Probably due to her selfless and modest personality, not much has been written about Kwiatkowska’s private life. All we know today is that she was born in Werbo in the East of pre-war Poland in 1926. She studied film directing at the Łódź Film School from which she graduated in 1959 and then moved to Warsaw to work for the Documentary Film Studio, where she stayed until 1989.
After the systemic transformation, Kwiatkowska started directing films for television. At the time of her death, she had an impressive record of more than eighty authored documentaries.
Diverse in terms of their subject matter, documentary styles and filming strategies, Kwiatkowska’s films are best characterised by their affirmative attitude. With only a few exceptions, her output resonates with positive energy, as if she aimed to uplift the spirits of her audience.
During her lifetime, some critics best appreciated Kwiatkowska’s work as a reporter and historian of the capital city. A loyal Warsaw resident, she offered snapshots of everyday street life, stories of inhabitants, as well as historical accounts of streets, hotels, parks and monuments in the city.
Her dynamically narrated films about Warsaw—such as Grand Wa (1962), Warsaw My Love/Warszawa Moja Miłość (1972), Good Morning, Warsaw/Dzień dobry Warszawo (1974) and In Łazienki/W Łazienkach (1980)—all demonstrate her fascination with the hustle and bustle of her adopted home city.
From her early days at the Studio, Kwiatkowska also travelled around the country to register not only the social changes in post-war Poland but also communities and individuals from provincial locations. Her documentary methods in such films ranged from verité style observations to archive compilations.
Sometimes Kwiatkowska built screen stories of places around biographies of groups, individuals or families to produce touching records of their relationships with their local surroundings. In The Family Chronicle/Kronika rodzinna (1966), she centred the story of Nysa, a town in the West of Poland on just one young woman and her parents. In Locals/Tutejsi (1969), she linked several life stories of post-war repatriates to sketch a film portrait of Szczecin.
Among such titles, the most memorable A Souvenir from Warsaw/Pamiątka z Warszawy (1966), used a group of peasants coming for a trip to the capital city to guide the viewer around the lesser known potential tourist attractions. More importantly, the film unveiled lifestyle differences between the countryside and the city.
Elsewhere, Kwiatkowska simply registered changes in Polish towns and cities from the perspective of a more distant witness, as best visible in Zakopane ’61 (1961) and On the Banks of Vistula/Nad Wisłą (1962) or in The Different Colours of Toruń/Rózne barwy Torunia (1960).
It’s hard to classify Kwiatkowska’s films into a few subject groups or categories of documentary representation. Next to contemporary films, she made a few historical archive documentaries, such as Station Auschwitz/Stacja Oświęcim (1960), Us Women/ My Kobiety (1965) and Polish Lesson/Lekcja polskiego (1969). She also created several films about art and artists including, for example, The Conversation/Rozmowa (1964) and Who are You?/Kto ty jesteś (1981).
What stands out among her output are two types of documentaries. Among others, the first group includes such titles as The Girls from Nawojka/Dziewczęta z Nawojki (1963), Not just on Fashion/Nie tylko o modzie (1965), Scenes with the Captain/Sceny z życia kapitana (1971), Guarded Grade Crossing/Przejazd strzeżony (1977) or Ms Zofia/Pani Zofia (1978). In all of these, using either groups or individuals, Kwiatkowska highlighted entrepreneurship, ambitions, achievements or little pleasures of women in her country.
Her other speciality was a documentary portrait that served as a vehicle for reflection on larger scale social issues. In this category it is worth mentioning films on individuals, such as the story of a photographer from Cracow in Adam Karaś Film (1980) or the award-winning portrait of an energetic retired teacher from a small village in Do You Know Waleria M.?/Czy znacie Walerię M.? (1978).
On some occasions, Kwiatkowska also combined several individual portraits to reveal an underlying social problem, as she did in It’s Hard on My Own/Ciężko samemu (1980), where young male peasants desperately searched for girls to marry.
Sometimes, instead of focussing on individuals, Kwiatkowska created portraits of couples. For instance, The Wedding ‘65/Ślub ‘65 (1965) used a love story set in Warsaw to comment on housing shortage. Analogical documentary strategy underscored Golden Wedding/Złote Gody (1973), a touching look at a couple’s history that illustrated the changes in their town and region.
In 1980, when asked why she made documentaries, Kwiatkowska replied: ‘The screen allows for both preserving and revealing bits and pieces of life, which continually change in front of our eyes. Each film gives me an opportunity to ponder on it, yet I also try to listen to the people who appear in front of the camera’.
If in some respects Kwiatkowska’s output seemed incoherent, it was her drive to register her surroundings matched by the respect for ordinary people that always turned her films into little chronicles of micro-realities and bound together her diverse documentary efforts.
When we watch her films today we see a whole kaleidoscope of everyday experiences under Communism. We discover the conditions and the mindsets of ordinary people from all walks of life. They are presented to us not only as full-fledged human beings but also as allegories and metaphors for their times.