The four things travel taught me: Agnieszka Holland, filmmaker


From age 10, I loved Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic, The Secret Garden. Her description of the Yorkshire landscape helped construct a powerful image in my head. At age 48, I found myself shooting the adaptation of the book in Yorkshire and the beauty of those vast lands of heather and the ever-changing skies were more breathtaking than I could ever have imagined. I lived in Paris then and was looking for similar places in France. I found it in Bretagne, on Cap Frehel where I set my country residence. It is my refuge, my place to work and rest, to welcome friends, and feel the mix of Celtic and French tradition melding with my Polish and Jewish heritage.


I was still living in Poland when I was invited to the Taormina Film Festival. I arrived from a very poor, dark, communist country to the little but magically beautiful city. We watched movies, consumed food and wine better than I'd ever tasted and swam in clear, azure water. I decided to return to this paradise with my daughter after we moved to Paris. On arrival, we needed to catch a bus and for that, we needed cash. It was a bank holiday; the ATM swallowed my only card. I was desperately pushing the machine, wanting to leave Sicily and never return. An elderly lady in black appeared out of nowhere and hit the ATM with her cane. She waited, hit it again, then miraculously, it delivered my card and the money. The woman smiled, took one banknote, gave us the rest, then vanished. Sicily ended up being as beautiful as I remembered it.


After filming Total Eclipse in Djibouti, my daughter and I travelled to Zanzibar for a holiday. While avoiding the advances of young, handsome locals accustomed to brief encounters with female tourists, we met Jona, who had a crowd of people, including us, dancing in the street – until I twisted my foot. Jona stopped to help us back to our hotel. He returned each day to show us the best of his island but refused pay – asking instead, for postcards from our future travels, from places he could never afford to visit, which I did until I lost his address. But I have never forgotten his sincere kindness.


Travelling so much for work, the most memorable places are those that have allowed me real connection. Among those places for me is, perhaps surprisingly, the Polish countryside. As a Warsaw-raised child the country was as exotic as a remote African village. In all the places I have visited though, it is mutual curiosity that has made them memorable and allowed me to find real brotherhood with people of different races, culture and education.

Agnieszka Holland is an Oscar nominee whose latest award-winning film, Mr Jones, will screen at the Polish Film Festival Australia. It's on in Melbourne, November 22-December 1 and Sydney, December 5-8. See