Polish Cinematographer Adam Bajerski on ‘Mister T.,’ Working With Andrzej Jakimowski

Ed Meza

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TORUN, Poland – Adam Bajerski, the award-winning cinematographer behind Marcin Krzysztalowicz’s 1950s Warsaw drama “Pan T.” (“Mister T.”), is re-teaming with longtime collaborator Andrzej Jakimowski for his next project.

The film, “Goat Mountain,” is likely to shoot next year on the Spanish island of Lanzarote. It follows a Polish photographer who moves to the Canary island after inheriting property there.

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Bajerski began his career with Jakimowski and has shot all of the director’s feature films, including  his 2002 feature debut “Squint Your Eyes,” 2012’s “Imagine” and 2017’s “Once Upon a Time in November.” The two were part of the group of filmmakers that in 2002 founded the Warsaw-based film production company ZAiR (a Polish acronym that stands for Associated Artists and Artisans).

While he’s hoping to shoot “Goat Mountain” on 35mm film, Bajerski shot his latest feature, “Mister T.,” digitally. Set in 1953 Poland, the black-and-white film follows a renowned writer who takes an aspiring young journalist under his wing. The writer’s life takes a turn into the absurd when the secret police begin suspecting him of planning to blow up the Palace of Culture and Science, a gift to the People’s Republic of Poland by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

The production offered Bajerski a rare and exciting opportunity. “Black and white is a pure pleasure to shoot – it gives you a lot of freedom,” he tells Variety.

Bajerski describes his work as “intuitive. Composition is my strong point. I love to frame.”

In making “Mister T.,” Bajerski says he and Krzysztalowicz preferred the look of French films from the 1960s, such as “Breathless” and “Last Year at Marienbad,” as well as newer works like Mathieu Kassovitz’s “La Haine” (“Hate”).

“We didn’t want to copy the photographic style of the 50s – strong artificial lighting, a lot of fill light, a lot of back light. … I told Marcin, the director, that I would prefer to create natural lighting, so it looked like real light, not fake light, not that strange light typical of the 50s’ technique.”

Modern digital cameras offer greater possibilities to play with natural light, Bajerski says, adding that you can then achieve heavy contrast with natural lighting in post production.

In embracing natural lighting, he also aimed for a specific atmosphere: “I wanted to have this magical realism – realistic but poetic.”

Bajerski used the ARRI Alexa with Hawk anamorphic lenses, which added to the strange quality they were seeking.

The look of the film was also inspired by Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, whose work he has long admired. “We had some inspiration from his surrealistic, metaphysical and wide-angle style.”

Bajerski had a lot of freedom to improvise while working with Krzysztalowicz, he notes.

When he’s not shooting, Bajerski teaches cinematography at the University of Silesia’s Krzysztof Kieślowski Film School.

“I love it because of all I learn from my students and because of the fact that I have to examine some of my ways of working and analyze everything about my intuitive choices. They are young and make all kinds of crazy things, so I can learn a lot from their imagination and their freshness. We do practical workshops and test new cameras or film stock or the way to play with it in post production. This way I learn also with them and thanks to them I’m up to date.”

“Mister T.” is screening at Camerimage as part of the Polish Films Competition.

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