Polish biz bucks downturn

Admissions hit record high, local films do well

Local Polish film production was on firm footing in 2009, despite the economic plunge in Europe.

A yearly report says from the Polish Film Institute has had the busiest 12-month production period in its five-year history.

Hollywood’s hold on Poland is firm, but not overwhelming: Local pics total a healthy 23% of total box office. Three Polish titles landed in the top 15 last year — drama “Love and Dance,” biopic “Popieluszko” and comedy “The Perfect Guy For My Girlfriend,” making up approximately 40% of the domestic product gross, meaning grosses were spread more evenly among at total of 30 Polish films.

The Institute spent a record $46 million in 2009 on film production, a significant increase over the last two years. The increase in production translated into a record high of 39.1 million admissions. “Of course we would like the domestic production market share to be even higher in the future, but let us not forget that quite recently we had years where that number was below 5%,”says the Institute’s topper Agnieszka Odorowicz.

Co-productions are also a busy area in Poland, where the Institute co-financed 20 features last year, including upcoming productions from Jerzy Skolimowski, Agnieszka Holland and Peter Weir.

The Institute’s optimistic summary of 2009 is seconded by Polish film critics. Tadeusz Sobolewski, chief film critic for Gazeta Wyborcza daily, called 2009 “a year of fulfillment” since in addition to successful commercial films, a number of demanding auteur films also found a sizable audience. Barbara Hollender of Rzeczpospolita daily suggested, “It was the crisis that allowed Polish cinema to bloom.”

She explains: “Since big-budget productions were put on hold, a record number of smaller films were made. As a result, the first and second films from young filmmakers refreshed our cinematic language and brought in new energy.”

The Institute is financed from obligatory 1.5% contributions of revenues from cinemas, distributors, tv stations, satellite platforms and cable networks.

Next year could be tougher as the effects of the recession continue to be felt. But according to Odorowicz, this year is shaping up to be similar to 2009, “It seems that despite the crisis the Institute’s budget will not decrease, which means we should be able to maintain current annual level of production.”

Last year, productions from the Institute included about 50 features, around 50 documentaries and a dozen animated projects. Odorwicz says that given the current limitations of the Polish market, it’s unlikely the country could support production of more than 50-60 films for domestic theatrical distribution.

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