Film preview

Danuta Walesa adds perspective to her husband's legacy in Poland



It's perhaps fitting that Danuta Walesa, former first lady of Poland, is coming to Pittsburgh for this year's International Film Festival at Carnegie Mellon University.

The festival's theme is "Faces of Work," and that is something that Mrs. Walesa, wife of Poland's former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, knows a great deal about: hard, unremitting labor for family, and freedom.

‘Walesa: Man of Hope’

When and where: 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Regent Square Theater, 1035 S. Braddock Ave., and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, CMU’s University Center, McConomy Auditorium.

Tickets: Opening night, $10 for seniors/students (valid ID required) and $15 for others. Regular admission for other festival films: $5 for seniors/ students and $8 for others.

Festival info: cmu.edu/faces

Mrs. Walesa, 63, arrives today for a five-day visit and will attend two screenings of "Walesa: Man of Hope," a film by Polish director Andrzej Wajda. It dramatizes how her husband, Lech, now 70, an ordinary shipyard worker and electrician, led the labor movement Solidarity's rebellion against communist rule in Poland. The movie is structured around an interview Mr. Walesa gave to Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci that allows the story to move between public and private, and past and present, with archival footage of seminal events. Mr. Walesa later received the Nobel Prize and served as president of Poland from 1990-95.

"Walesa" has its first screening Thursday night at the Regent Square Theater and will be repeated Sunday at CMU's McConomy Auditorium.

Last year, Mrs. Walesa published a candid 550-page autobiography, "Dreams and Secrets," in which she wrote about the rise of Solidarity and her own struggle to feel a part of her husband's movement -- but with eight children, she was frequently relegated to the sidelines, lonely and frustrated.

The memoir, which hasn't been translated into English, caused a lot of buzz in Poland, but in a recent interview she noted in an email that her family had lived "under the constant scrutiny of the secret police, who listened in on our every conversation. At one time I could have resented -- and did resent -- the fact that my husband was not letting me in on certain matters. Today, in the perspective of time, I can see that it couldn't have been otherwise."

Mrs. Walesa doesn't speak English, so answers to emailed questions posed to her were translated by Oscar Swan, professor of Slavic languages at the University of Pittsburgh. She added that today, despite the family's travails, she feels "richer in experience ... I prefer just moving ahead."

The film "is not a documentary film but the vision of a scriptwriter and director," she noted, adding that people tend to forget Poland's critical role in the fall of communism.

"Now that the battle for freedom has come to an end, it's time for the battle for historical memory to begin," she wrote. "That's why it's good that this film was made."


Mackenzie Carpenter, mcarpenter@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949. On Twitter @MackenziePG.

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