Cannes Case Study: EO Producer on the Challenges of Filming in Poland and Italy


Title Competition by Jerzy Skolimowski HEY shot on location throughout Poland and Italy.

Sharing insights into filming, the director-producer tells KFTV that he traveled with a large crew through small towns, overcame challenges and unprecedented access to a royal residence just outside of Warsaw.

Over a varied career, Polish director Skolimowski made films about boxing (his first masterpiece Easy victory), made extraordinary (essential murder) and Polish Solidarity-era builders working illegally in London (Illegal work). Now with its latest feature HEYscreened in the Competition section of Cannes, its focus is on a donkey. HEY tells the story of a creature that begins its life in the Polish circus but ends up in an Italian slaughterhouse. It is a contemporary version of Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) by Robert Bresson, which used the life of a donkey and its various owners to illuminate the ups and downs of human nature.

HEY was produced by co-writer Ewa Piaskowska of Warsaw-based Skopia Film, alongside Skolimowski, with Italian Alia Film as co-producer. Experienced British producer Jeremy Thomas is executive producing through his Recorded Picture Company, with HanWay Films handling sales. Isabelle Huppert joins a majority Polish cast led by Sandra Drzymalska, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz and Tomasz Organek.

Team up

Several key teams had previously worked with Skolimowski, including composer Pawel Mykietyn, editor Agnieszka Glinska and sound designer Radek Ochnio. “The rest of the team was new and mostly very young and a source of positive energy on set,” says Piaskowska.

HEY is a Polish-Italian co-production, with support from the Polish Film Institute, including its cashback incentive. On the Polish side, two regional funds were on board: Podkarpacki Regionalny Fundusz Filmowy and Warminsko-Mazurski Fundusz Filmowy, as well as Strefa Kultury — the cultural institution of the city of Wroclaw. The filmmakers have also secured funding from Polish investors and HBO Europe.

HE the focus is on the long-suffering animal. “It’s basically a road movie with a donkey playing the lead role, so the film was almost entirely shot on location,” says Piaskowska.

The Polish part was sandwiched by a few days in Sicily and Rome. HE The first day of filming, albeit with a minimal crew, took place in the town of Custonaci in Sicily in early 2020, just before the Covid pandemic shut down the world. These scenes appear in the finished film as flashbacks.

The last day of filming took place in the outskirts of Rome, at the beginning of March 2022. “A long time, indeed”, reflects the producer. “In the meantime, the world has become a totally different place.”

Skolimowski’s travels with his donkey took him all over Poland. “We had the privilege of capturing the stunning wilderness of Podkarpackie, the sleeping beauty of a small Masurian town, as well as one of its historic stables,” Piaskowska says of the various stops along the way. “We were also able to place a camera inside a royal residence just outside of Warsaw, [in] the magnificent Wilanow Palace. It was unprecedented.

Going through small or remote locations with a large film crew was not without challenges. “The limited hotel capacity was perhaps the most problematic when accommodating the crew in remote Polish towns,” says Piaskowska. “As for the challenges, there were quite a few. But Jerzy has always had an incredible quality to not only overcome them, but also to be able to make them work to the film’s advantage.

An example concerned the lead mare. One of the original animals chosen for the role turned out to lack a life-saving vaccination certificate just two days before filming at the stables. Within a day, Skolimowski had managed to bring in a replacement, a beautiful white Arabian horse from the town of Janow Podlaski in eastern Poland.

The filmmakers went out of their way to make their collaboration with the animals on set as humane and stress-free as possible.

“There was more than one donkey on set, of course,” says Piaskowska. “We worked with Marietta, Taco, Holla, Hettore, Rocco and Maya. None disappointed us in any way. All were patient, tactful and considerate. Stubborn, sometimes – always for a reason. A number of our Polish crew members decided to stop eating meat during the filming of this film.

This article appears in our latest issue of World of Locations, which you can read below…


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