SOFIA BOHDANOWICZ


Sofia Bohdanowicz is an award-winning filmmaker from Toronto. She has had retrospectives of her work screened at BAFICI, The Seattle Northwest Film Forum, Cinemateca de Bogotà, DocLisboa and Festival du nouveau cinéma. In 2017, the Toronto Film Critics Association awarded her the Jay Scott Prize and in 2018 she was nominated for the Rogers Prize for Best Canadian Film for her documentary Maison du bonheur. Her third feature film, MS Slavic 7 which is co-directed with actor Deragh Campbell, graced the cover of Cinemascope, premiered at the Berlinale and was featured at the Harvard Film Archive. Bohdanowicz is a Berlinale Talents and TIFF Lab alumni, and is currently in development on her fourth feature film.

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INTERVIEWS

Film Comment: Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell on MS Slavic 7
Filmmaker Magazine: "No One's Going to Knock at Your Door..."
Cinemascope: Audrey II
Globe and Mail: For Sofia Bohdanowicz, the stars aligned.
CBC Arts: This rising documentarian is capturing the magic of older women.
TFCA: A young filmmaker with an old soul.
TIFF - The Review: "Going Back There and Doing All That Again"
MUBI Notebook: Natural Histories: Sofia Bohdanowicz Discusses Her Debut Feature

REVIEWS

Berlinale first look: MS Slavic 7 draws strength from the written word, Ian Mantgani, Sight and Sound

This enchanting hybrid film about a box of archived letters may well be a breakthrough for independent filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz – a sweetly awkward tale of personal discovery. "MS Slavic 7", which clocks in at 64 minutes, is shot digitally and is less a compendium of comforts, but traverses a similar path of searching. The title refers to the library call number of an archived series of letters between Bohdanowicz’s great-grandmother, the poet Zofia Bohdanowiczowa, and the Nobel Prize-nominated author Józef Wittlin. Both had been displaced from Poland during WWII and shared a correspondence between 1957 and 1994, when Bohdanowiczowa lived first in Penrhos, Wales, and later in Toronto, while Wittlin settled in New York City.

MS Slavic 7 Grapples with the Existential in the Simplest of Ways, Slant Magazine, Carsun Lund

For a film shot on the intangible medium of digital video, writer-directors Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell’s micro-budget investigative drama MS Slavic 7 is remarkably preoccupied with what its protagonist repeatedly describes as “objecthood,” or the value that archived materials carry beyond their ostensible content. In her repeated trips to a Harvard University library, Audrey (Campbell) obsesses over her deceased great-grandmother’s letters and poems, in which she hopes to find deeper traces of a woman she never knew, such as the nature of her relationship with the male poet with whom she regularly corresponded. However, her painstaking attention to primary sources, which the film dryly dramatizes in real-time passages of reading, photocopying and exegesis, seems as much an archaeological exercise as a literary study—a pursuit analogous to that of a film archivist, who can discern the life cycle of a reel through its permutations of decay.

Berlinale 2019 Dispatch, Film Comment, Jordan Cronk

Toronto-based filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz has herself been building an intelligent and highly personal filmography over the last decade. MS Slavic 7, her latest feature and perhaps the strongest of this quartet of Forum premieres, finds her again exploring her family history through a fictionalized framework that draws equally from the archive as it does the well of first-hand experience.

‘Maison du Bonheur,’ a Beguiling Portrait of a Woman in Paris, Glenn Kenny, New York Times

The Paris apartment where Ms. Sellam has lived for 50 years becomes, for Ms. Bohdanowicz, the place of the title, which translates as “Home of Happiness.” Ms. Sellam, cheerful and garrulous, eagerly gives accounts of both her biography and her surroundings. The lovely balcony of her apartment is festooned with geraniums, which, Ms. Sellam notes, repel mosquitoes. She walks the filmmaker through her beauty regimen and discusses how she became a professional astrologer. She’s a profound delight.

"Maison du Bonheur” Isn’t Just a Doc About Life With a Charming Parisian — It’s a Vacation, Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice

The film is a portrait of a woman, 77 at the time of filming, and her home, dedicated to processes — behold Sellam’s recipe for bread for Shabbat — and striking still-life shots. Here are fruit and herbs in bowls before an open window, a breeze easing through them; here are the fashionable Sellam’s pumps and heels, a collection Galapagan in abundance and variety. Sellam speaks with enthusiasm as she waters her flowers, bakes a cake, gets her nails and hair done, or gives Bohdanowicz an astrological reading. She explains about how she refuses to leave the apartment without makeup, how much she loves not having had plastic surgery, how her late husband would buy her three or four pairs of shoes at a time. We see old photographs of Sellam in smashing gowns and watch her snack with her sister, both of whom must be gently told, when toasting each other for Bohdanowicz, not to look at the camera. (That camera: a hand-cranked Bolex.)

HOT DOCS 2017: “MAISON DU BONHEUR,” Matt Fagerholm, RogerEbert.com

The final film I caught at the festival was the enchanting “Maison du Bonheur,” directed by Sofia Bohdanowicz, who is earning a well-deserved reputation as the Agnès Varda of Toronto. Bohdanowicz has actually met Varda and was inspired by her 1976 classic, “Daguerréotypes,” where the iconic filmmaker observed the lives of people in the shops of the Rue Daguerre. Varda’s home was located in the same neighborhood, and when she found herself unable to plug in an electrical cord at the shops, she had to run the 90 meter cable from her home to the shooting locations, thus giving her an “umbilical cord.” The magic that Varda was able to conjure within these limitations inspired Bohdanowicz to embark on a project confined largely within an apartment in Paris where her subject, astrologist Juliane Sellam, has resided for the past 50 years.

Having just turned 30, Bohdanowicz was grappling with her own sense of direction, and reflected on how she had once dreamed of living in Paris. So when one of her colleagues suggested that she spend a month with her Parisian mother, the opportunity was impossible for the filmmaker to resist. Yet rather than utilize the digital technology that Varda has famously embraced, Bohdanowicz instead chose a Bolex camera with 30 rolls of film allowing for a mere 90 minutes of potential footage. This audacious move required the director to recreate the majority of the film’s sound effects in post. So precise was her attention to detail that she even recorded the whirring of her Bolex.

"Maison du Bonheur": Chelsea-Phillips Carr, POV Magazine

A symbiotic relationship is formed between director and subject. Sellam lends herself to Bohdanowicz’s film, while the director presents herself as author: allowing us to hear her daily filming logs and directorial instructions, it is impossible to forget who is the creative agent. But despite Bohdanowicz’s leading role, she takes direction from the older woman. Nearing the end of the film, Sellam guides Bohdanowicz by reading her astrological chart.

Bohdanowicz has her own influences: it is impossible to watch this film without recalling the earlier work of Agnès Varda, especially the 1967 film Le Bonheur with its own still shots of everyday beauty and focus on women’s domestic work. Within a film where she never gives up her own creative agency, Bohdanowicz allows herself to be guided by an older generation of women, personally and cinematically, allowing their influences to enrich her work, in the same way that astrological knowledge is presented as enriching character. With absorbing narrative variety paired with great aesthetic unity, Maison du Bonheur reverentially depicts the significance of a feminine legacy.

The Hottest Docs of Hot Docs 2017: Corey Atad, Vice Magazine

Of the many films to show at Hot Docs, a few in particular stood out. Maison du bonheur, directed by Toronto filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz, broke the mold for what most would expect from a documentary. The doc moves much more like an essay—or a meditation, even, as it follows a month during which Bohdanowicz lived in Paris with a 77-year-old woman named Juliane Sellam. There's no story to speak of—only segments detailing aspects of Juliane's life and her daily routines. Shot on beautiful 16mm and constructed with marvelous subtlety, Maison du bonheur is a work of empathic delight, conveying the feeling of a life lived while providing only a glimpse at it.

Maison du bonheur: Norm Wilner, NOW Magazine

The first feature documentary by Sofia Bohdanowicz lands somewhere between portraiture and character study, as the Toronto filmmaker spends a month in Paris with 77-year-old Juliane Lumbroso-Sellam. Lumbroso-Sellam is a great subject, telling lively stories about her childhood and her career as an astrologer. She's also more than eager to play life coach to Bohdanowicz whenever the opportunity arises, which lets her guest add a layer of self-reflection to the piece.

It's entirely in line with the director's body of short films - images of calm rooms and cafés are have with a melancholy undercurrent, a meditation on the gap between the young and old. At a point where documentaries are becoming increasingly flashy and frantic, watching Maison Du Bonheur feels like arriving at an oasis.

Women to Watch: Sofia Bohdanowicz: Kiva Reardon, cléo - a journal of film and feminism

Firsts are often thought to belong to the young: first steps, first word, first day of school, first kiss, first heartbreak. In this way, firsts are synonymous with novelty, momentous events that become less and less frequent—or at least less publicly lauded—as time passes. It’s a logic that emphasizes youth and calcifies the assumption that as we age, we cease to experience wonder, surprise or adventure. The films of Sofia Bohdanowicz subvert the dominant logic: focusing on the lives of elderly matriarchs, the filmmaker challenges such conventional thinking and makes the case for never-ending novelty despite our years.

Older women have largely proven to be an impossibility of the imagination on screen. Battling both sexism and ageism, the demographic faces a doubled erasure as though their inner lives cease to exist once past the years of the doe-eyed ingénue, the love interest or the doting wife and mother. Bodhanowicz undermines this trope by turning to the matriarchs in her own life, her paternal and maternal grandmothers, and in doing so paints complex portraits of women who continue to live long after mainstream culture ceases to showcase them.

Towards a Canadian Cinema: Future//Present and VIFF 2016: Josh Cabrita, Mubi

Of Future//Present’s world premieres, Sofia Bohdanowicz is the greatest discovery. Without any wide recognition, the Toronto-based filmmaker has built a distinct and impressive body of work. She is, as section programmer Adam Cook once described her, Canada’s Chantal Akerman, who works on the margins with no support from Telefilm and little help from Canadian festivals. From inside a national cinema that privileges men, Bohdanowicz’s films celebrate the un-represented matriarchy.

Considering the invisible misogyny throughout Telefilm, an organization that relegates female filmmakers into gendered positions, Bohdanowicz’s films are opposed to the institutional form that critics celebrate, curators program and Telefilm funds. According to an article in the Toronto Now discussing the funding body’s lack of female representation, between 2013-2014 women directed a mere 4 percent of all films that received an investment above 1 million dollars (the alarmingly few indigenous filmmakers supported by the agency is also disconcerting, but deserves its own space in a separate article). Working at the lower levels isn’t much easier for women, and although Bohdanowicz’s cinema doesn’t directly deal with this issue in particular, it does so implicitly by revealing the patriarchal system that deletes women from families and Canadian histories.

VIFF 2016: Never Eat Alone (Sofia Bohdanowicz, 2016): Sean Gilman, Seattle Screen Scene

Of the three films in VIFF’s new Future // Present series that I’ve seen thus far, the program Sunday night of Toronto filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowicz’s new feature paired with three of her short films is the standout. The feature is a fictionalization of the story of her maternal grandmother, Joan Benac, playing herself, who in the early 1950s, appeared as a singer and actress on a kitschy television show. Remembering this in a dream, she tasks her granddaughter Audrey (played by Deragh Campbell, in one of her three films at VIFF this year) with finding the show and tracking down the boy she co-starred with and had dated briefly...

Even more astonishing though, are the three short films paired with the feature, chronicling Bohdanowicz’s paternal grandmother. The first, A Prayer, is a short documentary, following said grandmother around her house has she does various chores (and eats a meal, alone, naturally). The second, An Evening, is something special: a tour of the grandmother’s house shortly after her death, patiently documenting its spaces while one of her records plays on the stereo, intermittently marred by a broken needle, from late afternoon until the space disappears into the darkness of night. It’s a film Chantal Akerman would be proud of. The third, Another Prayer, replays the first short, but superimposed over the now empty spaces of the woman’s home, completely silent. Each film is prefaced by a poem composed by Bohdanowicz’s great-grandmother, and the cumulative effect of the trilogy together is devastating.

VIFF's absolute beginners: Our top picks for debut features at this year's fest: Adrian Mack, The Georgia Straight

Sofia Bohdanowicz is the “future of Canadian cinema”, according to Future//Present programmer Adam Cook. “She’s our Chantal Akerman. Her cinema is already complete and extraordinary, and I imagine that her name is one we will study.” Yowza! A widow in her 80s wonders about the fate of an almost-flame she met on the set of a live TV musical in the ’50s. Her granddaughter tracks down the tape, and more. On this slim premise, presented with docu-like realism, Bohdanowicz builds an acutely observed poem to ordinary life that somehow also contains an outlandish gimmick (though that’s hardly the right word) best saved for discovery inside the theatre.