Director, documentary filmmaker, screenwriter. His feature debut, “Splinters”, was favorably received at the Gdynia festival in 2013; a few years later his “Life Feels Good” (2015) won the Silver Lions as well as the Audience and Longest Applause Awards in Gdynia and the Grand Prix in Montreal. His next film, “I’m a Killer” (2016), inspired by the Vampire of Zagłębie serial killer case, also won the Silver Lions.
Maciej Pieprzyca has pitch-perfect perception of reality. Until recently considered an astute observer of the political transformation in Poland, he considerably expanded his cinematic formula with his latest works, “Life Feels Good” and “I’m a Killer”
He might be the only person capable of making this movie – the events depicted in I’m a Killer took place when he was a child, so rumors of “the Zagłębie vampire” must have reached his ears. Most importantly, though, he’s a Silesian guy: Pieprzyca never tries to hide his ancestry, but freely mines it for inspiration. In his movies Silesia remains an uncounterfeitable domain on the map of Poland: grimy and grey, it nevertheless possesses a harsh beauty that’s hard to name.
Maciej Pieprzyca was born in Katowice in 1964 and studied at the local film school. “Silesia remains the region of my birth and childhood; though I moved away many years ago, I come back here to re-energize myself, recharge my batteries,” he said in an interview.
His latest picture, the award-winning
“I’m a Killer”, pulls the viewers into the investigation into a serial killer targeting women, then evolves into a tale about the infection of evil that touches us all
Pieprzyca set many of his movies here, starting with his thesis film Inna and his first – documentary – approach to the story of Zdzisław Marchwicki, also titled I’m a Killer. The common thread in his two Marchwicki films is an exhibition about the investigation into the murders. Serving as a starting point of the old documentary, scenes from the exhibition form a mischievous counterpoint in the new feature film. Marchwicki’s tale, however, remains at least superficially a local story, just as his TV movie Barbórka, part of the Święta polskie series, had been a local story. Pieprzyca used the distinct setting of the mining holiday to contrast two views of Silesia: one traditional, represented by the locals, while the other, embodied by “big-city incomers” from – let’s say – Warsaw, is free of the historical baggage, but also ungrounded in emotions.
Pieprzyca’s movies reveal his incisive perception of reality. Keeping a watchful eye on the world, he can transform even the insignificant events into creative impulses. He learned that at school – Pieprzyca is a graduate of the University of Silesia’s Deartment of Journalism. He might have become a brilliant reporter, but he gravitated toward the cinema.
Having taken a course in screenwriting at the Lodz Film School, Pieprzyca went on to study directing at the Faculty of Radio and Television at the Katowice university, leaving its walls at 29 with firm views of the world and his place in it. That’s why his debut TV feature, the hour-long Inferno produced as part of the Pokolenie 2000 series, is impressively mature for a generation picture. We meet its three female protagonists at their high school prom; they have big dreams, but their community checks them mercilessly. At a certain point the party spirals out of control. What happens cannot be undone.
After Inferno Pieprzyca chose to undergo additional professional training and directed a number of episodes of two popular TV series: Na dobre i na złe and Kryminalni. He also added four television plays to his portfolio. His own screenplay to Fryzjer, starring Krzysztof Pieczyński, portrayed the elite of a small town. Komu wierzycie and Rodzinne show were scathing critiques of contemporary media, while Padnij examined wartime trauma – a particularly relevant issue at that time – in the stories of three women married to soldiers fighting in Iraq.
Therefore, Maciej Pieprzyca acquired a broad range of experiences before shooting his feature debut, Splinters. This movie – a powerful, authentic depiction of young people struggling with a new world full of temptations – is further strengthened by excellent performances of promising young actors, now accomplished stars: Marcin Hycnar, Antoni Pawlicki, and Karolina Piechota. The story was set in the dynamically developing city of Katowice, as if Pieprzyca had decided to pointedly break with the stereotypical vision of Silesia as a hive of grime, filth, and wretchedness. Pieprzyca reveals that this portrayal was, indeed, met with recriminations – “oh but that’s not what Silesia looks like!” The movie won the award for best feature debut in Gdynia and was additionally recognized with the Grand Prix in Houston.
Today Maciej Pieprzyca is rightly considered one of the most important authors in Polish cinema thanks to his two latest works. The first one, Life Feels Good, is based on the true story of Mateusz, a young man with severe cerebral palsy. Ewa Pięta was the first to tell his tale in her documentary Jak motyl. After Pięta’s premature death, Pieprzyca decided to film a feature version as a tribute to his departed friend. He encountered numerous obstacles before he could realize his vision – at first no one could see the potential for success in a ninety-minute movie centered on a cripple who’s always in the frame. Life Feels Good, however, proved truly wondrous: despite its subject matter, it was a life-affirming encouragement to seize the day and enjoy every moment. Dawid Ogrodnik made a name for himself with his ethereal interpretation of the young protagonist, while Dorota Kolak and Arkadiusz Jakubik delivered a moving performance in supporting roles. The movie delighted film critics and achieved high box office ratings for its genre; appreciated at numerous festivals, it won over 60 awards, including the Grand Prix, the Audience Award and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Montreal International Film Festival, the Silver Hugo in Chicago, and Best Actor in Seattle. Life Feels Good was screened in movie theaters in 20 countries.
“Life Feels Good” proved truly wondrous: despite its subject matter,
it was a life-affirming encouragement
to seize the day and enjoy every moment
Pieprzyca’s latest movie, I’m a Killer, doesn’t just signal the director’s return to one of his old passions – it broadens the scope of his cinematic accomplishments. At a glance it’s a thriller about the hunt for a serial killer set in 1970s Silesia; however, this superficial impression conceals a tale akin to an initiation story.
Its protagonist, Janusz, a young Communist-era policeman, heads a task force tracking a killer nicknamed the Zagłębie Vampire. Overcome with the thrill of the hunt, he abandons all ground rules, sacrificing everything in the pursuit of success – even the truth. Critics rightfully point out the young policeman’s resemblance to Lutek Danielak, the protagonist of Feliks Falk’s Top Dog – not just due to the physical similarities between Mirosław Haniszewski as Janusz and young Jerzy Stuhr’s Danielak. They both believe the end justifies the means and are ready to go against their principles in pursuit of the goal.
Seen through this lens, the cavalier I’m a Killer, undoubtedly one of the greatest winners of the 2016 Gdynia festival, is a creative return to “cinema of moral anxiety”. One can only hope that anyone wishing to revisit these traditions can do it with as much class and awareness as Pieprzyca.
2016 I’m a Killer (feature film)
2015 Prokurator (series)
2013 Life Feels Good (feature film)
2008 Splinters (feature film)
2007 Rodzinny show (teleplay)
2006 Komu wierzycie? (teleplay)
2006 Kryminalni. Misja śląska (TV feature film)
2005 Padnij (teleplay)
2005 Barbórka (TV feature film)
2004 Kryminalni (series)
2003 Fryzjer (teleplay)
2002 Samo życie (series)
2001 Marzenia do spełnienia (series)
2001 Inferno (feature film)
1999 Na dobre i na złe (series)
1998 I’m a Killer (documentary)
1998 Zostanie legenda (documentary)
1995 Przez nokaut (documentary)
1990 She Is Different (documentary)