THE MAKING OF THE DOCUMENTARY
The making of the stylized documentary was a six-year labor of love for its filmmakers. Initial research and scouting of locations took place in 2004. Sandra Segerstrom Daniels, a patron of the arts in Orange County familiar with the work of the filmmakers, helped establish the production company, becoming a co-producer and initial investor in the film. Award-winning producer Thaddeus Kryczko of GetBizzy Entertainment, Inc. came aboard as co-producer and business advisor. The first horse-drawn carriage sequence was filmed a year later at Carriage Vineyards in Paso Robles, California. Based on 25 hours of interviews with Modjeska scholars, historians, theatre directors, and descendents, sequences were shot during the next five years primarily in California, Arizona, Colorado and Poland.
One of the sequences in which "Modjeska" is seen walking through the gardens of her beloved Arden was filmed in and around her authentic home built in Santiago Canyon in 1988. (Today it is a US National Landmark. Arden: Helena Modjeska Historic House and Gardens is currently maintained by OC Parks and supported by Helena Modjeska Foundation.)
No actual footage of Modjeska was ever discovered. Rather than misrepresenting an artist of such calibre or attempting to replicate powerful stage performances that no living person has ever witnesed, Modjeska was "symbolically re-created" through objects of diffusion, such as glass, veils, and elements in nature. Visual composites blended archival imagery with recreated cinematic impressions of Modjeska. Over 75 hours of footage were shot using six different cameras. Silent film footage and 300 archival photos obtained from sources all over the world were used in the film. During an eight-month post-production period, every photograph was restored and enhanced to unify the film footage and to match nineteenth-century photography and early filmmaking techniques.
The inner worlds that haunted Modjeska may be found in the words of her own memoirs and in her letters and conveyed in the emotional voice of a contemporary "Queen of the Polish Theatre", Danuta Stenka. The key voice-over session was recorded by All Voices International in Atlanta with Basia directing from Orange County and Danuta Stenka from her studio in Warsaw. Remaining voice-overs were recorded at Soundworks and Sound Asylum, with the narrator working from London. The romantic and poignant music composed by Mikolai Stroinski further represented Modjeska's melancholy nature and her nostalgia for the world she left behind. Stroinski composed the music during an intense ten-hour-a-day two week session.
The award-winning San Francisco sound design team of Larry & Ewa Oatfield re-recorded and sound mixed the film in the prestigious Skywalker Sound studio. The film's first screening took place at the state-of-the-art 300-seat Stag Theatre in Nicasio, California.
One of the greatest challenges for the filmmakers was telling Modjeska's passionate and complex story as simply as possible and at the same time presenting it in historical context and in American settings. The goal was to create a memorable and educational film to be viewed by diverse audiences. The interview by Duke University professor Beth Holmgren, a key speaker in the documentary, unified the various elements of the film and contemporized it for modern audiences. Beth Holmgren is the author of the book STARRING MADAME MODJESKA: ON TOUR IN POLAND AND AMERICA. Professor Emil Orzechowski of the Jagiellonian University in Poland was also a major contributor to the film.
"In my eyes Modjeska was a romantic realist of great power and grace. The film represents this duality: the journey of her soul, her poetic nature and her gentility (the "Arden" within her) juxtaposed by a continual drive upward and onward (exemplified by the movement of the steam engine train, the 'Iron Horse'). There is nothing more sacred to me than nobility and compassion. Modjeska represented both." Basia