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published: 13 Mar 2024 in People & relations

Jail cell “Tango” – About a Pole who won an Oscar… and was arrested 15 minutes later

Kamila Brzezińska
Kamila Brzezińska

Editor

You'd think that winning an Oscar would be a night to remember. But when in 1983 Polish animator, Zbigniew Rybczyński, started his evening by winning the Academy Award and ended it in jail – it turned into a tale he’d rather forget than tell. But one that, ironically, would make for a rather interesting movie.
Generated in Midjourney

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Prologue

When Zbigniew Rybczyński was putting on his tuxedo and sneakers that April day in 1983, little did he know what awaited him.

He was getting ready for the 55th Academy Awards ceremony. His eight-minute-long experimental movie, “Tango”, was one of the contenders for the Best Animated Short category.

But nothing could have prepared him for what was to come.


ACT I: The Ceremony – Of kisses and mispronunciations

The first signs of the troubles to come were visible quite early. First, Kristy McNichol, one of the presenters for the Best Animated Short Category, mispronounced both Zbigniew Rybczyński’s name and surname. She somehow made it sound like “Zu Big New Rab Chki Sky”, which, admittedly, would make for quite an avant-garde stage name.

Then, when the winner was announced, Rybczyński came onstage together with his translator Yolanta Czaderska-Hayek. Czaderska-Hayek, nowadays a renowned author, a movie correspondent, and a socialite, is frequently called “The First Polish Lady of Hollywood”, but back then she was at the beginning of her journey with the Dream Factory.

That April night in 1983, her skills and poise were put to the test – she had to translate one of the most memorable speeches in the history of the ceremony, courtesy of Zbigniew Rybczyński:

“Distinguished members of the Academy, ladies and gentlemen, I made this short film so I will speak very short. I feel honored to receive this award. I am dreaming that someday I will speak longer from this place…”

He would have spoken for longer, one imagines, if he hadn’t been cut off by the Looney Tunes theme, from all of the things. Yola tried to convey to the audience, “It’s not over yet. He has important message.”

Unfortunately, the presenters were already trying to escort Rybczyński offstage, while he refused to leave, saying: “No, no.” Rybczyński kissed McNichol on the cheek, to the confusion of the presenter and the general audience. “That is Slavic custom. We are very warm people.” the translator explained. She then proceeded with translating the last sentence they were allowed on the stage: “And on the occasion of the film like Gandhi, which will portray Lech Walesa in solidarity.”


ACT II: Behind the scenes – Of kicks and orange jumpsuits

After getting an Oscar, shocking the audience, and a short talk with the reporters, Rybczyński stepped out of the hall for a quick celebratory smoke and to visit the men’s room.

However, getting back inside the ceremony proved to be more challenging than leaving it: the security guards refused to let him back in. As a language barrier came into play: Rybczyński knew very little English, and the guards didn’t speak Polish, the conflict quickly escalated and the police were called.

Reportedly, at some point, the Polish filmmaker shouted out:

“I have Oscar!”

Years later, his translator, Yolanta Czaderska-Hayek, during a program "Demakijaż Hollywood" (eng. “Demasking Hollywood”), would say: “Rybczyński did not speak any English. He did not say: ‘I got an Oscar,’ but ‘I'm Oscar.’”

Regardless of the exact wording, the Polish filmmaker’s impassioned arguments had little impression on the guards. And thus Rybczyński, perhaps wishing to test the theory that actions are stronger than words, kicked the arresting police officer in the groin.

Alas, instead of letting him back to the ceremony hall, his actions landed Rybczyński in a jail cell.


ACT III: Of arrest and afterparty

Having traded a tuxedo for an orange jumpsuit, Rybczyński found himself in the last place he could have seen coming. Instead of an Oscar afterparty, surrounded by fellow filmmakers, he landed in arrest, surrounded by fellow inmates. The inmates, however, proved to be an unexpectedly good company. After learning that the filmmaker won an Oscar, they ended up celebrating his success and throwing their own arrest afterparty.

And thus, in a typical storytelling cliché, the Polish filmmaker got to learn the lesson, that at the endo os the day, the real treasure was not a golden bald statuette – it was the friends he made along the way.


The Epilogue

Said series of events ended up circulating the world media and became something of a legendary anecdote about the gala.

“All is well that ends well” – proclaims another storytelling cliché, and while unexpectedly eventful, Rybczyński’s story has come to a happy resolution. The filmmaker didn’t face any criminal charges, as the conflict was considered to be due mostly to a language barrier problem. Moreover, Rybczyński had an Oscar and a successful career to show for it.

He even worked on many globally recognized projects, like music videos for “Imagine” by John Lennon, “Let’s work” by Mick Jagger, or, quite aptly, Simple Minds movie video for “Alive and kicking”.


Źródła:

Academy Awards Acceptance Speech Database – 1983, Zbigniew Rybczynski, Producer (with Polish translator Jolanta Czaderska-Hayek)

UPI – Expatriate Polish filmmaker Zbigniew Rybczynaki, who won an Oscar...

YolaCzaderska.org

Zbigvision.com

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