POLAND'S PRIZED EXPORT TAKES HOLLYWOOD BY STORM
Los Angeles stretches across the desert like flypaper, sucking in people with multiple talents who often remain stuck, their energies trapped. Los Angeles can flatten all but the most aggressive artists, but it's been highly fertile territory for Polish - born wonder woman Beata Pozniak. Born in Gdansk, Poland, Pozniak was classically trained in dance, art and theater. she acquired an MFA from the Film, TV and Theater University in Lodz (Roman Polanski alma mater) and quickly became Poland's best - known actress gracing covers of many magazines. fleeing her homeland in search of creative freedom, she landed on American shores in 1985 and founded THEATER DISCORDIA, a dynamic performance group which integrates video and slide projections, live music and dance with jarring juxtapositions of sexual provocation and fairy tales, ribald comedy and terrifying existential truths, absurdist theory, and Buddhist koans to produce awe - filled experiences celebrating the diversity and mystery of life. Two years ago, Pozniak returned to her homeland to co - star in director Jerzy Skolimowski's Thirty Door Key, not yet released in the US., then got her big break playing Marina Oswald in Oliver Stone's "JFK". More recently, Pozniak traveled to Prague to work on George Lucas's new television series "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, playing a woman revolutionary who leads thousands of Russian workers in revolt. Pozniak lives with her boyfriend in a fantasy house located in the hills just east of Hollywood; up a narrow winding path, sits her studio which is full of her clay figurative sculptures that are inspired by the unconscious powers of mythology and dreams.
J.J. Tell me about your current project, bringing International Women's Day to America.
B.B. For 80 years all over the world, this day has been celebrated, and the idea was first formed by women posting a bill in a congress in Copenhagen in 1913. I asked what was happening here in America regarding International Women's Day, and nobody even knew about it. So, I am introducing this idea. Women in Film will host an event and I am the chair. We're inviting women who have contributed to film, politics, writing and art, giving them certificates in honor of their work. Basically, this day was created to raise awareness of women, about what women have experienced throughout history. Did you know that at one time women were not allowed to go to universities, and that they never had equal rights? In fact, this past election was only the 19th time women could vote in America. This day was created to talk about these things. It will be similar to the projects that I have been producing in the past, so, there will be passages of poetry and literature, video clips, and performance art, like the style of Theater Discordia, but internationally and with women. There will also be a proclamation by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and then, we're sending the idea to President Clinton.
J J. When did you come to America?
B.P. Being a student and a part of the Solidarity movement, everything was closed and I was already thinking to myself, "Whenever the borders are going to be open, I'm going to be out." I knew that I wasn't going back, so, I just got myself a one-way ticket here at the end of '85.
J J. Was the adjustment tougher than you expected?
B.P. I had a very difficult time transplanting myself here. When I came here, I was actually a part of the American Film Institute's Film Festival representing one of the Wajda films that I was in called Chronicles Of love Affairs. The film went back; I stayed. The fact is that here it's so different. In Poland, I grew up educated in a different way. We didn't have agents, managers, producers, or casting agencies; everything is run by the government. You get a project; you direct it; and you are just on a month-to-month payroll, that's all.
J.J. So many American theaters are struggling for survival. Is theater received any differently in Poland?
B.P. Theater has an enormous power in Poland. Because of the censorship, we could not talk freely on the street, so we would do it on the stage. Just like you have lines here for baseball games, in Poland, there are lines to go see the theater. That was our communication; that was art through symbolic movement. Sometimes when you do a project, it's done in such a clever way that it gets to the heart of some people, or to their brain.
J J. Most American actors don't have the sort of experience you do, especially in theater.
B.P. I went through an interesting training experience, starting with the classical theater: Chekov, Gogol, Shakespeare, Moliere, and then Balzac for a few years, as well as experimental theater, including Beckett, lonesco, and Grotowski's method of experimental theater, which uses the body as imagination. You get to touch all these methods, to have this kind of foundation on top of which you can build anything and experiment. I feel very lucky that I had the chance to do that before I came here.
J.J. When did your acting career begin?
B.P. My first professional acting job was when I was nineteen or twenty. Before that, I was in amateur theaters and led a dancing group which used abstract forms. When I was in school my first year, I did three feature films. Before coming to the United States, I did over twenty films.
J.J. How were films viewed in Poland?
B.P. For many months, everything was closed: the theaters, the movie theaters....I just felt stuck, whatever that means. I was always fascinated with American films. For example, I remember our school was the only one in Poland with amazing connections, and we were able to see films from other countries. I remember seeing Raging Bull with Robert DeNiro at two o'clock in the morning. There were such crazy hours; the film would just fly into Poland for a few hours for a screening and then back. That was my relief, my hope. That's how I was being nourished; film was a kind of food for me, and helped me survive those troubled times.
J.J. Tell me about your experience of becoming an American citizen?
B.P. On December 12, 1991, I became a US citizen. It was interesting and kind of ironic because I escaped from politics, from Poland, and then JFK was my film debut, a very political part. Just a week before the film came out, I was with 7,000 people in one room and we said the Pledge of Allegiance, becoming citizens. It was an amazing, amazing time; the way everything was happening for me. The first time in my life that I could vote freely and of my own will was in 1992. Also, it's an interesting coincidence that Marina Oswald became an American citizen that same year.
J.J. I know that meeting Marina Oswald changed your life. Were you the one who initiated contact with her?
B.P. Yes, I felt so responsible. I knew she was alive, and I insisted on meeting her. After I got the part, I called the production office, and they said it would be very difficult to meet her; she's very distant and guarded, but they would see what they could do. Finally, she granted me an hour of her time, a Q-and-A, very fast. I just wanted to see for myself; I wanted to hear from the horse's mouth what really happened. I walked into the JFK center in Dallas and saw this beautiful woman with red hair and high, Slavic cheekbones. I looked at her and thought, "Gosh, I feel like I know her." I started talking to her in Russian which broke the ice, and we just clicked. It just so happened that I had recently returned from Leningrad and had some photos. She was homesick. She never returned to Russia after 1963, you know.
J.J. What was involved in your researching the role of Marina Oswald?
B.P. I began my own investigation, my own research on the whole thing. I read all twenty six volumes of the Warren Commission reports, believe it or not, all the press that was published at that time, Newsweek and Time, as well as any footage on Marina. I had meetings with Jim I Garrison, many meetings and long, long talks with him. I asked him many questions about the case and about Marina because I knew that he met her. He said, "You know what? I've investigated this case for 30 years and to hear this from a woman's point of view. I never even thought about the things that you are thinking." I gave Garrison my opinions about Marina and how she was a victim who was manipulated and brainwashed. When she came here, she was an immigrant who wanted a better life for herself and her children. People from Eastern Europe, from the Iron Curtain, people like myself, we're all brought up with the idea that America is this dreamland, a land of opportunity, a land for Cinderellas, the rags to riches story. So when you meet an American, any foreigner for that matter, you think you are meeting God. That happened with Marina. When she met Lee it was like meeting someone superior, someone completely great. So they married a month after they met. It was a true tragic love story, and I wanted to present this to do justice to Marina.
J.J. You practically became part of Marina's family, didn't you?
B.P. I was only supposed to be in Dallas for a week to do research, but then I became friends with Marina, and she said, "Please stay with me. You don't have to go back. This is your home. I stayed with her after the project was over. I felt so at home there, maybe because we're both immigrants; we have so many experiences and backgrounds that are similar.
J.J. Your poetic nature seems to speak about your immigrant experience as well. Tell me about the poetry events you produce.
B.P. I wanted to create a show dedicated to immigrants for the Los Angeles Poetry Festival. It's not like a regular poetry reading. I usually do something that is more abstract, playing with formal ideas, vowels, sounds; and delivery. So, I found immigrant poets, well-known and accomplished poets, who were published in their own countries. I had people from Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Mexico, and El Salvador.
J.J. Do you have any other projects we should look for?
B.P. I'm doing my first album. It's a mixture of some fragments from some of the previous shows like Return of Umbilicus which I directed for the Los Angeles Theater Festival. They're poems with music and distorted sounds, so it's a spoken word album. In some parts, I am singing and in others I'm playing different musical instruments. It should be distributed soon.
J.J. One more thing, you haven't mentioned what year you were born.
B.P. That we're not going to print; you should leave it a mystery.
Zone Magazine, April 1993, by Joe Jarrell. Photo: Anne Norda
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