An icon of Polish post-War documentary films, and the creator of the “Polish school of documentary filmmaking”. Kazimierz Karabasz was born in 1930 in Bydgoszcz. He was a Director of documentary films, an instructor at film schools, and an author of books about the skills and tools of documentary filmmakers. As the artistic supervisor and promoter, he contributed to the production of over 120 documentary films made by the students.
In 1955, he graduated from the Direction Department of the State Higher School of Film in Łódź. In 1982, he became an Associate Professor and in 1992 – a Full Professor of Film Studies. Between 1982 and 1987, he was the lecturer and dean of the Direction Department, and since 2000 the Head of the Documentary Film Institute of the Leon Schiller State Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź. Kazimierz Karabasz was a member of the Polish Film Academy.
In 2006, he received the Dragon of Dragons Special Award for lifetime achievements in the field of documentary filmmaking at the 46th Kraków Film Festival, and in 2014 the Polish Film Award: Eagle for Lifetime Achievements.
Films made by Kazimierz Karabasz constituted a sort of breakthrough in the Polish documentary cinema. He challenged stereotypes, and was not afraid of tackling inconvenient subjects, and also introduced technical innovations which allowed him to film characters in a different way. Karabasz depicted people at their workplaces and in outdoor settings, and moved the camera further away from the protagonist, thus allowing them to feel more relaxed. He also made sure that the sound on set was engineered in a unique way.
He directed his first documentary films with Władysław Ślesicki in 1956. Gdzie diabeł mówi dobranoc/Where the Devil Says Goodnight and Ludzie z pustego obszaru/People of the Vacant Area became part of a Polish documentary movement referred to as the Black Series. The founders of this movement looked at the Polish reality in a critical way and opposed the propaganda-fuelled optimism of the social-realist cinema. The Black Series continued with a film directed only by Karabasz, entitled Z Powiśla/From Powiśle. From the very start, Karabasz cooperated with Stanisław Niedbalski, who subsequently worked as a cinematographer on the majority of the Director’s pictures.
It should be noted that the Black Series was co-created by two other Directors –
Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski – whose films entitled Prawo i pięść/The Law and the Fist and Stara baśń/Ancient Tale: When the Sun Was God are part of our Film Route.
From among several-dozen pictures created by Karabasz, three gave him substantial international recognition.
The first was a documentary film from 1960 entitled Muzykanci/The Musicians – a story about an amateur orchestra composed of motormen from Warsaw. For this picture, Karabasz received many awards, including the Grand Prix at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film, a special award at the International Short Film Festival in Tours, the Golden Lion Award at the Venice International Film Festival, the Golden Dragon Award at the Kraków Film Festival, an award at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, and the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
He also received multiple accolades for a film directed two years later entitled Pierwszy krok/The First Step – a recording of a music lesson in the first grade of primary music school. The film received the Golden Dragon Award at the Kraków Film Festival, an honourable mention at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film, and the Jury Award at the International Short Film Festival in Tours.
1967 saw the creation of a feature film entitled Rok Franka W./A Year in the Life of Franek W., a year-long observation of a village boy who enters adulthood while studying and working at the Voluntary Labour Corps in Chorzów.
The picture received many awards, including the Golden Lajkonik Award at the Polish National Short Film Festival in Kraków, the award of the Head of the Committee of Radio and Television, and the Best Documentary Film Award at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
In the later stages of his career, Karabasz focused on medium-length and feature films. In 1999, he created O świcie i przed zmierzchem/At Sunrise and Before Dusk, an attempt at depicting the views on the 1990s from the perspective of a high-school graduate and a pensioner. In 2001, he directed W pierwszej fazie lotu/In the First Phase of Flight, a story about young people at the beginning of their professional life.
In 2004, Karabasz created one of his most-personal documentary films. Spotkania/Encounters is an autobiographical essay of a Director who, after several decades of working with a film crew, picks up a small, modern, digital camera to shoot a summary of his artistic career.
2005 saw the creation of Za rogiem, niedaleko…/Around the Corner, Not Far Away… an atmospheric story about Koszykowa Street in Warsaw. A year later, Karabasz returned to one of his most-outstanding works. In Pan Franciszek/Mr. Franciszek, he revisited the protagonist of Rok Franka W./A Year in the Life of Franek W. from 1966.
His last picture was Co w bagażu?/What’s in Store? a story about high-school graduates from Żyrardów, their hopes, preparations for high-school finals, fears, and plans for the future.
Selected awards and distinctions
The Grand Prix at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film; the Warsaw Mermaid Award for Best Short Film from the Film Critics Club of the Polish Journalists Association; the Special Jury Award at the International Short Film Festival in Tours; the Golden Lion of Saint Mark at the Venice International Film Festival; special award at the Mexico International Short Film Festival; the Grand Prix at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen; the Golden Gate Award for Best Documentary Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival; a special award at the Cork Film Festival; Grand Prix: the Golden Lajkonik Award – the Polish Contest – the Kraków Film Festival; the award of the Head of the Committee of Radio and Television; the award from Gazeta Olsztyńska (the Olsztyn Daily) – the Polish Television Production Festival in Olsztyn, and others..