Screening of Modjeska- Woman Triumphant

Polish Movie Nite is happy to announce the San Francisco premiere of Modjeska- Woman Triumphant, presented by Maureen Mroczek Morris, Sunday, October 17, 2010 at 3pm at the Delancey Street Screening Room, 600 Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94107

Modjeska- Woman Triumphant is presented by Maureen Mroczek Morris for the benefit of the Polish Club. Suggested donation: $5-10. Please call (415) 244-5252 to reserve your seat.

Modjeska- Woman Triumphant, 2009, 57 minutes

The stylized documentary Modjeska- Woman Triumphant is the culmination of six years of work by director Basia Myszynski, who has referred to the film as the “project of [her] life.” Probably most compelling is the narration by Beth Holmgren, professor at Duke University, who is currently working on a book about Modjeska.

Born in 1840 (arguably, but that’s a whole other story), Helena Modrzejewska was a famous Polish actress working in the second half of the 1800s. Although much literature and other materials exist about Modjeska (as she came to be known in the States), most notably about her life and career in Europe (Poland did not exist as a sovereign nation at that time), this is the first film to specifically focus on Modjeska and her life in Southern California, which she so loved.

In 2009, I attended a lecture by Marek Zebrowski (director of the Polish Music Center at USC), hosted by the Modjeska Art and Culture Club of Los Angeles, during which he spoke about Modjeska’s close friendship and intellectual exchange with composer Ignacy Paderewski. Zebrowski, who was also interviewed for Myszynski’s film, made the case that Modjeska left Europe for the US for largely political reasons. Interestingly, Woman Triumphant puts forth another thesis, namely that Modjeska also fled greatly for personal reasons. With an illegitimate son in tow (and her own legitimacy also frequently pointed out), she could reinvent herself in a new country without the stigma and gossipy journalism that publicly followed her every performance. No doubt, it was a combination of multiple pressures that pushed her out of the Russian Empire (although she had been born near Krakow under the more lenient Austrian rule, she had advanced quickly to play leads in Warsaw as well as in Russian cities). In a brief email exchange, Myszynski explained to me, “The film focuses on the most personal of reasons because [they] most affected her [and] me as a filmmaker.” Focusing on the personal in addition to the political reasons “would highlight the drama best in understanding why we make the choices we make – usually we are most affected by the personal,” she writes.

That said, Modjeska was not only running away from problems, but turning to new opportunities. She envisioned the formation of a utopian artist colony in the Wild West, where she and fellow ex-patriots would live off the land and at night could discuss art, literature, and music around a campfire. She would eventually call her property Arden, referring to the work of her beloved Shakespeare. After emigrating in 1876, she settled in 1888 in Orange County, in what is now known as Modjeska Canyon. She stayed at Arden until 1906, when she moved to Newport Beach where she would spend the last years of her life writing her memoirs…