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Meet the Slamdance Filmmakers: Aneta Popiel-Machnicka, Director/Producer, 'Sometimes I Dream I'm Flying'

By Michael Galinsky

In viewing all of the documentaries that are in competition at Slamdance, I found a wealth of styles, tones and subjects. Glena and Sometimes I Dream I'm Flying were the most observational. However, while the title character, Glena, often talks to the filmmakers, the ballet dancer at the heart of Sometimes I Dream I'm Flying floats through the film with almost zero awareness of the camera, giving it perhaps the most "cinematic" feel of all of the films. I spoke briefly with the director/producer Aneta Popiel-Machnicka about her film and her process.





Documentary: How did you come to be involved in this film?

Aneta Popiel-Machnicka: The idea to make this film came to me a long time ago. As a child, when I was perhaps 9 years old, I heard about a very young prima ballerina who, the day before her premiere, went out of the house in slippers to take out the trash  and she slipped so badly she sprained her ankle. She was so ambitious and stubborn that she hid the contusion from everyone, and the next day she danced as the lead ballerina in the premiere, despite the pain. And that was her last performance. After the show she was taken to hospital. She'd done so much damage to her ankle that even after a lengthy rehabilitation, she couldn't ever return to her dancing. And that had been the beginning of a great career. One step and one bad decision destroyed her life. Her entire life before had been dedicated to hard work, and all for nothing. I've held this story in my mind ever since.

When I met our heroine for this film, I became very interested in her motivations, her independence, spending a lot of the time far from the family, and her very strong character. Not in my darkest dreams did I imagine that she would also suffer a similar, dreadful contusion. That was really quite overwhelming.    

D: It's rare to find a film this observational any more. Did you have any films in mind as a model for how to proceed stylistically?

APM: I can't imagine making this film any other way. Any interview, any conversation—even a very frank and open one—can destroy the intimacy of a situation while filming. This film had to be, if you like, "observational." And it was possible for a couple of reasons; first, we had plenty of time to make the film—several years, in fact;  secondly, Weronika was always so involved in her work that she didn't see us, and the camera didn't bother her; and thirdly, there was the timing and sensitivity of Michal, responsible for the camera, patiently waiting for the right moment to shoot.

I don't want to tell the viewers directly what's happening to my heroine. I believe in the viewer's ability to draw his own conclusions from the film about her life, even her internal life. She says very little in the film. While we were shooting the rehabilitation scene, Weronika opened up tremendously and I knew immediately that that would be included. We had some very deep discussions about how she was feeling and what she thought about her life. I chose just one such discussion, which I believe says everything.

After the really serious contusion she was very down and lonely, but at the same I had never seen her so strong. For 10 months she spent hours on demanding exercises and rehabilitation so she could return to her dancing. Any one else would have remained an invalid after such a contusion. She worked. She succeeded.  Today she's dancing solo parts and getting better and better at what she does. She's a wonderful, unique and very modest girl.   





D: One of the more powerful moments is when the dancer reflects on whether or not she would do it all again if given the opportunity. Was this one of those moments when you were filming that you knew the scene would go into the film?

APM: During the filming I was most moved by tremendous solitude of our heroine , the ballet dancer.

Looking at her daily struggles with her body, weaknesses and fears, I realized how all the people that we call artists are reliant on themselves, the power of their mind, talent and character. No one can replace them in their own work; they have to make choices on their own and face the audience.

Creating art means loneliness; in case of dance, also solitude under the pressure of one careless step, which can ruin your whole effort.

Sometimes I Dream I'm Flying won the Blackmagic Design Cinematography Award at Slamdance.

Michael Galinsky is partners with Suki Hawley and David Bellinson in the award-winning production studio Rumur. Their film Who Took Johnny premiered at Slamdance. They are currently working on a film about the connection between stress and pain.