Interview with Bartek Prokopowicz and Katarzyna Sarnowska

Director & writer of "Chemo" (Poland)

​Karlovy Vary 2015 - East of the West Competition

Writer Profile



Name: Maarja Hindoalla

Nationality: Estonia


Energetic, emotional and vivid Chemo tells the story of coming to terms with a terminal illness in a refreshingly light way. Debuting director Bartek Prokopowicz and scriptwriter Katarzyna Sarnowska unfold the story behind this peculiar drama-comedy.

Chemo is partly based on Bartek's life and the subject is quite sensitive. What was the script writing process like?
Katarzyna Sarnowska: There are facts from Bartek's experience – being married to a girl who suffers from cancer and she brings up a baby during chemotherapy and she passed away three years ago. We didn't want to talk about this subject in a very depressing way, we tried to find a light way to tell this story. 
Bartek Prokopowicz: The idea was not to stay close to the real people, because some of the characters which are in the script are still alive and we didn't want them to be in this story. The way Katarzyna found to tell the story gave me freedom not to stick with the facts because if I would want to stay on the facts I should choose a side – to support Benek or to blame him or to say that what Lena is doing is bad etc.

Was making this film hard for you? 
BP: In the beginning I thought that it would be easier to make this movie, but in the end I faced the truth that it was quite hard for me. It was hard to go through, because you cannot run away from some pictures, words, emotions which you have had in that kind of situation that I was in. But I think it helped me to talk with the actors, to help them build the characters. Not to recreate me and Magda (Prokopowicz – M.H), it helped them to create their own language and separate Lena and Benek from the original characters. 

One thing is making the film, but another is the attention that comes with it once it's done. Are you prepared for it?
BP: It's not easy. I'm not prepared, I'm still quite moved and touched and these kind of interviews and standing in front of the audience make me very nervous. On the set I feel safe, that's my natural environment, but with the interviews it's quite difficult. The film is so fresh, we finished it just one week ago, just before Karlovy Vary. We had to speed up the whole post-production process because of the festival, so we are quite tired, it's been almost three years working on this project.

What have been the first reactions from the audience?
KS: They were very enthusiastic. The Czech audience is really nice, because they have a good sense of humour. We are used to the text and it was funny when we were making it up, but we had forgotten that this movie is funny. So it was really nice to hear that the people are reacting with a sense of humour and of course it is really nice that they are also moved at the end of the movie.
BP: That's one thing. The other one is that they saw this movie without the context.
KS: When we say 'context' we mean that in Poland Magda set up a famous foundation called Rak'n'Roll and she was a kind of celebrity.
BP: Oncocelebrity.

In the film Lena does a really interesting photo project about femininity and cancer. What kind of project did Magda do?
KS: They did the 'Holy Mothers', it was a photo book about girls who suffered from cancer and who were pregnant at the same time, it's really moving. They also did a project called 'Bald and Beautiful', there were pictures of bald ladies suffering during chemotherapy. They had a lot of social campaigns like for example 'I'm treasuring for drugs, tits and new hair' and they really encouraged the way they talked about cancer. Actually they changed somehow the way of thinking about people suffering from cancer.

So Chemo also serves that kind of purpose?
BP: It's totally in the stream of Rak'n'Roll ideology.
KS: When I was writing the script it was not important for me when Magda did what in the biographical sense, but I was trying to write the script in the way she was talking about the illness. This is actually the strongest link with the reality – the way she talked about her illness.