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“We Wanted To Create a Mosaic Film”: Editor Ula Klimek-Piątek on Pianoforte


Jakub Piątek’s documentary Pianoforte follows several young participants in the International Chopin Piano Competition, which has been held in Warsaw every five years since 1927. The competitors navigate intense qualifying rules, several stages and the intimidating presence of world renowned jurors as they vie for a shot at professional recognition.

Editor Ula Klimek-Piątek, also the filmmaker’s spouse, discusses the process of cutting the documentary, including the “magic” often captured on stage that was palpable “even in the dark editing room.” 

See all responses to our annual Sundance editor interviews here.

Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?

Klimek-Piątek: The director of Pianoforte, Jakub Piątek is also my husband so we very often work as a team. I’ve been on board since the very beginning.

Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?

Klimek-Piątek: We wanted to create a mosaic film, with many protagonists. The arena of the story—the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition—gave us a strong and organic structure. It was important to find the right balance, having so many subjects and not miss anything crucial in an individual storyline of each of them. We needed to be at the right moment with the right person. It was obvious that the viewers would have their favorite protagonists, so editing had to be intense enough so that the audience would not ask: “Why am I here? Why aren’t we with someone else at the moment?” We had to find the right moments when we could switch between the protagonists, so that scenes in a sequence would add up or, on the contrary, be in opposition.

It was also a challenge to edit musical sequences where we jump from one person to another using music as a form of transportation. The crew knew beforehand that all the musical footage needed to be long enough to give us this opportunity in the editing room. 

Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?

Klimek-Piątek: The first selection of the material is always very important to me. I decided not to watch it in chronological order, but to divide it and watch the footage of every protagonist separately. This method gave me a chance to focus properly on every character, to follow their storyline and emotions. In the end, it helped me to look at all the material from a wider perspective.

Preparations for the film took several years, so to prepare myself, I listened to a lot of classical music, but one year before the Competition, I stopped listening to Chopin’s works. I wanted to get pleasure from editing the music sequences, and it was the right decision. We had a lot of material: 25 days during the Competition shot by 3 or 4 crews, and more than 20 shooting days from preparations for the Competition itself. And it was all filled with Chopin’s music. 

Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?

Klimek-Piątek: I was a freelance photographer, working on long-term documentary projects. Then I started to mix photography with audio, which led to editing. 

Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?

Klimek-Piątek: Mostly Adobe Premiere, but I also work with Avid, mostly for fiction. 

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?

Klimek-Piątek: The most difficult part was the beginning of the film. We hope that piano music lovers will watch this film, but we also made it for a wider audience, most of whom don’t listen to classical music. We assumed that they had never heard of the International Chopin Piano Competition. In the first 15-20 minutes, we had to present the Competition itself, explain its rules and introduce the main characters. That’s quite a lot for a documentary and exposition. The first cut of the first part of the film was 100 minutes long, and I can say it was really intense even then. The first assembly cut of the film was over 5 hours, so we weren’t able to watch it without any break. It was a time of hard and radical decisions in editing, which included even cutting out some of our protagonists.

Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?

Klimek-Piątek: We didn’t want to make a film about music, but I feel that there are some special moments in the film that show why our protagonists devoted themselves to music when they were little kids and why it’s worth it. It’s a very romantic vision, which I didn’t expect. Of course, the pianist’s life is filled with a lot of work and sacrifices, and it was our main goal to show it. But I think that sometimes there is some kind of magic on stage. I felt it even in the dark editing room.

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