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Toronto: Poland Cinema on the Rise With Cash Infusion

After a decade of support and development led by the Polish Film Institute, the Poland production story is as much about quality as it is about quantity. Since its inception, the org, established to foster a strong native film sector and create viable international partnerships, has been guiding emerging filmmakers, who put out more than 40 features annually, along with the help of coin gleaned from television, cinemas and distributors.

According to industry observers, the mechanism has had unusual success in commercial and critical arenas.

Last year Lukasz Palkowski’s acclaimed Cold War account of a courageous, unconventional surgeon, “Gods,” drew north of 2 million domestic tix and rose to success alongside another strong Polish project, the real-life spy story “Jack Strong” by Wladyslaw Pasikowski.

The successes were no flukes, says Izabela Kiszka of the PFI.

“Polish viewers are (coming) back to the cinema,” she says. “We had approximately 40 million admissions, and five Polish films in the top 10 last year.”

That achievement is even more striking considering a playing field that’s far from level; even with the addition of a healthy network of regional funds in Poland, domestic budgets remain modest by Western standards, with Jerzy Skolimowski’s €2.5 million ($2.8 million) Polish-Irish co-production “11 Minutes” standing out as a major venture this year. With more than five decades of celebrated work ranging from writing Roman Polanski’s “Knife in the Water” to directing the 2011

Vincent Gallo starrer “Essential Killing,”  Skolimowski is one of only a few select helmers who could ever hope for that level of budget in Warsaw.

Yet a growing crop of domestic filmmakers, usually working with half as much or less, is winning attention at foreign fests and with slowly expanding worldwide audiences.

Kiszka calls this year’s harvest of work a kind of renaissance that is not just gaining heat at Venice, Locarno and Berlin but also winning over domestic auds, turning the tide on Polish consumers who for years have preferred films from the United States. Based on the newest rankings, any fear that pics by their Polish compatriots are too heavy and scant on entertainment value are finally fading.

“Finally after 10 years of co-financing by the Polish Film Institute the films are really diverse: all generations of directors active, we win prizes,” Kiszka says.

And recognition has been growing beyond local audiences.

Aside from the glow of the Oscar win for 2014’s “Ida,” Poles took three key honors at Locarno: Andrzej Zulawski scored the director prize for French-Portuguese adaptation “Cosmos” while veteran cinematographer Wojciech Staron won Critics Week for his documentary “Brothers.” Karolina Bielawska won a human rights prize for “Call Me Marianna,” an exploration of the dilemmas facing her transsexual subject.

Having six Polish films at Toronto sets a great precedent as well, Kiszka says.

“It’s amazing. They represent the diversity of Polish cinema, from highly acclaimed masters like Jerzy Skolimowski whose ‘11 Minutes’ is a true masterpiece, through Małgoska Szumowska’s ‘Body,’ awarded in Berlin, to newcomers like WiktoriaSzymanska with her documentary ‘7 Sheep’ and Marcin Wrona’s ‘Demon.’”

The production pipeline shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

“I think this year and especially 2015 will bring the true renaissance of Polish cinema as we’ll have many first and second feature films,” Kiszka says. “I have already seen some of them and they’re really impressive.”

Three that are likely to build further successes, she says, are “The Erlprince” by Kuba Czekaj, “Math Sucks” by Katarzyna Roslaniec and “Ederly” by Piotr Dumala. Kiszka also predicts that the post-communist romance “United States of Love” by Tomek Wasilewski, whose “Floating Skyscrapers” won praise in recent years, will field acclaim.

“These films will mark the future of Polish cinema,” Kiszka says.

(Pictured “11 Minutes)

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