.” Whatever you do just do it one hundred percent, otherwise don’t even start. I learned that in my job, as I need the full belief and enthusiasm for the project. Sometimes it starts with a specific thought in your mind and you need to jump into and create some sort of private obsession on this thought. This is how most films begin.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please visit my personal website www.kamilatarabura.com or my films website www.intothenightfilm.com I am also on the Instagram as kamila.tarabura and INTO_THE_NIGHT_short

Thank you for these excellent insights!

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