Born and based in Poland, Julia Popławska wanted to be a detective when she was a child. Now, her work lets her investigate the experiences and influences that shape our personalities. Her career as a multimedia artist has led to varied explorations of the connection between family, society, and country – and how political factors affect such concepts.
In June, Julia won the Grand Prix at the Papaya Young Directors competition for her spec ad for sports retailer Decathlon, marking her first venture into commercial direction – but definitely not the last.
LBB’s Kitty Norris chatted with Julia to find out more.
LBB> You just won the Grand Prix at the Papaya Young Directors competition – congratulations! What drew you to working on this ad for Decathlon?
Julia> I have done different sports since elementary school – being active always kept my mind in harmony. I believe in sport because it has changed my life. Being connected to Decathlon was a motivation during writing the advert. I started the script from a reflection – what sport means to me – and I realised that being fit is necessary to help somebody in a critical situation. If you can run and swim you are able to make it in time and save somebody's life. On top of that, to be able to perform CPR, you need to have a bit of muscle.
LBB> You’ve taken quite a hard-hitting approach with the advert – although it is presented in a touching way. What made you choose to go in this direction?
Julia> Recently, I lost a very important person in my life. I know how important it is to run as fast as you can when you see someone in danger. Sport means something more than endorphins and staying fit. The Papaya Young Directors competition encourages creators to think boldly and embrace ideas and because of this, I was able to create a commercial I really wanted to make. It was probably the first and last time I will have such an opportunity.
LBB> You're originally a multimedia artist – when did you begin to move into commercial directing?
Julia> While studying at Fine Art University in Poznań, I worked without a script and at the end of my studies I knew I couldn’t work like that any longer. I wanted to know how to tell a story and how to grab the viewer’s attention. In the world of free artistic expression, I realised that I needed some restrictive boundaries to understand the structure of moving pictures. I already knew I wanted to be a film director, but I couldn't start doing this immediately – especially when graduating from a fine arts school doesn’t necessarily give you a steady job right after. So, I got into an online course for beginners at Andrzej Wajda’s Film School. Afterwards, I realised that a lot of feature film directors go on to shoot commercials after they graduate, and I always wanted to shoot features, so I decided I might as well try to get into commercials right away. Thanks to Papaya Young Directors, I had my first experience as a director! I consider it a special gift from PYD and now I can start exploring the film world.
LBB> What made you want to make this transition?
Julia> I realised I needed a group of experts around me to help create something without any mistakes, to start and finish the project in the way I want – not in the way a project can go when it doesn’t have a script. A commercial is a visual story about the product or brand. That's how I see my future, I want to be connected to moving pictures and tell a story.
LBB> How has your multimedia background translated into commercial directing?
Julia> Visual artists work with distant ideas in an abstract way of thinking – but the result must be readable to the viewer. The process of creating a video is very similar to creating a commercial or a movie. It all starts with the idea. Then, video artists need to organise a group of people to help them bring their vision to life. They also need to manage people in front of the camera, much like a director. They use the same tools – camera, lenses. The projects are big, but sometimes artists work completely alone, often without the script or meticulous plan. The process as a multimedia artist is much more spontaneous. Sometimes we have a lot of problems during the editing process, so we also need to be really creative and determined to find solutions on the go!
LBB> A lot of your previous work (such as Centrum and Scamper-Progress-Urge) focuses on analysing certain aspects of society – often with a political focus. Is this something you want to / have introduced into your commercial projects?
Julia> Society, politics, and our culture all influence us – and this is inspiring to me. The way we feel within ourselves can tell us that something wrong is going on around us. I’m interested in understanding how our condition is connected to family, then to society and finally to our country. Within this group is huge political tension. The way we act in front of relatives may be considered political strategy. Somebody once said that everything is political. The videos I create talk about these aspects of our lives. I don’t have a strategy for my future projects. I’d rather stay true to what is truly touching me.
LBB> What are you most fascinated by in your daily life and work?
Julia> I’m fascinated by the little moments when big things and our beliefs collapse: when we believe in something, and suddenly we discover that the truth is somewhere else. Someone shows us another side of their personality – the structure we believed was working well suddenly stops working. Suddenly everything looks different. It provokes strong emotions and we soon realise this problem is connected to another sphere. I then see this as a global problem which comes from family, culture and society. After this process of observation, I’m sure my idea will be relatable for the others because I feel what other people feel. Emotions are global and international. I start to work when images, sound, and emotion are connected. Finally, when I have an image in my head, I know I have to follow what’s there.
LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of?
Julia> I’m really proud of my first commercial film for Decathlon because it was the first time I finished a project in the way I wanted to. It was possible thanks to the professionals I worked with: Ernest Wilczyński (DOP), Sebastian Pawlak, Mateusz Nędza (actors), Max Nowicki (script consultant), and Kamil Sołdacki (sound engineer).
LBB> Have you always been creatively driven? What did you want to be when you were a child?
Julia> Yes. At the end of secondary school, I was thinking “I’m gonna get bored to death with the routine of the classroom.” I got into an artistic high school where I started my adventure with painting and the history of art. These were my priorities. I didn't study anything else. As a child I wanted to be a detective. I was extremely excited when things got lost at home... so I could start some serious investigations. Now when I meet people, I’m really interested in what experiences shape their personalities and what happened in their lives.
LBB> Who / what are your biggest creative inspirations?
Julia> Daily situations are much more inspiring for me than the art world. Artwork we see in galleries or at the cinema comes from daily life, but they are somehow transformed. I love German director Maren Ade's movies. I really like the videos of Argentine artist Mika Rottenberg. At the start of my time at university I was fascinated by Polish artist Zbigniew Libera. They all touch on very important contemporary subjects, but in a fully artistic way. They know how to use their artistic voice to talk about important problems. From the commercial world, I love the mood of Jan Foryś and films that touch on taboo subjects like ‘Viva la Vulva’ by Kim Gehrig.
LBB> What advice would you give someone trying to get into directing?
Julia> I realised that staying true to ourselves brings credible results. It's much easier to find determination when we work on important subjects. It works that way in the art world, but the cinematic world is much more complicated because it involves money. I’m also the one who needs advice!
LBB> Finally, have you got any new projects on the horizon?
Julia> I’ve been thinking about a short film for quite a bit now. It’s about a teenage girl who doesn't feel Polish because of the current political situation. She feels that she doesn't belong to the country. It will be about the imposed nationality from which we cannot escape. Even when we travel to different country, we can't escape our nationality written on our ID. It is a predicament and I want to talk about it.