Marta Soszynska, 26
Lives in: Warsaw, Poland
Marta Soszynska is a crusader. She was born and raised in Warsaw, Poland, but has spent the last five years moving from country to country, from project to project.
Her first adventure was studying in France, she then interned at a N.G.O. in Kenya, had a brief hiatus at Google in Dublin, before moving to Cambodia to work for The Phnom Penh Post and a small production company called littleBIG Films. Currently Marta is back in Poland working on a documentary about the extreme right movement that is gaining popularity over there.
Speaking to Marta you get the impression she knows exactly what she wants, that she walks in to a situation knowing exactly who she is and what she wants to get out of it. Pretty incredible for someone who is only 26.
But the reality is that, though Marta is brave and admirably headstrong, there’s always been a lot going on under the surface. A deep desire to have an impact on the world mixed with a frustration at the way we use and abuse it. And every once in a while there’s a little voice in the back of her head that asks, Can I do this? Am I as capable as my peers? Will I fail if I stop pushing forward?
I think you’ll agree it seems Marta, whose incredible work can be found here, can do just about anything.
You are currently in Poland making a documentary about the extreme right movements over there, do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
It is something that I have always wanted to do. I grew up in Poland but I never got a chance to get involved in advocacy or social change initiatives though I was always passionate about it. I felt like making a documentary would be a perfect way for me to get involved. I had been thinking about it for a couple of years but have only just been able to get the equipment that I need and the experience that I need to do such a thing.
I also found a person to work with me on it. She is a Polish journalist who has been working on a documentary about abortion in Poland. Because of that she had access to a lot of interesting people that normally don’t get to speak in the media or else are represented only in a negative way.
Can you tell us a bit about the landscape in Poland and where these movements have come from? Why are they gaining popularity?
I am not a political analyst and I haven’t been living in Poland for the last five years so this is totally my own understanding of things but I think these movements appeared to address some kind of a gap in the new, post-communist Poland.
I feel like young people, who are the backbone of these movements, are trying to express frustrations about this new system that did not give them what they feel they deserve. It may also be a rebellion against a rapidly changing world. Over the last 20 years Poland changed tremendously, and some felt these changes were not going ‘the right way’. Hence the return to traditional values and so-called radicalism.
But then I also think this radicalism comes from a need among youth to feel important and to be a part of a system of well-defined rules and values.
And you’ve approached a rather large newspaper to run the documentary. Did you ever feel that you might have been too young? That they might not have taken you seriously?
I had no fear whatsoever! I didn’t approach them directly though. A filmmaker friend with whom I worked briefly heard about our idea and was kind enough to put us in touch with an editor from the newspaper. I had nothing to lose. But if I knew then what I know now about how difficult and challenging creating this film would be, I am sure I would be more hesitant…
And why a documentary? What appeals to you about storytelling through film?
I guess part of it is very practical. I was always interested in the world and I always wanted to leave Poland but I also knew that because I was not a native English speaker—I only learned English in school—I would not be able to compete with people on the same level. I also speak French but it is the same story.
There will always be people questioning your choices and I think it’s smart to sometimes let it go and just stick to what you know or feel is good for you.
Film was a way to equalise that. I didn’t have to deal with my language skills. I could compete with other people and be on the same level from the start because it was about my technical and visual skills. It was also the perfect way to interact with people that normally I would never have been able to interact with. The context of having a camera allows you to discover so many stories and you find that people are so eager to share.
You studied international relations, have worked for an N.G.O. in Africa and most recently for littleBIG Films in Cambodia. What drives this passion? What is it about the world you most want to change / impact?
I think in my case the first, most natural impulse was just an urge to see the world and learn about all the cultural diversity I could only read about in books. Working for N.G.O.s was never my dream, it was just a way to work in distant parts of our planet and find out about how people lived there. But then, gradually, I learned about the non-profit universe. I also discovered that I am not capable of living the comfortable, settled life anymore.
After seeing a lot of human suffering I realised that we are all so connected and that even the smallest action can have an immense impact on others and improve living conditions for us and future generations. I think that’s what drives me today.
This passion means you’re always moving around though. Where is home for you? Is it still Poland?
Home is Poland. Definitely. That’s easy for me. There are people who cannot place home as one place. For me, it’s Poland, it will always be I think.
What was it like growing up there? Did you take anything away with you from Poland? Lessons?
Poland definitely gave me a lot! It took me some time to realise that, though. I think that thanks to my upbringing I have a strong sense of identity and strong values and, even though I am not very religious, I am very attached to tradition. I understand the importance of it now more than ever.
But overall Poland is still quite closed in a way and this is something that I would say made me leave in the end. Everybody around me was doing and thinking the same thing and I was really tired of it. I wanted something else, something more.
Did your family and friends want ‘something else’ for you too? Or were there expectations on you to do certain things and be a certain way?
My family did not put pressure on me and, all in all, they were quite supportive of my choices in life. That being said, I had to face some prejudice—Cambodia!? Isn’t there Ebola in Cambodia? —and sometimes even contempt about the unusual lifestyle I chose.
In Polish society stability and family are highly valued, so, of course, some people couldn’t understand why I was spending time running around with a camera in places that for them don’t even exist. When I feel bad about that—and there are moments when I do—I just take out a picture of my vacation sailing in Komodo, or my filming trip to Mongolia and I instantly know I made the right choice!
I just kept on going from fear that I would fail if I was not doing anything.
But seriously, there will always be people questioning your choices and I think it’s smart to sometimes let it go and just stick to what you know or feel is good for you.
Can we go back quite a bit to before your life as a videographer had begun, to when you were 21 and about to move to France to study at university. What advice would you have for yourself on the eve of your first adventure?
I think I would advise myself to take a break and look back at what I’ve done and think about what I want to do next. At university in France I didn’t feel inferior in terms of my education but I had my other complexes. I didn’t have as much money as everybody else, I didn’t know the city, I didn’t know the language as well as everybody else. I didn’t know anybody and many people already knew each other.
I started learning…what it was like working with people from a culture and generation that has nothing to do with my own.
I think if I took a year off between my bachelors and my masters, maybe worked a little bit, did an internship here and there, I would just believe more in what I could do and not be scared about taking time off. Instead I just kept on going from fear that I would fail if I was not doing anything.
Where do you think this fear came from?
It’s a fear any young person experiences—of not making it, of failing. Since I was on my own without much financial support from my parents it wasn’t easy to take a step back and realise I can achieve a lot if I want to. I was chasing any opportunity that came along from the fear of not making anything of myself and being forever stuck in a 9-5 job at some boring Polish office.
When I met you—when we were both travelling solo through Portugal—you struck me as enormously worldly, intelligent and ambitious, not fearful at all. This was just after you’d finished your masters and before you moved to Kenya to work for an N.G.O. What work were you doing over there?
It was my African Studies professor who helped me actually. I really wanted to go to Africa and I told him, ‘I have no money and no experience but I really want to learn. Help me get somewhere and I promise I will make the most out of it.’ He was really nice and he helped me. He used to work in Somalia so he put me in touch with this amazing Somali woman who founded this N.G.O. where a group of women were working in Kenya to advocate for peace in Somalia. I ended up there with them. Most of these women had lived through horrible things and most of them were between 40-50 years old because in Somali culture you’re not really anybody serious unless you are over 40. So I started learning first of all how N.G.O.s worked and then discovering what it was like working with people from a culture and generation that has nothing to do with my own.
This was actually when I first started filming. I bought a camera and I just started filming these women. It was my first adventure with the camera and after that I started doing it more and more.
And since then there’s been kind of a theme throughout all your work, concerning women’s issues. Is that on purpose?
I don’t think it’s an accident. Even though I didn’t really work in pure women advocacy groups, I was always interested in that and I feel like this is something that I am passionate about somewhere deep inside me. Maybe it comes from the fact that my mum was really unhappy in her relationship. When I started learning about that, as well as about the situation of women in Poland—it’s a fairly well off country but there are many issues—I started to think about it more.
Something I have realised is that I really want to have a family.
Growing up and being independent and going abroad I started seeing things more clearly. Then working in all these places where women are really not considered equal or have many, many issues, I guess made me realise how important that is.
What issues specifically did you encounter?
Lack of access. To information, to education…to opportunities. Some women in Cambodia did not even know that the fact their husband beat them everyday is not normal. I worked with women who were raped and forced to marry their perpetrator. But you know, I also look at my friends in Poland, France, the U.K. who, in theory, have everything that women fought for, but then they have to put on make-up every day and cope with the immense pressure about their image, their bodies. Women’s rights are sometimes much more complex than we are ready to admit I feel.
It’s true, there’s a long way to go. Can I ask you where you see yourself in ten years time? Do you want a family?
Something I have realised is that I really want to have a family. It’s funny, it happened only this year. Many of my close friends got engaged or got married and I realised that this is something I’m also interested in. This was a big change because I had never really thought about it and I always cared more about my professional life or my liberty or having fun. But this year I sat down, had a look and thought, Okay I think I want that too.
So in ten years time that would be probably a moment when I’m ready. I’d like to find a good partner too I think. Somebody with whom I can share my life and build something with, but who also allows me to remain who I am and keep on growing.
And what do you think we should talk more about?
There are many things I would like to say!
But to choose one thing, I would say environment. I only started learning about this once I started travelling and seeing how big the damage is already. If you live in Asia you realise we consume more than we can ever need. All this plastic, all these things that you see in the supermarkets, all this trash—this is all going somewhere and it’s too much! For me it’s really depressing to see how we produce and produce and produce. We are the new generation, we are supposed to change things but no one thinks, Do I really need these things? We just accept that we need all this crap!
Everything you do these days has an impact on everybody else in the world.
My personal challenge is to eliminate shit from my life and make my consumption much more conscious. It’s important to try to think about the people who make these things, how they are made and the consequences of our actions on the world and on our children. Everything you do these days has an impact on everybody else in the world. It’s crazy, it wasn’t like that 20 years ago!
There are many, many more things though. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so well educated because then I wouldn’t ask myself so many questions and I wouldn’t feel so upset about the world!
But all these questions have driven all your choices in life, your career and everything. You wouldn’t be you if you weren’t engaged, and you wouldn’t be making a difference in the way that you are. Is there anyone in this world that you can look up to? Anyone making changes for good that make you feel hopeful?
This is a hard question. I look up to my teachers from school and university for their courage and perseverance. I look up to my mum, even though we are completely different people. Maybe they are not changing the world in a direct way, but they changed my world and gave me many opportunities.
I also look up to journalists, especially those working in war zones. Not all of them, but those like Peter Greste—who is now in jail in Egypt—and many nameless others who have been imprisoned or killed for reporting on places nobody else wants to go to. What passion you need to give up personal comfort and follow misery in the world, especially when you know so few people actually care.
Wow. Yes, it must take incredible strength. Let me throw in one last question then, what do you think the secret to happiness is?
There is no secret to it! Happiness, I think, is accepting who you are and feeling comfortable about it. But also discovering your own way of impacting the world around you and making changes for yourself and others.
Things I Love
I love getting immersed in stories. I feel a real satisfaction if I see or read something and later on that story becomes a part of who I am and what I do.
I love the feeling of letting go and dancing the night away, especially with somebody you feel a good vibe with. I find it the best antidote for any stress.
I definitely love my bike. It gives me the simplest and purest feeling of freedom. I love to discover and re-discover cities and people from the perspective of biking, which is so much better than any public transport!