In his new documentary, 1970, Tomasz Wolski uses stop-motion animation and archival footage to illuminate telephone conversations between top communist officials during a crucial historical event.
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Tomasz Wolski’s fascinating documentary 1970 is the most formally inventive film I saw at Visions du Réel. It rightly took home the prize for the International Feature Competition. When Wolski stumbled upon real-life recordings of telephone calls between Polish dignitaries discussing their strategy for dealing with the 1970 workers’ rebellions, he wanted to make a film. To help us follow the conversations, he created puppets of each of the characters on the phone call. He then used stop-motion animation to take us inside their homes and board rooms.
Animating on a budget in Tomasz Wolski’s 1970
Working with a limited budget meant the puppets could only move so much. Instead, Wolski moved the camera. He also used mood lighting and period-accurate settings to make us feel like we were there with them. You forget you’re watching animation, and feel like you’re watching these events unfold.
Wolski regularly cuts between the events discussed by the men on the phone and archival footage of people on the streets. It contrasts the moving masses outdoors in the light and the privileged, static few indoors in darkened rooms. The combination of the real documentary audio recordings and the archival footage remains a constant reminder that this happened.
This important moment in Polish history may not be well known outside the country. But a worker’s rebellion crushed by insensitive leaders who are not on the ground is hardly an anomaly. The film often reminded me of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo, with its contrasts between the unfeeling few in power and the masses encountering injustice and state violence.