Jadwiga Plucińska made numerous documentaries depicting ordinary people, who had no direct share in the political power, but whose lifestyles depended on the domestic policies of the ruling elite. After the war, she was among a few documentarians exclusively dedicated to registering social changes in the newly Communist country. Her first recorded role in film was that of an assistant director working with Stanisław Urbanowicz (1907-1959) on the set of Warsaw Rebuilds/Budujemy Warszawę (1945), a voice-over documentary record of raising the capital city from ruins.
In 1946, Plucińska started directing factual shorts on social developments in the country. In the beginning, she followed certain documentary subject trends rather than searching for original themes on her own. Her debut, We Went on Holiday/Byliśmy na wczasach (1946) was a partly staged, humorous reportage on young factory workers enjoying their holidays in three different locations across the country.
In subsequent films from the 1940s, Plucińska focused on various social groups finding different means of survival in the devastated Poland. For example, Wrocław the City of Students/Wrocław miasto studentów (1947) covered the emergence of a student subculture in the ruined Silesian city.
Although Plucińska subscribed to the optimism of the official discourse, by having to re-enact certain scenes to make her social pictures not only more attractive but also politically correct, her films conveyed sharp, often pioneering social observations. She had a great eye for details. Today, several shots from her films offer unique historical recordings of everyday life in different locations across the country.
At first glance, her films are stylistically similar to newsreels. However, upon closer inspection, they seem reminiscent of in-depth journalistic cover stories that focus on human experience, even if she often employs a national perspective and subscribes to the positivity of the official Communist discourse.
Similar high spirits—matched with an omnipresent sense of security, which the authorities wanted the Poles to feel—transpired in several other documentaries from the 1940s. Plucińska’s work—which, some may say, glossed over some more challenging aspects of the social life in post-war Poland—emanated with the same support for the regime that was present in many documentaries by her peers.
After her short love affair with socialist realism, which concluded with To the Starting Line/Wszyscy na start (1951), a portrayal of students promoting sports and physical fitness, Plucińska stopped directing for a while to return to more creative and personalised shorts in the second half the decade. It was when she began displaying an interest in arts, fashion and design.
Among other titles, one particular short indicates her inclination towards admiring the Western consumer culture. The Eternal Eve/Wieczna (1958) is a unique staged documentary centred on a female student dreaming about a luxurious lifestyle of fashion, jazz and dance.
Despite the fact that other documentary filmmakers later recycled many clips from Plucińska’s films, that to this day are a rather popular archive material, Plucińska’s name rarely appears in any sources on Polish factual films. Her career at the Documentary Film Studio ended rather abruptly when on 11 August 1959 the Polish Press Agency/Polska Agencja Prasowa reported that she was arrested on suspicion of being an American spy:
‘The investigation proved that in January this year, Jadwiga Plucińska went to West Germany on a stipend sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Arts to get acquainted with German film industry. During her stay in Munich, she got in touch with Alec Robin, an employee of the American intelligence service. Upon her return to the country, Plucińska was collecting secret political and military information. She was sending it out using a teletypewriter’.
Later that year, in the Christmas issue of the popular Film magazine, readers could find a note confirming that she had been found guilty and ‘sentenced to seven years in prison’. Following the trial, Plucińska disappeared from the documentary scene. Her films stopped being distributed soon after she was officially announced to be the enemy of the system.
Some sources claim that in the mid-1960s, under her married name Jadwiga Plucińska-Skrzepińska, she started working as an assistant director on TV series and later re-qualified to specialise in set design. The country lost one of its early, dedicated chroniclers of everyday life.