Not available for screening anymore


Directed by

  • Germany, Poland 2013; 126 min
  • Original version: Polish
  • Genre: Documentary
    • First Film Prize - FID Marseille


In an unreal age, in a landscape scarred by open-cast coal mining, people still live; old men, their faces marked by deep lines. A cosmonaut in a weather-worn boiler-suit inspects the plundered earth: future, past and present come together in SIENIAWKA, a film of few words. The men in the “outside world” live in the “freedom” of a zone that bears the geographical, political and film historical marks of an apocalyptic present. Other men have fled to the “inner world” of an institution, surrendering in resignation to rigid everyday routine. They wear gloomy pullovers and slippers, their soup is served in buckets, and they smoke together at the open window. But at some point summer has come and the light streaming through the birch trees is dazzlingly bright, full of promise. How real can life be in a place forgotten by history? Sieniawka is a small village in the border zone between Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, a place known for its checkpoint and local psychiatric clinic. Life on an alien planet, barely an hour’s drive from Berlin.

Director's Statement

At the heart of the village Sieniawka lies a “hospital for the treatment of mental illness, nervous disorders and alcoholism“. It was founded in 1964 on the site of a Nazi labour camp. Today, one half of the camp is occupied by “the hospital“, the other half functions as living quarters for Polish families.
The hospital served as a point of departure from which the whole film developed. As the story evolved, it grew to include the immediate surroundings and the people living, working or being treated there.
My cinematographic involvement and indeed the need to be involved with this unique place originate from the time I spent there during various phases of my life. I have a very strong, close, emotional relationship with it. My aunt worked at the hospital for forty years (twenty of which were in the position of Alternate Director), whilst my grandfather was Administrative Director for the same period of time.
Due to my familiarity with the hospital and the village, I was basically given carte blanche by the current hospital director to move freely on site and on the wards. These are usually very hard to access or film due to the secure and restricted nature of this type of institution.
The word Sieniawka, although officially referring to the name of the village, is used colloquially to refer to the hospital. When someone says you will end up in Sieniawka, that person means you will eventually go insane and be put away there. This linguistic generalisation - blurring the line between the mentally ill and the sane, chaos/order or nature/civilization - inspired me to conceive and realise this film there. I wanted to explore these ambivalent topics cinematographically and in relation to a rapidly changing post-communist Polish society, and I wanted to do this by revealing and focusing on what is being left behind and marginalised, what is not being talked about and what is in all of us – the irrational subconscious of humanity. Society in itself is an institution which constantly standardises human beings. Can ultimate freedom only come from death?
I wanted to make a film that is a journey through memory and the imaginary in a world that resembles our own, but is not necessarily ours.