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Andrzej Wajda was born on March 6, 1926, in Suwalki, Poland. He described his childhood as a happy pastoral country life before the Second World War. His father, named Jakub Wajda, was captain in the Polish infantry and died at Katyn massacre in 1939. His mother, named Aniela Wajda, was a teacher at a Ukrainian school.
Young Wajda survived the Second World War with his mother and his brother in the Nazi-occupied Poland. In 1946 he moved to Krakow. There Wajda went to the Academy of Fine Arts. He studied painting, particularly the impressionist and post-impressionist painting, and was especially fond of Paul Cezanne. From 1950-1954 he studied film directing at High Film School in Lodz under directors Jerzy Toeplitz and Aleksander Ford. Wajda himself described the influential and eye-opening experience from seeing the French avant-garde films, like Ballet mécanique (1924) by artist-director Fernand Léger.
In 1955 he made his debut as director of a full-length Pokolenie (1955), about a generation of youth coming out of age during the Nazi occupation of Poland. His award-winning Kanal (1957) and Popiól i diament (1958) concluded the trilogy about life in Poland during WWII. Although he was under pressure from the Soviet-dominated Polish authorities, Wajda positioned himself as an artist who was above the conflict. He still managed to show the undeclared civil war between the Polish communists and the partisans folk heroes of the Home Army, the two anti-Nazi Polish forces, which were divided by political ideology.
His Oscar-nominated Ziemia obiecana (1975) was a work of multi-layered allegory and Symbolism. Wajda’s witty depiction of the 19th century capitalism in Poland actually alluded to the contemporary Communist politics. The shooting of workers in the final scenes was actually demasking of the official politics of killing workers in the Soviet Union in 1962, under Nikita Khrushchev, and in Poland a few years later. The story of a film student who traces the life of defamed « hero » in Czlowiek z marmuru (1977) was a deconstruction of the false impressions that official propaganda was using to brainwash the public. The same main characters in Czlowiek z zelaza (1981) continued unmasking the Communist regime’s manipulations against the « Solidarity » labor movement of Lech Walesa.
From 1989-1991 Wajda was elected Senator of the republic of Poland. From 1992-1994 he was Member of Presidential Council for Culture. In 1994 he founded the Center of Japanese Art and Technology in Krakow, and was awarded the Order of Rising Sun in Japan (1995). Wajda was President of Polish Film Assoiation (1978-1983). He was Member of « Solidarity » Lech Walesa Council (1981-1989). He won an honorary Oscar (2000) for his contribution to cinema, and an honorary Golden Bear (2006) at the Berlin Film Festival.
« We never hoped to live to see the fall of the Soviet Union, to see Poland as a free country », said Andrzej Wajda.