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I PAY FOR YOUR STORY

In Utica, a devastated city in the United States, Lech Kowalski offers residents money to hear their story. He paints a poignant portrait of marginal America prior to Trump’s election, between tragedy and survival.

Hanging in a veranda, a blue and red neon sign blinks, “I Pay for Your Story”. In Utica, an average-sized city on the Rust Belt in the northeast of the United States, whose American dream evaporated long ago through deindustrialisation, Lech Kowalski (East of Paradise) holds open camera sessions for residents and pays twice the minimum wage to hear them. Mostly black, the volunteers simply unfold the stories of their lives, with two main common denominators: the fatality of poverty-drugs-prison and the survival instinct, accompanied by the tenuous and tenacious hope of a better future for their children. In these condensed fates, they also affirm their identity, dignity and a refusal to be stigmatised – far from the statistics generally used to encapsulate them. Through their tales of resistance from within, the broad strokes of the chaos of a stricken city emerge; a city that just yesterday boasted a textile industry and General Electric factory. In a former nightclub, now fallen into disuse and full of rubble, a father evokes the parties of yesteryear, before the radical change. Even before Trump’s election, these battered survivors already sensed the riots to come.
Mildewed Mirror
Through the raw power of the testimonies, Lech Kowalski – a Polish immigrant who spent his adolescence in Utica – manages to take the pulse of this city worn down by poverty. It is America’s mildewed mirror.
A dismembered and singularly cinematic city emerges by means of brief, beautiful shots, often at night. Without excessive empathy or curiosity and utilising a simple storytelling technique, the director powerfully restores the voices of these “voiceless” individuals, like the man in his sixties who spent the past twenty-five years behind bars and is considering returning to prison for the promise of a bed and medical care. It is an abyssal portrait of an era, slipping in a tribute to the filmmaker’s mother, like a flickering ray of hope.

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AWARDS

First Prize International competition at Filmmaker Fest 2017 in Milano, Italy

 

HOLY FIELD HOLY WAR

2013 - 105 MN

DRILL BABY DRILL

2013 - 84 MN

FUCK

2009 - PERFORMANCE

POLICE FORCE OUVRIERE

2009 - 12 MN

WINNERS AND LOSERS

2007 - 75 MN

EAST OF PARADISE

2005 - 105 MN

DIARY OF A MARRIED MAN

2005 - 22 MN

CAMERA GUN

2003 - 29 MN

HEY IS DEE DEE HOME

2003 - 63 MN

ON HITLER'S HIGHWAY

2002 - 81 MN

BORN TO LOSE

2001 - 104 MN

THE BOOT FACTORY

2000 - 88 MN

ROCK SOUP

1991 - 81 MN

CHICO & THE PEOPLE

1991 - 20 MN

GRINGO

1984 - 87 MN

DOA

1981 - 90 MN

BREAKDANCE TEST

1984 - 6 MN

WALTER AND CUTIE

1978 - 25 MN

SEX STARS

1977 - 85 MN

the films of lech kowalski © revolt cinema