Richard Ware Adams


Encounters Through Film


1967. 26 minutes (excerpt 4:04)
Produced, directed, filmed and edited
Sound by Halina Paszkowska

Available from the filmmaker
© 1967 Richard Ware Adams

An encounter at the language barrier as young Americans coach university students during an English-language summer institute in Communist Poland.

When I shot Exchange of Words in 1965, Poland was in a period of stagnation and disillusionment, not quite half way in time between its post-Stalinist thaw of 1956 and the birth of Solidarity in 1980. American combat troops had just started pouring into Vietnam and African-Americans were rioting in Los Angeles. I was on a Fulbright scholarship as an intern at the state-run Documentary Film Studio in Warsaw when I heard that the American Embassy was looking for volunteers, mostly other Fulbright scholars already in Poland, to attend a newly-launched 3-week English-language summer institute in Poznan and offer conversation practice outside the institute’s formal curriculum. I saw an opportunity to make a short film that might capture some of the varied moments – amusing, touching, tense – that occur when people from two different cultures meet each other at the “language barrier”. The focus moves gradually from pronunciation drill to serious but sometimes difficult efforts on both sides to learn more about each other. This is still one of my favorite films.

Before going to Poland in 1964 I had been hired to edit a one-hour documentary for the fledgling predecessor of PBS, National Educational Television. I was excited by the challenge of trying to maintain honest verisimilitude while distilling from one hour to five minutes a face-to-face conversation between two people that had been shot with a single camera. That’s one reason I like this excerpt from Exchange of Words.

The digital restoration of the film was made possible by a grant from the Kosciuszko Foundation, an American Center for Polish culture since 1925. I had always felt grateful and not a little amazed that the young director of the institute had given me carte blanche to film its first annual session, and had the pleasure of showing it where I had shot it on the occasion of his retirement 40 years later.

A finalist in the National Student Association Film Festival and the American Film Festival of 1967, broadcast on WNET/13 and KQED, and distributed to schools and colleges by Macmillan Films in the US and Concord Films Council in the UK.

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