A new take on the Warsaw Uprising | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 23.08.2013
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A new take on the Warsaw Uprising

Historical footage from the Warsaw Uprising has been put together into a film - complete with sound and color. DW talked about the film with Rafal Kiepuszewski, deputy head of the external services of Polish Radio.

DW: Poland's Warsaw RISING museum has compiled historical footage from the 1944 Warsaw Uprising that has been spliced together to make a unique feature film. The haunting work was organized in conjunction with historians and cinematographers. A trailer for the movie has just been released. What impact did the trailer have on you?

Rafal Kiepuszewski: It was like nothing I've seen before. When you watch "normal" footage from the Warsaw Uprising or the Second World War, you can just see faded, wobbly newsreels where you can barely make out some of the figures. And here you have such vivid pictures, like they have just been shot with a modern camera resembling modern filming techniques.

Also it's all in color and - of course - no film like this from the Warsaw Uprising exists. It is also with sound, so it's all really amazing, and the shots and scenes are strung together in a way that's not just a documentary - it's a real feature film.

Who shot that original footage between resistance fighters and the Nazis?

Not a lot is known about the individual people who actually did it. But it is known that there were six crews that were filming during the Warsaw Uprising, and based on that footage, which was sitting somewhere in a dusty archive, the makers of the film decided to feature two of those reporters who were shooting on the scene.

Warschauer Aufstand, Straßenkämpfe

The numbers are unknown, but historians believe up to 200,000 Poles died in the uprising

How was the feature film put together?

It took lots and lots of effort. The director is Jan Komasa who is a famous film director in Poland. The film was basically compiled on the basis of surviving newsreels, but the makers also decided to make it in color - so they added color to each and every scene.

There are actually stories about the lengths to which they went to make sure the color matched the scene. There's one scene, for instance, where a woman is pouring soup in a kitchen. And the editors had to decide whether this was tomato soup or potato soup. And based on that they would either use red or a shade of whatever color the other soup was.

The same went for the sound. There was no sound on the original footage, so they very cleverly used police lip reading systems to find out what the people in the film were actually saying. Based on that, they used voiceovers, and some of those were then recorded, for instance, in a basement to make the sound more original and to give you a feel for how it all happened.

A staggering amount of time has been devoted to all of this. Some of the post production is still going on, but the organizers are planning on releasing a 90-minute feature film to tie in with next year's 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

Now obviously the footage is not new, but will the feature film provide us with a better sense of what happened?

That's the point of the whole effort: to not just show clichéd images of how it happened. The story will bring out the fact that it was mostly the effort of ordinary people like you and me and not military men.

What I personally miss in this effort is that, in a way, the other side of the coin will not be shown. Namely that the Red Army was waiting just across the river; waiting for Warsaw basically to bleed to death. The Soviets were prevented from launching an offensive to help the insurgents. Stalin had decided that it was best for his war plans to let the Nazis take Warsaw and let the Poles bleed to death.

What kind of reaction has there been in Poland to this project?

The Warsaw Uprising is both something in the history books, and it's also a national myth. It's a myth about how the Poles rose against impossible odds to free the Polish capital from the Nazis. But basically the idea was to free the capital ahead of the advancing Soviet army.

Denkmal Aufstand Warschauer Ghetto

The Polish resistance surrendered after 63 days of fighting

But that obviously failed, so this has gone down in history books as one of the most tragic events in the country's history - involving an impossible loss of life. As such, this is really very important and still crucial to a lot of people here.

There are songs about the Warsaw Uprising. Since the return of the democracy in Poland, there has been more effort to focus not just on the Poles fighting against the Nazis, but also on the fact that it was all about Russia as well and its effort to subjugate eastern Europe.

And that is of course something - although no footage remains from the right bank where the Soviets were - I'm sure the makers will find a way to bring out. And this will make it even more relevant to Poles - in particular to younger Poles - right now.

Rafal Kiepuszewski is the deputy director of the external services of Polish Radio.

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