Monika Kotecka is one half of the Polish creative duo Kurkot Kollectiv. Together with Karolina Poryzała, their short artistic documentary Volte won “Honourable Mention” at the 2017 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. It was the only Polish documentary to receive any award from Hot Docs. Hot Docs also happened to be Volte’s World Premier.
Born in Wroclaw and currently based in Warsaw, 35-year-old Kotecka was an accomplished cinematographer and photographer before making the transition to directing.
Volte is not your average sports film. It explores the unique world of competitive vaulting and the team of young girls who have dedicated their lives to the sport.
Ekran’s Jasia Kiersnowski had the pleasure of spending time with Kotecka during her visit in Toronto. Over coffee on Queen Street West in Toronto’s Entertainment District, the two discussed Kotecka’s relationship with Volte, which goes far beyond her initial expectations for this project.
Jasia: To begin with, please tell us why your co-director [Karolina Poryzała] didn’t travel with you to Toronto.
MK: Well there’s a good reason Karolina couldn’t come to Hot Docs– she’s pregnant! She’s due to have her baby any day now. She made the decision not to travel such a long distance when she’s so close to giving birth.
Jasia: That’s fantastic news and a good reason! Let’s get into the film itself– this film has a very unique subject [young girls vaulting on horses]. Can you tell us how you came across this subject for your film?
MK: Karolina and I have been working together as Kurkot Kollectiv since 2012. Karolina is the creator and screenwriter. I mainly work on the cinematography, however, together we act as Co-Directors on our projects. When we started out we were mainly working on fashion shoots and music videos. When a well-known musician gave us a really difficult piece of music to work with, we accepted the task of creating a concept for this bizarre combination of jazz and experimental music. When we heard the music for the first time we immediately decided we needed the video’s concept to be very unique. That’s how we decided on choosing a strange sport for the video. We came up with vaulting. Before we made this film we knew nothing about vaulting except that it existed.
I have to admit; the first time we went to see the girls training we were like, “WHAT-THE-HELL”. I mean it’s one thing to see it on YouTube but when you see it in real life– these huge horses and these little girls running around them and between them and on top of them– it was out of this world. But what really stood out for us was when we first caught a glimpse of the relationship between the girls. They really take care of each other. They even call themselves a ‘tribe’. From that initial meeting where we were planning to make a music video we thought, “hey, let’s make a documentary about these girls!”
And obviously we are very happy with the choice we made to make this our debut documentary. Karolina and I are both from the visual side of film. For years, I studied cinematography and she was studying photography and that’s really apparent when you watch the film. The visuals are very important in this film.
Jasia: The visuals are strong but what really caught me was the sound design and the music. There is barely any dialogue. How come there is hardly any dialogue from the subjects in your film?
MK: To be honest, when we came across this project, we knew that there were so many layers within the story that we decided to create two films: a short and a full-length feature. For the short we only wanted to focus on visual and sound. We wanted to build a hyper-real world around those girls with an emphasis on their emotions as expressed through the sound and the music.
The sound design was fantastic. We had on board with us a great sound director (Patrycja Krysik) and I think she did an excellent job. Also, the music was very much complementary to the sound.
Jasia: You say that the girls call themselves a tribe, but after watching the closing credits it seems as though your crew is a “mirror tribe”—it’s almost entirely female. What was that like? Was it on purpose?
MK: Yeah, it was practically an all female production. It wasn’t on purpose. It just happened to be that way and it ended up being an advantage for Karolina and I. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with men and women. I don’t have a gender bias but with this project specifically, being an all female crew gave the girls a solid sense of trust and safety. And not only did we need that to access the girl’s world, but we are touching a sensitive subject with body issues in this film and we wanted everyone on set to have a level amount of comfort that you wouldn’t get with a co-ed crew.
Later on, it just so happened that our editor was female. And one of the music composers is my sister. We are all very close. But like I said, none of this was on purpose, it all came naturally and I think that’s why everything ran so smoothly.
Jasia: How did you and Karolina make the decision to start the Kurkot Kollectiv??
MK: As I mentioned, I started out as a cinematographer. I was trained at the Łódź Film School. When I finished school I worked on other people’s projects for a long time. However, in the back of my mind I always wanted to make my own films. I always wanted to be a director so that I could have more creative freedom and Karolina wanted to be a screenwriter. On an artistic level we really connected. When the timing was right we decided to collaborate and that’s when we started to make films together. We started off small by making short video clips and built our way up. Volte is our first short documentary and now we’re working on our first full-length. We also have a fiction film in the works. It’s a process. It took a long time but it gave us the experience and knowledge to get where we are today.
Jasia: Do you still keep in touch with the girls today? What about the character Zuzia, she really stood out for me.
MK: Yes, we do because they are going to all be involved in our full-length documentary of the same subject. The full-length film is about growing up and we’re focusing on three protagonists of the same team but mainly on Zosia the youngest girl and Ola, the eldest. Zosia is the girl who replaced Zusia as the ‘flyer’ (the top of the pyramid) in Volte.
This film is basically our version of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, but of course we are calling it our “Girlhood”. For the past five years we’ve been observing how they’re changing as they grow up. At this moment, that team is the best in Poland and they’re preparing for the championships. The sport is definitely a driving theme in this film but our main interest is their growth process. How have they changed? How have they matured?
Jasia: How long are you planning to follow them?
MK: Actually, we’ve been shooting the feature simultaneously with the short so we’ve been filming for three years and we’ve got a year ahead of us. What’s nice is that we’ve already been able to see these girls change.
We got funding from the Polish Film Institute and we’ve had meetings with some other big distributors. But nothing has been signed yet.
Jasia: I hope we get to screen the feature at Ekran…. 2020?
MK: Actually! We are planning to complete filming in 2018. But you know the editing will take a while with all that material. But for sure we will keep in touch and we would love to have our film screened at a future Ekran festival.