Being open to other people, their cultural, ethnical, ideological, political, religious and sexual differences, is a challenge that many people cannot cope with and, without going into details, rejects the unknown on the level of purely theoretical divagations.
Marianna’s family and friends had to deal with a much more difficult task and face a specific person, her feelings, worries, joys and dramas. What were their reactions? Did people more often run away from the problem or tried to listen and understand? Are we, as the society, ready for such a challenge, such “otherness”?
When I started working on my film I didn’t expect what kind of loathing and difficulties transsexual people have to cope with in Poland. Marianna had to constantly prove that she is a trustworthy and respectable person. I really wanted to show Marianna at work, where she hold a responsible job of an automation technician responsible for passengers’ safety. The security manager decided it was not good for the company’s image to show that they had a two-headed calf working for them. Luckily, I managed to talk to the president of the company, whom I didn’t have to convince that the film was important because we wanted to show that people like Marianna live among us. We had similar situations along the way but when we explained everything, showed people fragments of our documentary, they became less reluctant and agreed to be filmed. Apart from one institution: the church. No priest agreed to be shown in my film. When one did, his supervisors forbade him to do it.
I noticed that people who got to know Marianna fully approved of who she was. For example, her colleagues testified to her advantage in court, during a 4-year trial against her parents to change her birth certificate, which would enable her to change documents and have a sex reassignment surgery. This is the Polish reality: transsexual people have to sue their parents to make them agree to their child’s sex reassignment regardless of the child’s age. This law not only deprives people from the right to dignity and freedom but also downgrades family relations when parents do not approve and understand their child’s decision. This was Marianna’s case. The fact that she had to sue her parents caused a conflict with her whole family and it broke apart.
Having gone through all these experiences, what is Marianna saying today? Was scarifying everything worthwhile?
When I ask Marianna if she had made the same decision again knowing what would have happened, she always says “yes” without a shadow of a doubt because now she can be who she really is. Once she told me a story from the times when she was still called Wojtek and she talked to her wife about the therapy. The wife showed her a picture of a woman in a wheelchair and said: “This is a real misfortune and yours is just a fantasy”. She replied that she would rather be an invalid but a woman.
Everything takes time and getting used to a new way of looking at the world. Against all odds, Wojtek’s ex-wife, who was the most betrayed and cheated person in the whole story, demonstrated incredible courage and love by deciding to play in the film. What are the relations between Marianna and her parents and children like?
Marianna’s ex-wife was the only member of her family who agreed to play in the film. She also visited her in hospital and they are still in touch. For me it was very important to show that in such a situation there is no victim and no executioner. There is a human problem that two sides have to face. Unfortunately, Marianna has no contact with her parents or children. I believe it may change one day and that her daughters need more time to come to terms with all this because it was a very difficult situation for them.
There are also positive things in Marianna’s life…
That’s true. The fact that Andrzej has come to Marianna’s life and played in the film gives us all hope for a better world.
While making your documentary you accompanied Marianna in her fight for the right to be herself and followed her step by step, becoming not only an observer but also an important participant in her life. How has this story changed you? What have you discovered for yourself?
This story is an important part of my life. What happened when we were making the film was very difficult for all of us but we coped with that and went through it together. When Marianna fell sick, the film became less relevant. The most important thing was whether she would live because doctors didn’t give her much hope. After some time it turned out she was stable and then the film gained a completely different dimension. For Marianna and me it became extremely important to tell the story of an unusual person fighting for a usual life, against the common stereotypes and opinions. While making this film I learned that you have to fight for what you believe in and be honest with yourself.
Marianna is a very modest person and she would rather mix with the crowd. How did her life change after the film had been made? Are you going together to festivals or meetings connected with promoting the film? How does Marianna cope with the interest among the audience?
Unfortunately, festivals usually invite only one person – the director. However, whenever possible we are together. For Marianna, who is in a wheelchair, travelling is a real challenge. She needs a person who would take care of her, special ramps and cars, which is not always possible to organise. When we do manage to have it done, Marianna always meets with the viewers and these are always very emotional, touching and fantastic moments because people show her their acceptance and understanding. And this is what she always wanted to have most.
What do people usually ask about after they see the film? What opinions do they share? Does it change depending on the country?
It is great that people on different continents react to the film in a similar way and ask the same questions. They are also always moved by Marianna’s story.
Read also: “Call me Marianna” at the Play Poland Film Festival
Photo © A frame from the “Call Me Marianna” directed by Karolina Bielawska /press release