The Polish film industry has continued to strengthen in the past year, both artistically and commercially, building on a decade of growth. The coming year looks promising, too, with a string of ambitious movies in the pipeline.
February provided one indicator of the good health of the Polish biz. On the one hand, Tomasz Wasilewski’s relationship drama “United States of Love” won the script prize at the Berlin Film Festival, and on the other, Mitja Okorn’s romantic comedy “Planet Single” beat “Deadpool” to top the Polish box office. It is this ability to be audience-, critic- and festival-friendly that has helped the Polish industry to push on year after year, and that is largely due to the support provided by the Polish Film Institute and the regional film funds.
Magdalena Sroka, who took over as general director of the Polish Film Institute in October and describes it as the local industry’s “heart,” points out that when the institute was founded 11 years ago, admissions for local films in Poland were 800,000, but by 2014 they had grown to more than 11 million.
Although admissions for Polish films dipped to 8.3 million last year, the year’s top film was a local pic, “Letters to Santa 2.”
The industry has developed artistically as well, with the pinnacle being 2014’s foreign-language Oscar win for Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida.”
Polish directors have become more considerate of their audiences, Sroka says, while remaining true to nuanced and multilayered filmmaking, tackling weighty topics in a meaningful way.
PFI funding is substantial: it contributes 50% of the budget of the movies it backs, and for debut features, that can rise to 70% or more. More than 100 new production companies have been set up since the PFI was founded.
The institute has set up a separate system of support for minority co-production, in addition to the substantial aid given to majority co-productions. The PFI co-finances almost 30 international co-productions every year. The organization is also pushing for the introduction of tax incentives.
Another indicator of the health of the Polish industry is that the top films are coming from all generations of filmmakers, and are covering all genres.
The masters of Polish cinema, like Agnieszka Holland and Andrzej Wajda, are both in production on projects that demonstrate their willingness to be open-minded. “Game Count” sees Holland venture into genre territory with a thriller about a series of murders of game hunters, while Wajda’s “Afterimages,” about the painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski, is reported to test artistic boundaries.
Meanwhile, the younger generations are showing themselves capable of providing fresh voices on the international scene, and across many genres. For example, there are two animated pics in progress that both demonstrate a willingness to innovate. “Another Day of Life,” directed by Damian Nenow and Raul de la Fuente, uses motion capture to illustrate the experience of a journalist during the war in Angola. Dorota Kobiela’s “Loving Vincent” claims to be the first feature film to use painted animation in order to tell Vincent van Gogh’s story.
Some of the Polish pics that have premiered recently also demonstrate the diversity of filmmaking in the country. Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Lure,” a musical about two mermaids in 1980s Warsaw, played at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won a jury prize for “unique vision and design.”
Another name to look out for is Kuba Czekaj, who made an impression last year with “Baby Bump,” which was selected for the Venice Biennale College. He is following that with “The Erlprince,” about a 14-year-old prodigy who goes to university to study physics.
Another feature of the Polish scene is the interconnectedness of the different generations of filmmakers, says Nikolaj Nikitin, who as Berlin’s delegate for Central and Eastern Europe, helps select the festival’s entries from the region. Filmmakers in Poland tend to have a collegiate approach, reading each other’s scripts and advising on casting, says Nikitin, who also runs School of Film Agents, a training program for film entrepreneurs.
Michal Oleszczyk, artistic director of the Gdynia Film Festival, Poland’s top event for local movies, says one of the significant trends in local cinema is the distinctive treatment of Polish history by directors in their 30s and 40s.
“The main trend comes with the powerful wave of directors born between 1970 and 1985 who bring their pop-fueled imaginations onto the scene, and approach recent Polish history from their unique vantage points,” he says. “Agnieszka Smoczynska (in ‘The Lure’) and Tomasz Wasilewski (in ‘United States of Love’) re-imagine the 1980s in striking visual terms that have nothing to do with their predecessors. Kuba Czekaj’s powerful, punk-surreal imagination accepts no boundaries in ‘Baby Bump,’ a film that may present the most radical vision of adolescence since Larry Clark’s ‘Kids’ or Louis Malle’s ‘Murmur of the Heart.’”
But Oleszczyk sees room for improvement. “Screenwriting and storytelling are still skills that need to be taught more forcefully in Polish film schools,” he says. “Visual storytelling, storyboarding, keeping the story clear and rich and universally readable at any given moment — these are the skills Polish filmmakers need to keep perfecting.”
Meanwhile, Sroka identifies as a priority the need to forge stronger ties to the international film business by boosting co-productions, and encouraging more foreign producers to shoot in Poland, following in the footsteps of Steven Spielberg, who shot part of “Bridge of Spies” in the country.
Ten Polish Films Poised to Make Waves in 2016-17
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Producer: Michal Kwiecinski
Cast: Ewa Brodzka
Unconventional pic about artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski
Day of Life
Directors: Damian Nenow, Raul de la Fuente
Producers: Ole Wendorff-Ostergaard, Jarek Sawko, Amaia Remirez, Raul de la Fuente
Cast: Miroslaw Haniszewski, Olga Boladz, Vergil Smith
Drama shot with motion capture.
Director: Kuba Czekaj
Producers: Jacek Bromski, Ewa Jastrzebska, Dariusz Gajewski
Cast: Stanislaw Cywka, Agnieszka Podsiadlik, Sebastian Lach
The story of a 14-year-old prodigy who goes to university to study physics.
Direcor: Agnieszka Holland
Producers: Krzysztof Zanussi, Janusz Wachala
Cast: Agnieszka Mandat, Wiktor Zborowski, Borys Szyc
One night, Janina Duszejko finds the body of her poacher neighbor. The only visible prints around his house are deer tracks. Then other game hunters begin disappearing.
The Last Family
Director: Jan P. Matuszynski
Producers: Leszek Bodzak, Aneta Hickinbotham
Cast: Andrzej Seweryn, Dawid Ogrodnik, Aleksandra Konieczna
Family drama unfolds over decades.
Director: Dorota Kobiela
Producer: Hugh Welchman
The story of the life and death of Vincent van Gogh, told by the characters in his portraits. Claims to be the world’s first painted animation feature film.
Director: Marie Noelle
Producer: Mikolaj Pokromski
Cast: Karolina Gruszka, Arieh Worthalter, Izabela Kuna
The story of the famed scientist Marie Curie.
Director: Bartosz M. Kowalski
Producers: Dariusz Pietrykowski, Mirella Zaradkiewicz
Cast: Michalina Swistun, Przemyslaw Balinski, Nikolas Przygoda
A portrait of teenagers set in an average town in present-day Poland. It is a day in the life of three 13-year-olds who are getting ready to celebrate the end of the school year. What begins as an innocent story leads to an unexpected and terrifying ending.
Director: Grzegorz Zariczny
Producers: Jacek Bromski, Ewa Jastrzebska, Dariusz Gajewski
Cast: Katarzyna Kopec, Beata Schimscheiner, Artur Krajewski
Coming-of-age tale follows Kasia, who finds herself at a moment in life when she needs to make a number of key decisions, but she feels that her situation appears hopeless and everyone around her is dragging her down.
Director: Anna Jadowska
Producers: Roman Jarosz, Iza Igel
Cast: Marta Nieradkiewicz, Michal Zurawski, Halina Rasiakowna
Ewa has a secret she is desperate to keep. While her husband is working abroad, she gives birth to an illegitimate child and secretly puts the baby up for adoption.