Cannes Film Festival
24th Cinéfondation 2021

Natalia Durszewicz 
BESTIE WOKÓŁ NAS / BEASTS AMONG US
THE POLISH NATIONAL FILM SCHOOL IN LODZ  
Poland - 6 min

Set in a surreal scenery, the film tells about the role reversal of victims and predators. In a world full of inequality, division, brutality and constant struggle for survival, it is difficult to remain innocent.


Hi Natalia, thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?

Covid times have been difficult for me. Unfortunately, in march 2020 my school has been closed; therefore, I was obliged to sit at home and work on my film remotely. There were pros and cons of this situations. During this hard lockdown times I’ve been working on “Beasts Among Us”. With my school closed I could focus entirely on my film, but not seeing my friends and not attending many inspiring classes had negative impact on me. Nowadays, everything is turning back to normal and I have big hope that upcoming schools year will be as it used to be before the pandemic. I’m used to solitude, which is necessary to create an animated film. However, external stimuli are essential as well, to keep sanity in check.

Have you been inspired to take on any new creative opportunities?

Besides creating “Beasts among us” and taking preparations to my graduation film-“Unusually long sunset”-which I’m nowadays working on - I got interested in learning to play some music and experiment with sound. I’ve started to learn playing keyboard and used this new passion in producing Beasts among us. I’ve always wanted to do that, but never had enough time or courage to take an action. Time of lockdown inspired me somehow to finally do that. I worked simultaneously on image and sound in “Beasts among us”, from the first scene. It brought me a lot of joy, because I didn’t need to prove anything with that- it’s not my professional field-just pure experiment and fun. Even if I’m not good, it doesn’t upset me and I’m still trying new possibilities with sound while working on my graduation film.

How much did your time and experience at Lodz Film School prepare you for your filmmaking journey?

I really love my school – and I came to that conclusion during the lockdown. It frequently happens in life – only when you lose something you realize how dear and meaningful it was to you. Despite some moments were tough and classes required discipline it was a great time in my life, very inspiring, full of hard work and contact with amazing people and teachers. Every year we have an exam for which we need to create one film. It’s hard process, because there are other classes as well, and time limit is very strict. But without my school and those restrictions I wouldn’t produce any of my short animations. Shortly after exam I was always excited to start a new project. It really pushed me to do my best. In school I developed love to filmmaking and all the experiences showed me a path in which I’m taking my first steps now with big hopes and many ideas. 

Congratulations on Beasts Among Us being selected for the 24th Cinéfondation, what does it mean to you to have your film part of this year's festival?

It was always my dream and it’s a very nice feeling to have one dream come true. I’m very happy, especially that now it’s a 4th time short animation directed by someone from my school is a part of Cinéfondation selection. It tells a lot about Animation department in Łódź Film School, it’s really blooming. Getting nominated for Cinéfondation gave me feeling of a relieve that maybe, but just maybe it will be possible for me to continue working on my films in the future after I graduate. 

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As well as write and director Beasts Among Us you also were responsible for the animation, music and editing, how do you manage all these creative roles on a film like this?

To be honest, I’m very much used to that. I worked mostly by myself on every of my short films – of course with great help provided by my artistic supervisors. Besides that I work alone - from idea to script from art directing to animation and post production. For the final touch I use the help of musicians and sound designers. It was a bit different with Beasts Among Us because I’ve started to experiment with sound and music – so I was almost entirely responsible for the final effect. For me working alone on a project is difficult but very creative and intimate process.

Can you tell me how Beasts Among Us came about, what inspired this animation?

For my 4th year in Łodź Film school I was planning to do entirely different animation film. I wanted to create something more experimental, stop motion film using plasticine. I’ve already had idea, I have even bought few kilograms of plasticine and was ready to shoot in one of schools studios. But in march 2020 Covid-19 came to Poland and school had to be closed. Fortunately, I’ve already had few more ideas written down considering my 5th year graduation film – and the idea for Beasts Among Us was one of them. Most of my ideas come to me suddenly. Sometimes I get inspired by something I saw in cinema or some scene I saw on the street while taking a walk. I take a lot ideas from my love to film, poetry and painting. All the things I ever saw, heard or I did still inspire me somewhere in my imagination, still have impact on my way of thinking. 

I cannot tell you what directly inspired me to create Beasts Among Us- coming up with an idea is a process consisting many layers. Probably it came from anger and frustration while seeing how people treat innocent creatures or how they treat each other on the daily basis. How beastly they are, how cruel they can be. Never satisfied. And I think everyone knows that as a fact, but we need to be constantly reminded of this inconvenient and sad truth to make at least little changes in the way we conquer this world and each other’s worlds. 

You worked with Ewa Sztefka, Julia Owczarek and Rafal Nowak on Beasts Among Us, how important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking when working on a short animation like this?

In my school we mostly work alone with great support of our teachers. We bring our ideas and develop them during classes, then we work on a film till the day of the exam.

I work almost every day for one year to finish 6-minute short film. Collaboration with others – sound designer, music composer is end process, sometimes even a few days before finishing whole production – it’s because of time limits. I always try to make some musical sketch so when it comes to work with musician, I’m always trying to prepare and show which effect I would like to achieve. I also like to try different options proposed by sound designer or musician. It depends on the project to be honest. I really like these collaborations, this phase of perfecting the image, sharing ideas and concepts. Sound and music are very important especially for animated film, where you are somehow limitless. With Beasts among us I’ve worked on music by my own, tried many concepts and ideas from the very beginning, then I worked on sound and music with Rafał Nowak and Julia Owczarek. 

About other aspects - this year exceptionally I used help of animator Ewa Sztefka, and it made all the process tiny bit easier and improved the final effect. Nowadays, while I’m working on my graduation film I will collaborate with more people. Working alone is good, but to get better results collaboration with other talented people is essential and inspiring. I’m looking forward to that.

"...in High School I fell in love with painting, drawing, sculpture and graphic design so I wanted to combine my love for art with my passion for filmmaking and decided to apply for Animated Film and Visual Effects department."

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking and animation?

I think I know when my passion for filmmaking and animation has started. When I was a little girl I suffered from severe illness and I had to be under chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. My reality became limited to spend time at home or at hospital. I couldn’t go to school for more than a year, interact with other people in my age or even visiting a shopping mall was risky. During this period my mom used to rent a lot of videos from video rental place, so I would watch them all day long on VHS adapter. I watched various kinds of movies - from classic European and American films to Disney animations and cartoons. Sometimes my days were full of pain so watching films helped me to go through it and brought me relieve. When I felt better, I would make drawings inspired by the film I saw before or try to write a script. I remember I wrote my first “script” in my math notebook when I was around 10. I never liked math. Shortly after I recovered, I started to develop a dream to become a director in the future. I continued to watch a lot of films that my mom rented from this VHS rental place. I’ve spent many evenings with her watching films. I also loved to draw and paint so my plan was to enter Art High School in my city and then apply for directing studies at Łódź Film School. However, in High School I fell in love with painting, drawing, sculpture and graphic design so I wanted to combine my love for art with my passion for filmmaking and decided to apply for Animated Film and Visual Effects department.

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken away from making Beasts Among Us?

Every short film I make gives me some important lessons, somewhere in my unconsciousness, gives me more knowledge about filmmaking – at least I hope it does. I try to improve my techniques and way of storytelling with every year. Beasts among us is very dark film, maybe while making it I faced some of my own demons, relieved some of my frustrations and showed how much I disagree with the way people treat the natural environment and each other in micro and macro scale.

Is there any advice or tips you would offer a fellow animator?

It really depends on what that person desires to do. Because I’ve always wanted to make films and had many doubts and hard moments –I'm still facing them every day. I would advise, I know it will sound very cliché, but never give up, be hardworking and try to be invincible no matter obstacles if you love what you're a doing.

And finally, what do you want audiences will take away from Beasts Among Us?

Everyone has unique perspective and take away differently what they see in each film. Short films are like poetry to me – consisting many meanings, many hidden messages in a nutshell. What you see depends on in which direction you look at it. In Beasts Among Us I wanted first of all to remind people of their cruelty to innocent creatures, our small brothers. It's a story of loosing innocence as well. Main character goes unwillingly through procces of learning how to be cruel.  An unconfortable reminder of that we live in a dark and wild world where you need to become predator to survive.