Two old Polish brothers come back to their homeland, 70 years after having been deported to Siberia. Alfons is a painter, Mieczyslaw a cartographer: despite their differences they love and support each other, and together they face the passage of time and the hardships of life. To tell their story, Wojciech Staron paid recurring visits to the two brothers and took plenty of time to become a part of their daily lives. Mixing his work with the brothers’ archive footage, he captures the passing of time in the old men’s lives and reveals the deep bound that unites them.
Wojciech Staroń on the making of Brothers
How did you meet the 2 brothers?
We met during my journey during studies of cinematography, when I traveled across Kazakhstan in summer 1994.
Where do the archive footage come from, and how did you select them? Did the brothers participate to the selection?
All the archive footage comes from Mieczysław, the older brother, who shot his professional expeditions as a cartographer, and his private life, on 8mm and 16 mm camera. I did the selection process alone, and it was very difficult. I chose parts that fit the topics and emotions of the story, such as moments when the two brothers are together, when Alfons is performing very difficult exercises or when we see the immense surface of tundra. I wanted the audience to feel the situation that they had to live in the communist USSR, but without judgment, only to build the atmosphere of mystery of the past.
The film shows some elements from the past but it is mostly a film anchored in the present. Is that correct?
For me the most important element in a documentary are the things that happen now. The past is only an additional layer, to which we have a limited access. I think even the most tragic events of the past do not have as much impact as the presence. I shot incredible interviews with the brothers presenting their exile to Siberia, their imprisonment in gulag, their escape, etc. but I preferred to show them in silence today and to look for the traces of the past in the observation of the present days.
How was your presence perceived during the shooting? Were you a quiet observer or did you interact with them?
I tried to be an observer only but they wanted to talk a lot, so I had to wait for a long time to catch the moment when they got used to my presence, were getting back to their privacy and did not react when I was there. They needed me more as a friend than as a filmmaker. Most scenes happened accidentally and were difficult to predict.
How did you prepare the shooting? At which frequency were you visiting the brothers?
I shot once every one or two months, with my wife Gosia. We spent most of that time talking and listening to their stories. Alfons was always describing vividly their plans, which were the inspiration for the next scenes of the film. Apart from that I was filming the brothers’ silence, existence, daily routines. For a long time I was looking for the answer what is this film about, what will be its main motive and its structure. However I knew from the very beginning that it will a film about brotherhood. The final structure of the film appeared as a result of a year-long process of editing. I had to eliminate many plots to achieve a kind of universal & clear story.