Monday, December 22, 2008

poland - day 4

tues, dec 2

6:11am - train departs lodz for cracow
5:45pm - train departs cracow for lodz

after a whopping two hours of sleep, i stumble out of bed at 4:45am and devise a new way of taking a shower to maximize the paucity of hot water. it's a two step process of soaping my body first, speedily rinsing off and getting out of the tub. i then proceed to get halfway dressed (the lower half) so as to not freeze the rest of my @$$ off, then turn the water back on to wash my hair. quite proud of my newfound achievement, i head out the door, ready to tackle cracow...

the train ride is a 4 1/2 hour jaunt, but i get a car all to myself. originally planning to take a nap, i manage to stay awake the entire way to enjoy the view of the countryside. we arrive at krakow glowny (town center) where i try to get my bearings. thankfully, there's a sign nearby that has directional flags, so i head straight for the rynek, or the popular main market square.

dating back to the 13th century, the rynek is the largest medieval town square in europe. quite simply, it is a large expanse, yet beautiful in scope. i couldn't get far enough to effectively capture the square as a whole, but you should get a good enough idea from the pics above. littered with seemingly thousands of pigeons, it's also a bustling marketplace of shops and food, so i head straight for a shack hocking polish delicacies. i opt for their kielbasa, juicy and good due to its crispy skin. refreshed, i managed to sneak in the st. mary's basilica next door and manage to snap a photo before seeing a sign prohibiting any photography inside. oops...

i stroll south through the city and take in the street life, the old buildings and the variety of walkways and ornate doors to storefronts and whatnot. i make it to the mangga centre of japanese art & technology, a cultural institution spurred on by famed director andrzej wajda. it's a uniquely shaped building on the bank of the vistula river with really cool ramps/walkways for parkour, but alas, it's 30 degrees, i'm wearing like 5 layers and walking boots that weigh a pound and some change...

i cross the river and head for wawel, a complex housing both the royal castle and the cathedral. made of jurassic limestone, the building dates back to the 4th century and served as a residence for poland's kings from 1038 thru 1596. the inner courtyard is a spectacular example of the renaissance period.

i buy a ticket to view the state rooms, but unfortunately they don't allow cameras inside either. nevertheless, it's pretty neat to see how the royal family lived and even more so, the audience room, whose ceiling consists of wood carvings of 30 human heads looking down upon the king. i proceed to leave wawel and spot a guy dressed in chain mail, but when i take out my camera, he darts behind another guy and literally hides from me. apparently he's a tourist trap and you have to pay to get his picture, so i nodded at him, understanding his plight. as i pretended to walk away and he re-emerged from shadow, i playfully whip out the camera and we both get a good laugh out of it...

after all the walking, i make a pit stop at CK browar, a brewery located in an underground cellar. while their selection doesn't resemble father's office, they do have 4 on tap - pilsner, dunkel (my fave), wheat and ginger (bizarrely sweet and bitter, but surprisingly good). i choose not to eat here in favor of a popular nearby 'milk bar,' kind of a homestyle spot where the prices are dirt cheap. since nobody here speaks any english, i roll the dice and pick out a dish that resembles the word 'cutlet,' which thank god it is. you get soup, an entree and dessert for under $4!

i have a little bit of time left to burn, so i hit up the mall near the station and pick up a gift for marta's 2-year-old son franek before catching the train back. at 10:15pm, i walk over to hotel centrum and wait for my ride and bump into agnieszka from the festival, who invites me to an after party that night with a bunch of DPs. marta and i head back to the festival theatre for the music video competition, where 50 cent/justin timberlake's 'ayo technology' and david gahan's 'kingdom' are among the finalists. i head over to the after party, meet up with a few of our clients (karl walter lindenlaub, who shot 'prince caspian'), but then get cornered by a couple of agents from endeavor, one of our company's competitors. the experience was akin to getting a root canal as they were rooting around for info, so that was my cue to bounce...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

poland - day 3

mon, dec 1

9:45am - 'elite squad' screening
3:00pm - '33 scenes of life' screening
7:45pm - 'slumdog millionaire' screening

let's see, we wake up to blue skies (!) around 8am, have quite the tasty breakfast then head out to what i thought was a screening of kathryn bigelow's 'the hurt locker.' a few seconds into the screening make it clear that unless the setting is the favelas of brazil, we're definitely not watching the right movie. i guess the festival pulled a switcheroo, but the film is in portuguese with polish subtitles. umm, yeah. i race off to get a headset, then comically try to follow the action as the translator butchers the phonetics and cadence of the english dialect. afterwards, marta takes off to go swimming, so i decide to try and walk back to her apartment to see if i have any sense of direction. the answer is no.

however, all is not lost. i stumble upon liberty square, where the statue of tadeusz kosciuszko lies at the heart of. here is the start of piotrkowska street, the main street in lodz and one of the longest in europe, spanning 4.9km. i hoof it back to the festival theatre in time to catch my second polish film, the somewhat depressing '33 scenes of life.' marta informs me that we need to return the rental car (hers had broken down the day i arrived), so that afternoon was my first foray into driving the crazy streets of lodz. of course, somebody cuts me off as i'm following marta in her car, so i do my best not to lose her. mission accomplished, whoo. famished, we head to a mexican restaurant appropriately named 'the mexican,' where they apparently turn out the lights every time somebody orders cheesecake, and a gringo runs out guns ablazing. no really, i kid you not.

we race back to the theatre for 'slumdog,' only to find out the place is wall to wall packed. and when i say packed, i mean every seat, every aisle, every stair and every inch of carpet is occupied by anxious moviegoers. we basically force our way into a spot, which isn't ideal for one's back, and mine was screaming bloody murder by the time the film ended. luckily, the movie was such a crowd pleaser. i have to say, that screening was the most electric i've ever seen a crowd, so much so that there was a standing ovation once the end credits came up, and everybody was clapping to the beat of the end song. it basically reaffirms my belief on why one goes to the cinema...

at 10pm, we hit up kaliska again (yes, there are other bars in the city, but this happens to have a great crowd and is open late), where i get indoctrinated into wyborowa and zubrowka (flavored with bison grass), two of the more famous polish vodkas. here they like to add apple juice with zubrowka, which creates a liquid form of apple pie if you will. let's just say it works for me, shall we?

on the way home, we stop by the train station fabryczna, where i scope out the schedule to cracow (the former national capital) for my tuesday trip. it departs at 6:11am, arriving at 11am, and a roundtrip sets me back $33 so i pull the trigger. seeing as it's now 2am, we head back and do a little bit of online research on some spots for me to hit up. i finally collapse at 3am with much anticipation...

Friday, December 12, 2008

poland - day 2

sun, nov 30
2:30pm - 'four nights with anna' screening
7:00pm - 'blindness' screening

wake up at 10am to send a few e-mails, then attempt to take a shower. marta's bathroom has an elegant tub with a handheld shower head, but the 'hot' water isn't exactly scalding. i proceed to take the quickest shower possible to avoid getting hypothermia, then construct a few paper daffodils and house them in a vase i brought for marta. her rabid stray dog winston sneaks into my room and humps the bejeezus out of my right leg, my left leg, then my arm and my neck as i try to teach him to sit. sadly for money B, winston is not multilingual and has no idea what 'no' and 'sit' mean.

breakfast consists of scrambled eggs with tomato, fresh bread with a sort of cheese spread, cold cuts and gouda cheese, all of which make up a typical polish breakfast.

we rush out to catch 'four nights with anna,' one of two polish films i will have seen during the festival. it's a sad 'love' story about a guy who breaks into anna's room every night while she sleeps, then heads back home before she wakes. marta found out that one of her friends was hurt badly in a car accident (he ended up breaking both of his legs), so she took off to go help. i decide it's a great time to take a stroll to the hotel centrum, which is a hub of activity for all the festival guests and only 3 blocks away. i return to the theatre (it's the city's opera house, and the other levels house exhibitions for camera equipment, the festival offices, etc.) and bump into our DP client stephen goldblatt ('angels in america,' 'rent).

i finally get to see fernando meirelles' 'blindness,' which i missed in theatres. it's a dark allegory about a world in which everybody turns blind, so it was fascinating to see the effects on society and gender against the backdrop of chaos.

marta is able to pick me up, so we head to a thriving new district in lodz for dinner on the 2nd floor of a jewish/polish restaurant. i order the jewish hot tea (w/alcohol, natch) and the meat pierogis with almonds and raisins to go along with a nice complimentary glass of muscato. around 11:30pm, we head back to kaliska and meet her friend eva (below, on the right), who is a lodz native and not a fan of all things california. she does a spot on impression of a hollywood starlet, complete with air kisses and pretending that she loves everything. apparently it's name day in poland (why don't we have that!), and because andrew is the day they are celebrating and it's also the name of our bartender, it was quite the rowdy atmosphere.

we return back to the crib around 3am and i marta shows me some of her photographic work and her demo reel, which is very impressive. one of her friends is the lead singer for a popular rock group in poland called coma, so we check out a few of their videos on her phat iMac before turning in at 4:15am...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

poland - day 1

fri, nov 28
8:40am - flight departs los angeles (LAX)
6:50pm - flight departs new york (JFK)

sat, nov 29
9:40am - flight arrives in warsaw (WAW)
12:30pm - arrive in lodz by shuttle
4:00pm - opening ceremonies at camerimage film festival

an amusing sidebar on the flight from new york to warsaw. the gentleman sitting next to me opted for a polish beer called zywiec. since i'm quite the aficionado, i asked him how to pronounce the name in case i wanted to order it any time in the future. he didn't understand a lick of english, and neither did the lady sitting next to him, so it was a pretty quiet trip the rest of the way, ha ha.

upon arrival in warsaw, i followed the placard with 'camerimage' on it, and the next thing i know, i was standing next to dante spinotti (DP of 'heat' and 'last of the mohicans'), john toll ('braveheart,' 'thin red line'), our wonderful client steven rosenblum (E of 'braveheart' and 'the last samurai') and michael barrett ('bobby' and the upcoming 'bedtime stories'). 3 vehicles transported us to lodz (pronounced woodge), an hour-and-a-half ride out from warsaw, where we arrived at the hotel centrum - the only place where all of the guests stay.

since i opted for the festival's homestay program, my host marta (a director in her own right in the fashion and film world) was a bit late in picking me up because her car broke down earlier in the day. we stopped for coffee - where i actually had hot chocolate w/chili - and to pick up polish SIM cards (for me and my bosses, who would arrive on wed, dec 3) before heading to her place to drop off luggage.

and by 'place' i mean a sweet artist's loft, which you would never guess. most of the buildings in lodz are hundreds of years old, as it was a booming textile industry in the mid 1800's before declining in 1990. but the cool thing is all of these buildings are immaculately kept despite the roughed up exterior.

i didn't have time to change, so i showed up at the opening ceremony as is. i managed to snap a photo w/legendary DP vilmos zsigmond ('deliverance,' 'close encounters of the third kind') next to his portrait! at the ceremony, they introduced a few of the jury members and presented an award to DP roger deakins ('the shawshank redemption,' 'no country for old men') before screening 'doubt,' the opening night film. since i had already attended the LA premiere, marta picked me up from the theatre and we grabbed a drink at a nearby bar called lodz kaliska, which is a red-tinted joint in the art district spanning three floors (dancing on the upper two). we caught the 8:30pm screening of 'w' (again, i had already seen before), which DP phedon papamichael introduced, then headed to a pizzeria for dinner at 11pm.

the pizzerias here are a tad different from their american counterparts: they serve tomato sauce (and ranch dressing) in little pourable jars on the side, rather than cooked in to the pizza. i picked the one that said bacon, realizing that bacon in poland is basically ham, so that was my first experience in not trusting the english translation when it comes to food. also, the water here isn't tap or sparkling - it's gas or no gas. around midnight, we walked next door to kaliska to grab a drink and i got to meet a few of marta's friends. anna is an austrian DP fluent in japanese and chinese, DPs marcus (austria), valentin (cologne, germany) and jun (england, and the only other asian in the entire bar). the place was so packed the six of us were crammed in a cubby hole between the bar and a table, but it was really fun learning about everybody's country and culture.

we retreat back to her pad at 2:45am, where i was flat out exhausted. keep in mind that i had traveled the entire day before, then arrived in poland in the morning, so i had to hit the ground running...