Cleveland International Film Festival } March 29 – April 9, 2017

Reinventing the Western in Eastern Europe

April 12, 2013   |   posted in Filmmakers


For Americans, the "frontier" conjures images of the nineteenth-century Wild West. But for many people in Poland, it has the more immediate connotation of the German/Polish border in the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin wall. For them, "Yuma" isn't a town in Arizona, although maybe they brought something of that Wild West aesthetic back to their version; it was the practice of slipping into Germany to steal from the stores on the wealthier side of the border. By the early '00s, German stores had beefed up their security enough to end the phenomenon, but not before sociologists had become fascinated by it. Filmmaker Piotr Mularuk was fascinated, too.

As he developed his film, he found himself drawing heavily from archetypes of classic American cinema, particularly Westerns. When it was time to cast the lead, the troubled, underprivileged rebel Zyga, he decided that "we were looking for a James Dean type."

Zyga, himself, is fascinated by the classic Western 3:10 to Yuma, so the metaphor connecting the two frontiers runs through the whole film.

"It was the most important film for me so far," Mularuk explains, "the work of my life, so to speak."

The decision to wear both director and producer hats for the film would be a difficult one. Suddenly, the battles between artistic expression and budgetary concerns were internal ones, and Mularuk was never sure who was winning, even though he was arguing both sides.

"Initially," he says, "eighty people were to take part in the bar brawl scene. I knew exactly what I wanted to film and how I wanted to film it. I had done a lot of research. I carefully watched 'Dodge City' and other classics. I put a lot of effort into the shot list. One fine day, however, I found out from the art department that a sugar bottle - one of those safe breakaway bottles - costs two hundred zloty (about $64), and a breakaway chair costs 1500 zloty (approximately $475). So we had to cut our costs. In the end, we had two tables, two chairs, ten bottles, and one window to break... we shot for six to eight hours, where we should have shot for two days. Such is the tough Polish filmmaking reality. This isn't Hollywood. It would have been dangerous to forget about that."

Creating a film with so many Western elements in it was an accident, but possibly an inevitable one. "When I was ten," Mularuk recalls, "I decided I wanted to make films. I was living in the United States. I was completely fascinated by Westerns. I read Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour voraciously... As for my film, I never thought I was making a Western. The French noticed it and compared "Yuma" to "Deadwood," which I took as a great compliment."

Former practitioners of "yuma," though, see the comparison instantly.

"They all say: 'Sir, it was the Wild West,'" he says.

--Lara Klaber

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.9 MB]

Related Screenings:
04/09/13 @ 11:30 AM – Yuma
04/11/13 @ 11:30 AM – Yuma
04/12/13 @ 6:15 PM – Yuma

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