By Joanna Sokołowska-Gwizdka
Husband, father, director, producer, lecturer, but most all a wonderful human being, Tadeusz Jaworski touched the deepest and most profound layers of human existence, both with his life and his work. Years marked by struggles with entanglement in history, as well as by rejection and injustice, were balanced by professional and personal fulfilment. His life was a gift he had never wasted.
He was born in 1926 in Czortków, a little town on the River Seret in Podole, an eastern border region of Poland. Thanks to its location and its history, this was an extraordinary and vibrant town; its multicultural heart was always beating with life that left its inhabitants with long lasting memories.
Having lived far from his homeland for years, Jaworski would often go back in time to his beloved Podole and to the recollections of his happy childhood and his first movie encounters, where his inspirations were being shaped.
Czortków had a big movie theater “Casino” with colorful plush curtains and dark wooden paneling. For a young boy, this created an ambiance of a sanctuary. When the classical music coming from the hidden speakers was slowly fading out, the curtains unveiled the screen, and complete silence fell in the theater. At this point, the heart of the future director started to beat faster and faster until all of a sudden, he found himself in a middle of a jungle with a muscular Tarzan flying over his head while swinging on a liana vine and uttering an ear-piercing yell that would scare him to death. Such a scene fired the imagination of an artist to-be. The movie theater would also show films with Charlie Chaplin, Fred Astaire, and Shirley Temple, and the magic of the silver screen would repeatedly take the sensitive young boy on a trip to a different distant world.
Then, World War II broke out and with the war came the time of struggle for identity as well as the struggle for the preservation of human principles and dignity. The atrocities that the thirteen-year-old Tadeusz witnessed, the elaborate torture administered by human beings, one to another, bloody massacres and the burnings of whole villages, death creeping in day in and day out, along with difficult decisions everyone had to confront—all this deeply affected both the way Jaworski would perceive the world and the artistic vision of his future films.
After the war, Tadeusz Jaworski moved to Łódź, as it became a center of creative life for those who escaped the devastated and destroyed capital city. He completed two semesters of Art History at the University of Łódź and then was accepted to the Department of Film Directing at the Łódź Film School, which would attract and shape the biggest talents in the industry. He graduated in 1951 as one of the first twelve graduates of the Film School. He then got a job at the Documentary Film Studio in Warsaw.
Documenting everyday life and exploring human nature was the core of Tadeusz Jaworski’s fascinations to such an extent that he was ready to go against the grain. After he was fired from the Documentary Film Studio in Warsaw and then forced to work for the Educational Film Studio in Łódź, he utilized his expertise in art history that he had earned at the University of Łódź. Beautiful educational films were the fruit of this experience: Warsaw Royal Baths Park (“Warszawskie Łazienki”), The Castle of Lancut (“Zamek w Łańcucie”), historical films, such as Grunwald or films about art, including Our Painter Orlowski (“Nasz malarz Orłowski”) and the imaginative and gorgeous film Johan Sebastian Bach—The Toccata and Fugue in D minor on the Oliwa Organ (“Jan Sebastian Bach – Toccata i fuga d-moll na oliwskie organy”) (1956). The latter is as much about music as about the famous organ in the town of Gdańsk-Oliwa, but what makes it stand apart is the matching of extraordinary music with deliberate and remarkable use of light and shadow.
This period of “banishment” resulted in the creation of remarkably beautiful and important movies, but presenting the truth about human nature and solving social problems were still the focus of his artistic work. These issues were his passion and his mission. While Jaworski employed minimalistic means of expression, his films were emotionally charged, and this blend became his signature trait. Seemingly simple dialogue of ordinary people can have an unexpected dramatic weight. This can be well seen in the documentary Spring (“Źródło”) (1962), which received many awards and pioneered several movies that had a similar dramatic effect.
This film takes place in a small village Rzepin in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, where a serious conflict has been going on for twelve years: women had been carrying water ten times a day from a water spring located four kilometers away for years until one day, water sprang out on the field that belonged to a local peasant, Piotr Styka; people started trespassing onto his property and at the same time destroying his crop. Everyone had a case and each party felt wronged. The intensity of emotions reached its peak resulting in a tragedy. At last, all could express their strong sentiments. The film led to the end of the long-lasting neighbor dispute.
Another film, based on a short story by Ryszard Kozielewski, Breathe Deeply (“Trzeba głęboko oddychać”), is equally compelling. I was a Kapo (“Byłem kapo”) (1963) is a complex and dramatic film in which war serves as the background. It tells the story of the “Bloody Frank”—prisoner No. 1825 from the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he also served as a “kapo” and received privileges in return for supervising other prisoners, but also sending them to death. His friends call him a simple, good buddy. We see a prison window, a chair, and we learn about his life. Franek is serving a life sentence for his job in gas chambers. He has plenty of time in his prison cell to think and he shares his thoughts with the audience. He is trying to make excuses, to defend himself, and to make us feel pity for him. He fell in love with a Jewish girl from Czechoslovakia, but still—he sent her to gas along others. Drama of a man entangled in a destructive evil machine? Accusation against the system or an individual responsible for his actions? Despite the limited means of expression, the film is complex and multilayered.
Another important stage of Tadeusz Jaworski’s filmmaking is the African chapter, which during the 50s and 60s brought extraordinary films about African culture and the problems the continent faced. The Information Department at UN’s World Health Organization commissioned him to make films about health issues in third world countries. Jaworski was thrilled and charmed by the Africa and created films that dealt not only with health—Jaworski also served as witness to the passing of ethnic cultures and the influence of western civilization on primitive tribes. The artist showed their richness and cultural dissimilarity as well as the life of peoples who lived according to the rhythm of the Nature.
One of those films tells a story of the Bassari tribe, its culture and customs. Ahmed Sékou Touré, leader of the independence movement and later President of Guinea, said the tribe had to become civilized or would have to be eliminated. For those who had experienced war, the word “eliminated” sounded menacing. “What is the future for the indigenous people from tribes such as Bassari, Coniacus, or Toma?” was the director’s dilemma. These tribes have lived following the same old traditions and have been rejecting modern forms of civilization that are constantly being imposed on them. The new civilization would force them to give up their tribal traditions and beliefs and would completely change their lifestyle. But it was here, among those ancient tribes that the director found, what he called, true and unspoiled beauty of humankind. Thanks to the sincerity and trust of the peoples of the savannah and jungle, who were devoid of any suspicion toward the foreign visitor who showed respect towards their traditions, Tadeusz Jaworski quickly swallowed the “African bug” and truly fell in love with the Africa and its inhabitants.
A small detail of this “microcosm,” watched through a magnifying glass, often assumed distinctive significance, both factual and aesthetic, creating a “macrocosm,” which at the end of the creative process eventually developed into a short film, sometimes becoming a part of the longer film. This was the case with Ferrymen from Akra (“Przewoźnicy z Akry”) and A Man from Yakau (“Czlowiek z Yakau”), which were made during the African chapter.
Tadeusz Jaworski also made his name as a wonderful director of TV Theater. The show that will definitely go down in history is Boys (“Chłopcy”) by Stanisław Grochowiak. Another show that also made a great impact because of its intense appeal was Cry in the World's Void ("Krzyk w próżni świata”) by Jerzy Zawieyski (1967). It addressed themes connected to war and the human condition by presenting a compelling story of the extermination of psychiatric ward patients and Dr. Renata W., who during WWII refused to leave the hospital and stayed with her patients till the end. The black and white staging, with no grey shades, and the provocative sculptures by a famous Polish sculptor Władysław Hasior, created the perfect setting for the characters emerging from the background.
The director was extremely active; his schedule was hectic and his head full of new ideas and projects. In ten years (from the mid-50s to late 60s) he made dozens of films, which touched on broad subjects. His films had a social impact as they helped people solve conflicts and see their problems and community in a different light. They won awards. Besides Africa, Jaworski also traveled around Asia. In addition to the movies made for the World Health Organization, he made 24 short films and 3 long documentary films about Africa and Asia for the Documentary Film Studio in Warsaw: Africa–60 (“Afryka - 60”) (1959-60), about countries in west Africa; The Fall of Sorcerers (“Zmierzch czarowników”) 1964-64, about countries in east, central, and north Africa; Pacific–68 (“Pacyfik – 68) (1967-68), about Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Pacific Islands. He directed all those films, wrote the screenplays and produced them.
He also collaborated with play houses and proved to be a great stage director. He was just getting ready to make a feature film based on the play Suite for a Wooden Instrument (“Partita na instrument drewniany”) by Stanisław Grochowiak.
In 1968 everything crumpled. He was at the peak of his professional career, appreciated in Poland and around the world, when all of a sudden, he became target of persecutions by the Communist regime and was falsely accused of hatred towards socialism and Soviet Union. As a result, he was fired from his job in the film studio and TV. His wife, Tamara, a world-renowned tapestry artist, knew they would have to leave Poland so she resigned from her job. By a decree of the Polish People’s Republic, Tadeusz and Tamara Jaworski were stripped of their Polish citizenship. This was an extremely traumatic experience for both of them.
However, when years later, Jaworski recalled this period of his life, he said that there was nothing that could have crushed him or brought him to his knees, because he carried—what he called— “university of life” with him. He survived as a soldier of the Polish Army during WWII and endured the terror of Nazi Germany and Stalinism, so he had good groundwork for tenacity. He withstood these hard times thanks to his beloved wife Tamara, his “Birdy” and it was thanks to her that the “transplantation” to a new world and new life was successful.
They emigrated to Canada. They soon realized that it was high time they had given up the grieving and that they had to accept the new land as their own. Tadeusz Jaworski came to Canada with a baggage of 20 film awards from European festivals, and numerous distinctions and job offers from around the world. He had a diploma from a prestigious film school and incredible job experience. In Canada, there was only the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, and CBS in Toronto. The film industry was virtually nonexistent. He was offered a job as a mailman because he had no work experience in Canada. Documentary Selling Out that Tadeusz Jaworski made in 1971 to gain “Canadian experience” was nominated for an Oscar. It was supposed to be about an auction on Prince Edward Island, but after Jaworski met Vernon, the man who would become the main character of the film, it assumed a profound meaning: it became a story about growing old and the ephemeral nature of the human condition.
A house on Prince Edward Island—an old man is sitting at a table; you can see his sad eyes and deep furrows on his cheeks; you can hear a spoon clanking against the plate and then, drop by drop, the falling of a medicine. In the background, a clock—the heart of the house—is ticking, and ancestors are gazing from the wall. An auction is taking place on the estate. People are shouting their bids for every single item. We learn that the 120-acre lot and the house, which has belonged to Vernon’s family for over 200 years, are being sold. The ownership goes as far as 1753, when it was granted by the British King George III. The old man is departing, leaving behind his past with tears in his eyes. The film shows the picturesque landscape, fields, meadows, and the coast. It is, again minimalistic in the means of expression, but has strong impact. It goes deep into the heart. No wonder, thanks to this film, the Canadian government changed the law and forbid selling land on Prince Edward Island to Americans. The film also received the Etrog Award (Canadian equivalent of an Oscar) for the best documentary of the year and granted Jaworski access to a further career in filmmaking.
Tadeusz Jaworski enjoyed a long collaboration with CBS, which resulted in several films, including a series of 12 films Canadian Artists; Italo, a documentary drama about an Italian immigrant; or Wilde Rice, a dramatized documentary about an Native American boy, who wanted to pursue education. The film that was most talked about and was most controversial, however, was the six one-hour-episode TV mini-series The Jesus Trial made for the TV Ontario in 1975-78. It all started when Jaworski came across a press article about a trial that took place in France: after a lawyer and politician Jacques Isorni (1911-1995) wrote a book Le vrai procès de Jésus (“A True Trial of Jesus”) in 1967, a French monk DeNantes from Trois, France, contested the story presented in the book and in 1974 he sued the author. The story became the starting point for the TV series, which was also inspired by the director’s war experiences and mass murders that he had witnessed. The film assumed a universal appeal —it talked about intolerance, extermination, crime, and violence. It was a voice of revolt and a cry against human cruelty.
In 1983, Tadeusz Jaworski founded his own company named “Co-Producers Fund of Canada Limited, Film and Television Productions,” where, as a director, screenplay writer and producer, he made almost all his future films and TV programs, including Modern Country, a three-hour mini-series about Canadian neo-modernism in architecture and a six-episode film Challenge or Karl Marx, for which Jaworski hired his friend, a renowned Polish philosopher, professor Leszek Kołakowski.
In 2012, after Jaworski had lived abroad for over 40 years, a movie theater “Kinematograf” at the Museum of Cinematography in Łódź presented a five-day retrospective presentation of Tadeusz Jaworski’s documentary films and TV shows. It was accompanied by the showing of The Eternal Wanderer (“Wieczny tułacz”), a documentary film about Jaworski by Grzegorz Królikiewicz and the publication of a book Tadeusz Jaworski—The Eternal Wanderer (“Tadeusz Jaworski-Wieczny tułacz” published by the Museum of Cinematography in Łódź. The director was also honored by the government of the Republic of Poland with a Medal for Merit to Culture–Gloria Artis and by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Bene Merito honorary distinction. A visit to Poland, all of the awards, and watching a movie about his life and work made a huge impact on the director.
On October 29, 2015, his world collapsed. His beloved wife Tamara, whom he called the best wife ever, passed away. He considered this the greatest tragedy of his life. The last words she whispered when he bended over to kiss her were “I love you so much.” They lived together for almost 60 years.
“I am by myself,” he wrote. “I am suffering and can’t stop crying. Every single day after she was gone, I quietly talk to her. It is hard for me to reconcile. She meant the world to me. I had been looking for beauty in the humankind for my whole life and I found it in Tamara, in her pure character. She was not only a fantastically beautiful woman, but first of all, a beautiful HUMAN BEING!”
While I was preparing an interview with Tadeusz Jaworski about his extraordinary life, his work as a filmmaker, and his outlook on the world, I asked him, “Looking back, what would you have changed in your life?” He answered, “If it had not been for the war, Nazism and Stalinism, to tell you the truth, I would not have changed anything. I had marvelous parents and sisters. I had the love of my life, my wife Tamara. I have a wonderful son Piotr and grandson Mateusz. I had a job I loved and I cannot imagine I would want to be anybody else.”
Tadeusz Jaworski has passed away, but he has left us with his rich and eventful life story, and his extraordinary achievements in filmmaking infused with the seeking of the truth and of the beauty in every human being.
Translated by Bożena U. Zaremba
Joanna Sokołowska-Gwizdka is a writer, journalist, and Editor-in-Chief of Culture Avenue, an online magazine devoted to Polish culture and arts abroad.
Tad (Tadeusz) Jaworski (1926 – 2017)
On behalf of son Peter, family and friends we would like to invite you to the Memorial Service for Tad (Tadeusz) Jaworski, who passed away on July 11 2017, at the age of 91.
The Memorial Service will take place at R.S.Kane Funeral Home at 6150 Yonge St. North York, on Tuesday September 19, between 4.00 - 6.00pm.
In celebration of Tad's legacy we will start with a video presentation of his work, followed by various speeches about his achievements and contribution to Polish and Canadian Cinema.
A reception will follow.
Tad (Tadeusz) Jaworski
In the 1950s and 1960s Tad was considered one of the best documentary film director in Poland. He also won numerous Best Play of the Year awards in Poland for his work as a theatre director. After the purge in 1968 of intellectuals of Jewish descent in Poland, Tad and his wife Tamara (a world-renowned tapestry artist) immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto.
In 1972 Tad was nominated for Oscar for his documentary ‘Selling Out’ and won the Canadian Gennie Award (The Golden Etrog at that time). He directed and produced with the CBC, TV Ontario: ‘Canadian Artist Series’, ‘The Jesus Trial’ a 6-part mini series, ‘Modern Country’ a 3-part mini series, ‘The Challenge of Karl Marks’ a 6-part mini series and numerous other productions. He taught Film Studies at Humber College, York University and was a guest speaker at Ryerson Institute.
To control the artistic integrity his work was always self produced and directed. His films in Poland and in Canada were focused on the human condition, socially relevant and a catalyst for tangible change. He won many international awards and was a long standing and active member of the Royal Academy of Arts (RCA).
He is survived by his beloved son Peter and grandson Mateusz, sister Helen, nieces and their families.