A couple is brought together by their passion for telling the stories of Polish communities persecuted by repressive government.
Katka Reszke peered over the red rims of her glasses and quickly scanned the computer screen before beginning to type furiously. “Hey, Slaw!” Reszke called across the apartment.
“Slaw,” short for Slawomir, is pronounced “slav,” as in Slavic. Slawomir Grünberg crossed the tile floor to check out the flyer Katka was working on. “How do I say we’re going to have an auction?” Reszke asked.
Twenty minutes later, the answer was splashed across her computer screen: “Join us for a special ‘Karski & the Lords of Humanity’ film project fundraiser.” The flyer went out by email, phone calls were made, and the better part of the day was consumed with the mundane business of raising money – so that Katka and Slaw can get to work doing what they really love: making films about persecuted minorities.
“It’s a life that really looks fabulous on Facebook,” said Reszke of the filmmaking side of their work. “Because when we’re sitting here working, we’re hardly ever on, we don’t post updates on Facebook because there’s nothing happening.”
“When we do post updates is when we’re travelling, we’re at a shoot, we’re at a festival in Rio De Janeiro,” Reszke said. “Then next week we’re in Warsaw and the next week we’re in Caracas, Venezuela. When I put that on Facebook, people think we have the most fabulous lives.”
“We do,” said Grünberg, drowning out the rest of Reszke’s statement.
Grünberg made his first film in Poland in 1974; since then, he has shot, directed or co-directed more than 60 documentaries, one of which won an Emmy. Several others have been nominated for various other prestigious awards. The last 10 of those films were made with Reszke, a fellow Pole he met just 5 ½ years ago.
Their current projects, like much their work, shine a light on other Poles who share their passion for justice and minority rights. Karski and the Lords of Humanity will tell the story of Polish WWII hero, Jan Karski, who fought to end the Holocaust; and Trans-Reaction documents the life of Polish Parliament member Anna Grodzka, the first openly-transgender person in Polish politics.
Slawomir Grünberg stands about 5 feet 5 inches tall. He has dark olive skin and dark, graying hair. Prominent crows feet reflect his tendency to smile a lot. He has a way of muting his striking charisma and disappearing into a room. Katka Reszke is gregarious and would have a hard time disappearing almost anywhere. She is 5 feet 8 inches tall, with short, spikey hair that is mostly bronze and blond. Her frequent laughter hasn’t yet furrowed the outside corners of her eyes.
The bond that drew them together was Poland – Cold War, Communist Poland where each was born, though nearly three decades apart. Reszke was born in 1978 and has dual citizenship in Poland and Israel. She studied at Oxford before earning her PhD in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2007.Her doctoral thesis became a soon-to-be-released book, on the grandchildren of Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors.
In 1981, Grünberg was 30 when New York’s Museum of Modern Art invited him to fly from Poland to the U.S. for a screening of his first film. He was in New York when Polish leaders declared martial law that December. By the time he returned to Poland in 1989 to make another film, Grünberg was a U.S. citizen..
Five and a half years ago, Grünberg was in Poland conducting interviews for a documentary on Jewish identity in Poland. Reszke was working for a museum in Warsaw, doing online research, when she came across a little ad posted to a Jewish forum. The ad said that documentarian Slawomir Grünberg, was looking for stories and sources for his film.
“I just wrote a doctorate about this,” said Reszke. “So I figured I had to send him an email just to find out who the guy was.” She also hoped to ask his advice on a script she’d written for the documentary version of her thesis.
“We met, and it was almost love at first sight,” Reszke said. “It’s ridiculous.”
“At [first] sight for me, it was kind of fascination, interest,” said Grünberg. “We could be together because we had a common interest.”
For the next three days they were nearly inseparable. Reszke said Grünberg called her everyday. He took her with him on interviews and to film screenings, giving her a crash course in making documentaries and kindled a spark that’s been smoldering, if not blazing, ever since.
Now, the couple live and work together. Grünberg does most of the directing and is the master cameraman; Rezke works primarily as editor, a skill Grünberg said she picked up in just two weeks.
While Grünberg’s filmography ranges topically from autism to nuclear fallout, most of the films he and Reszke have made are about Poland’s LGBTQ and Jewish communities. Grünberg started making documentaries on Polish Jews because of filmmaker friends. He didn’t start to embrace his own Jewish heritage until later. Reszke also discovered she was Jewish later in life; she was 17 when she first heard. Polish-Jewishness became a passion for both — a passion that shows in their films.
The LGBTQ theme started when young Grünberg played a gay character on stage, became part of the gay community as a result, and lost one of his best friends to AIDS. The first film collaboration between Reszke and Grünberg was about coming out in Poland. Reszke said that in Poland the LGBTQ and Jewish communities have been uniquely bound through history: Jews in Poland hid their Jewishness because of intense anti-Semitism; LGBTQ people hid because of intense homophobia.
“They really do a great job at putting light on things that people don’t know anything about. And just in general, at raising an increasing support in issues that need to be in the light,“ said Rony Corcos, a 23-year-old Israeli singer-songwriter, who has worked with Reszke and Grünberg on various projects during the past couple of years and has written music for several of their films.
Corcos described them as great friends and a great couple. She said their films, products of their common interests, bring them together.
She also described them as something of opposites. “Katka is a strong, strong person and sometimes she is hard to please. And sometimes Slaw is too nice or just too much of being Slaw, which is relaxed and peaceful and chill,” Corcos said. They butt heads sometimes, said Corcos, but they complement each other, too – Reszke’s writing skills pair well with Grünberg’s seasoned cinematography, for example.
“One day I will write a book about my experiences,” said Grünberg. “Katka, maybe I will write a book!”
“I know what that means you know!” she replied. “I really do know what that means. I’m going to be your ghostwriter.”
“Yeah,” said Grünberg, matter-of-factly acknowledging that each plays a distinct role in their private and professional relationship.