Local pics hit but biz seeks to break past borders

It has one of the best production support systems in Europe, stable public funding and local- pic box office share that are the envy of many countries … so why are Polish films not traveling?

Polish films are a hit at home but seem to drop off the festival and arthouse circuits compared to neighbors Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, which arguably have less public funding at their disposal.

Jerzy Skolimowski’s “Essential Killing” won two major prizes last year at Venice, but consistent presence at Berlin and Cannes remains elusive: the last time a Polish feature film screened in Cannes’ official selection was Slawomir Fabicki’s “Retrieval” in 2006, the same Polish Film Institute money helped produced Lars von Trier’s competish entry “Antichrist” two years ago, but pure Polish punching power at Cannes is scarce.

At home things could not look better. The Polish Film Institute has an annual budget currently worth $57 million and is a major co-producer and backer of Polish and foreign films.

Polish feature production has tripled from 22 to around 60 a year since the Institute was set up in 2005 and its head, Agnieszka Odorowicz says: “There have never been more debuts, animations and documentaries produced that are nowadays.”

A key new film the Institute is backing is Poland’s first 3D feature, Jerzy Hoffman’s “The Battle of Warsaw 1920,” due for a September release this year.

Changes to the way the Institute supports production — including giving loans to commercially viable projects as well as supporting arthouse, indie and historic or cultural projects — should, Odorowicz hopes, create “more valuable Polish films each year.”

Projects currently in production that it will present in the Cannes market this year include Andrzej Jakimowski’s “Blind Watching,” Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” an adaptation of hit play “God of Carnage,” Jan Komasa’s Warsaw Uprising film “The City” and “Baby Blues” by Katarzyna Roslaniec.

The paucity of official selection in Cannes remains a concern, but Odorowicz prefers to point to the future, and success at other festivals.

“Polish cinema is in a renaissance,” Odorowicz says, pointing to the 50 films submitted for this year’s national showcase in Gydnia. Five years ago there were no more than 25.

“Polish films are seen internationally at the main competitions in Venice, Moscow, Tokyo. We hope to see a Polish entry in Cannes soon,” she says. She adds that she doesn’t not understand why newly digitized copies of classics by Polish masters such as Kawalerowicz, Hass and Morgenstern were not accepted for the Cannes Classic sidebar this year.

Domestic box office is down 15% since record year 2008, but remains healthy, with 7.1 million tickets sold so far this year. The top 10 to date includes five Polish titles.

Polish films account for more than 40% of box office receipts this year.

But there’s still a problem with the export factor.

The big domestic trend in romantic comedies pulls in Polish audiences, “keeps technicians employed” but don’t travel: “Local heroes are not known abroad and humor does not usually travel. Polish films — – big or small — by definition are niche product on the international market,” says Stefan Laudyn, Warsaw Intl. Film Festival topper.

Local distribution maven Roman Gutek believes that better support for development and encouraging talented directors to work with their international colleagues can help Polish films cross boundaries.

A stronger focus on developing international sales agents in Poland could also boost local pics. Producers, he says, are not very good at selecting which festivals to pitch their films to.

But some bigger titles could break out internationally, says Laudyn, citing “In Darkness” by Agnieszka Holland, “Elles” by Malgorzata Szumowska, starring Juliette Binoche and “Courage” by Greg Zglinski.

Public broadcaster TVP — which has a budget for production support of around $1.5 million a year — does its bit to help promote film internationally.

TVP’s Cannes market lineup includes films that it regards as having international sales potential, including wartime drama “Joanne” and contemporary skinhead story “Made in Poland.”Producer Dariusz Jablonski of Warsaw’s Apple Film, believes that greater attention to encouraging talent, rather than simply evaluating projects for public support on the basis of scripts, could help.

“We need to concentrate on talents that are already successful abroad, we have to help them develop their projects.”

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