Thank you to all at Wyeside InsideOut festival and to everyone who came to the cinema screenings of all the My Little Sister (who happens to have Down’s syndrome) films, listening to my talk, and the screening of my short ‘We The Mountain, We The Sea’ The reproduction was incredible, both visuals and audio and magical having a live audience for all of those months of working on my films. It was interesting seeing all the My Little Sister… films consecutively, picking up on themes and changes in our lives. I was really happy that the audience stayed to chat afterwards and I felt very encouraged with their reactions. One person said that this was the first time that she had seen the ‘My Little Sister…films’ and that it had literally been a life changing experience. The discussions afterwards were full of interesting questions and chat about Down’s syndrome, perceptions, disabilities, society, home education, nature…That’s what I love about a live audience, getting to hear reactions, meeting people interested in my films and having discussions afterwards. It was just amazing! The audience reaction was great to ‘We The Mountain, We The Sea‘ which was premiered at Raindance Film Festival in September. This was it’s second cinema screening, and a complete contrast in style to my documentaries. Here’s a slideshow from the day.
And, Rebbecca Ray was lovely to be interviewed by. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to chat about so many different topics and the venue and audience were great, making me feel relaxed and appreciated-so thank you! I will make a little film covering this talk and other snippets from the festival, but as my computer is busy with final editing of My Little Sister…Episode 9, the words will have to do for now!
Rebbecca Ray in Conversation with Agi K -Wyeside InsideOut Festival April 22nd 2016
Rebecca: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Wyeside. It’s my great pleasure to be here with you today, to present the work of one of the most exceptional emerging creatives I have come across – within our own region or elsewhere.
AGNIESZKA Kolaczynska – or Agi K – describes herself as a self-funded, self-taught young film maker.
Creator of the award winning annual documentary series ‘My Little Sister (who happens to have Down’s syndrome),’ her short film ‘We The Mountain, We The Sea’, was selected for the Raindance Film Festival in 2015.
Winner of the International Youth Arts Festival in Kingston Best of Fest award for an Under 17 Production, Agi’s work encompasses both film and photography, documentary and visual poetry. She is now 13 years old.
Please put your hands together with me and offer a huge welcome to a truly eye-opening talent – the film maker Agi K. I hope some of those here will have had the opportunity to watch the first 7 episodes of My Little Sister today. We’ll also have the chance to see Episode 8, which is a standalone film, this afternoon.
Agi, you started the documentary series when you were 8. How did it feel to first hold a camera?
Agi K: That’s right, I was 8 when I started the series, but I used to use my parent’s camera to make animations with my playmobil and film my family around the house without them noticing from when I was very small.
So, I can’t honestly remember the first time I held a camera, although there are photos of me filming when I was around 4 years old.
Rebecca: Tell us about how you fell in love with the process of film making?
Agi K: It was when I was making my playmobil animations and seeing my stories and characters come to life!
I discovered that by adding sound effects and different music to the shots I’d filmed of my family that I could change the meaning and make scenes dramatic or funny. That was a great feeling, having my family in stitches when they watched them.
Rebecca: How has your technical ability evolved? Tell us a bit about the ways your ability and approach have evolved through the equipment you have learnt to use.
Agi K: I’ve got better simply through making more and more films, literally hundreds, film making is very addictive and I am totally one track when I’m in the middle of editing a film.
I progress fast even within making one film. So, often by the end of the film I go back and re-edit it.
Technology moves forward so fast. I started with a very basic camera and now I have several cameras, each one is better for different situations.
Knowing what my equipment is capable of, extends the range of shots and action that I can plan into any film, for example; I have a GoPro which I use for remote and underwater shots, I use my phone for discreet fly-on-the-wall filming and my best quality video camera for planned tripod shooting.
Rebecca: Have you worked with a tutor?
Agi K: No, I’m self-taught. I’ve learnt through having fun experimenting and working through trial and error.
I like accessing information quickly and working to the depth that I want to learn, and the internet’s great for tutorials
My mum is my best critic and although she doesn’t help me technically, artistically she mentors me and being home educated I can spend a lot of uninterrupted time editing and making films.
Rebecca: You work a lot with stills photography as well. Do you see that as a very different process or do the film making and photography feed into each other?
Agi K: I see it as completely different, because photography is all about capturing everything in the one still shot.
They do feed into each other though, it’s the same artistic process- I’m thinking about composition, dramatic effect, and lighting in both.
Rebecca: My Little Sister documents your life with Magdalena. Does the way Magdalena sees the world influence how you make your films?
Agi K: Yes, completely. It is her eyes and interaction with the world that drive the films.
Rebecca: I know Magdalena loves to watch what you’ve created. How much do you think about the way people will respond to the films as you make them?
Agi K: I’ve thought about this much more recently, in the first two episodes when Magdalena was 4 and then 5 years old, I just made them without considering the audience.
The third episode was different, I made the series into five episodes, as I was becoming aware of stereotypes that people had about D.S. ; such as ‘being happy all the time’… and it became important to me to show people that these stereotypes weren’t true.
I also got emails via my website from other children who had siblings with disabilities saying that the films had helped them to open up to others about their lives, and they and their families liked seeing how me and Magdalena got along and how we played, so that encouraged me to put more of our relationship into the films.
In Episode 8 it was different again, Magdalena was 7 and I was 10 and it was becoming more noticeable in the outside world how some people would ignore her or talk about her assuming that she wasn’t feeling or thinking or that she had any interests. This upset and frustrated me and influenced my dialogue at the start and end of the film urging people not to put people with diasbilities into boxes, again i the film I wanted to show Magdalena’s interests and personality; to show the people the friendship that they could potentially have if they slowed down to actively include her and get to know her.
This is still the most important point I want to get across, just how amazing and wonderful a person Magdalena is and how I wouldn’t be without my sister. I’m very aware that if people haven’t taken the time to get to know Magdalena or someone else with D.S. they may make wrong assumptions about what our lives could be like. There are still a lot of outdated stereotypes about Down’s syndrome and people can make life decisions based on very little real knowledge or experience.
For example, the regular legal limit in the U.K. for termination for is currently 24 weeks, however under clause E it is possible to terminate a baby with severe disabilities (D.S. is included in this) right up until the date the baby is due to be born, I believe that the law should be the same for everyone.
Also, there are new screening tests for D.S. available in early pregnancy now, which require just a blood test. It upsets me that people might make a decision to terminate their pregnancy, based on assumptions rather than real life experience. I know that lots of people have been surprised when they see our films or when they meet me and Magdalena. They are surprised at how rich in love and fun our lives are. They see qualities and situations in our films that bear no resemblance to what their previous assumptions were.
I hope that these films continue to replace those outdated images. I feel sad that people could make a decision to terminate without having any real idea about the life they and their baby could have had. Magdalena has Down’s syndrome, but that isn’t who she is. It just means that she has to work a lot harder to do some things than I do for example. Having an extra chromosome doesn’t interfere with the amount of love, fun, giggles and friendship that we have together.
Rebecca: Many artists find that there are points of choice, where we need to decide between what we might want and what an audience might best respond to. Have you ever had to make decisions like that?
Agi K: I constantly have to make that decision, especially when thinking what might be appropriate or not. I also have to think into the future for when Magdalena’s older, of what could potentially be embarrassing.I am more conscious and careful about this now than in the early films when I didn’t think about it.
I don’t think too much about what an audience would want, other than my instincts about what I would want to see, for example if I am getting uninterested in a scene it’s obvious to me that I should cut it shorter!
Rebecca: Agi, what term do you use to describe this kind of work? I’d call is visual poetry.
Agi K: I think that describes it well, it is a montage of visual ideas –each person that watches it will interpret it differently and that’s how it’s meant to be, open ended.
Rebecca: It’s very different to a classic documentary style as you’ve employed in the past – is this more freeform approach growing within your work?
Agi K: Yes it is, and it does cross over more and more into my documentaries. I love mixing styles up and enjoy surprising the audience.
I don’t set out to use a certain style. As I edit, each film takes on it’s own style.
This freeform visual poetry is a style that I have been developing in my music videos alongside my documentary films and the one influences the other.
My Little Sister…films do have a certain form which I will continue with but allow to evolve as the content does; fly-on the-wall camera work, and narration, and reference to events from previous films in the series. The My Little Sister… films are particularly loved by children and I want to use a style that is accessible to them as well as adults.
Rebecca: Tell us about some of the other pieces you’re working on at the moment.
Agi K: I’m in the final stages of editing Episode 9 of My Little Sister… with footage from 2014, then I’ll start Episode 10 using the footage from 2015 (aiming to release that by the end of this year.
Alongside this, I’m editing a short called Her World, it was shot outside in one afternoon in Winter a few years ago and the footage just spoke to me visually; I created a soundtrack by mixing violin audio improvised by our older sister, Isabella, together with some spoken words from my mum that I found on another filmclip. The film is in black and white and is ethereal.
I’m also completing the editing on a scifi film that I directed with the film club that I run locally.
Rebecca: Do you enjoy the process of responding to words and music?
Agi K: Yes! I absolutely love working from audio, it’s an already written story that is yet to be written.
Rebecca: Do you take time to visualise what you are going to create before you begin working?
Agi K: Yes, the images run like a movie through my mind, I do a lot of the preparation when I’m walking in the hills with my dog.
Rebecca: How much do your ideas evolve during the process of making the piece?
Agi K: Loads! The end result often turns out completely different and far better than what I start with.
Rebecca: Will you continue the My Little Sister Documentary?
Agi K: Yes! Although it may change form as the years go by and of course it will depend on Magdalena’s willingness to be filmed and what she wants in it, it is likely to stop being a fly-on-the-wall style of filming I imagine, she may start filming me! Who knows?!
Rebecca: You recently had a lot of your equipment stolen. Have you been able to replace it?
Agi K: None was recovered, but most of it has now been replaced.
I’ve been so grateful to a Cardiff based video production company called Rockadove who donated me an updated replacement of my previous video camera.
Also to the P & L community trust who generously donated money towards replacing hard drives and my audio recording studio.
However film making is expensive, the main expense being upgrading the computer which it is desperately in need of!
As well as the ongoing cost of buying the many hard drives that I need to store all the footage on. I really could do with funds to pay someone for technical support, I’ve got this far on my own but it would be really great to get that support now. That’s what is delaying things at the moment as we need to overhaul the computer but there is a huge amount to do on it to make sure that nothing is lost before we do it. It is incredibly time consuming and mum and dad put loads of time into this.
Rebecca: I know that people can help if they want to, buy buying copies of your DVDs online. It’s agikproductions.co.uk – is that right?
Agi K: No, that’s my twitter name, my website is even easier than that to remember! it’s www.agik.co.uk Yes, you can rent, download or buy the hard copies of the DVD’s through my blog and website www.agik.co.uk This goes towards the cost of hosting the DVD’s on vimeo and cost of my website, making the DVD’s, computers, software, equipment updates etc. There is also a donate button on my website if you are feeling generous!
Rebecca: Agi, we’ve hugely enjoyed spending a little time in your company and I know that many people here are going to be wondering what you hope for next. What are your plans for the future.
Agi K: Thank you! Its been great talking with you and such an incredible experience having my films screened here today and thank you being the audience!
I have this really exciting project that I aim to start in the summer and expect to take a couple of years to complete. It will be my first feature film and I will be auditioning actors for it. It is loosely based around A midsummer night’s dream and it is called Oh Magikal Kingdom. I have been given an original unreleased soundtrack to use, which is also by Penny Rimbaud, upon which I am going to base the film.