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Agnieszka Odorowicz on Polish Film Institute’s Decade of Change

Agnieszka Odorowicz has been general director of the Polish Film Institute since it was set up 10 years ago. She talks with Variety’s Leo Barraclough about the aspirations and achievements of the Institute.

How would you describe the state of the Polish film industry in 2005? Was it in good health?
It was in poor health. The production level was about 20 films per year. Now, it’s twice as many. But the film industry was united; we all wanted to implement the new cinema law as we knew that strength lies in a solid financing structure. The new cinema law put a tax on distributors, television and cable TV operators, saying that 1.5% of their income should be devoted to the Polish Film Institute. Every year we have about $44 million to spend, mostly for production but also for promotion, both national and international, and educational programs.

Ten years later, what would you say have been the major achievements of the Polish Film Institute?
Since 2005, we have put a lot of effort into rebuilding Polish audiences’ trust in Polish films. In 2005, local films attracted 700,000 admissions in Poland, whereas in 2014, local productions attracted more than 11 million admissions, three of the top five box office hits were Polish films and the market share for Polish cinema was almost 30%. The production market has also changed completely in recent years: today there are almost 150 production companies competing as equals for subsidies from the Polish Film Institute. The market for production services has also developed quickly.

But what we are most proud of are Poland’s young filmmakers. The last decade has seen the production of almost 140 feature films by first-time directors, many of whom went on to win acclaim at international film festivals.
The Polish Film Institute supports various areas in the world of film that go far beyond film production alone. Promoting Polish films abroad, improving and modernizing cinemas, film education, financing festivals, and fostering the process of digitizing cinemas are only a few selected areas of our activity.

If we compare Polish cinema before the introduction of the Film Law in 2005 to today’s, we see two very different worlds. Today, we can take pride in being a full-fledged and dependable member of the European film family.

Is Poland likely to introduce a tax rebate for foreign production?
The Polish Film Institute has financed a report written by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The report describes various models of tax incentives that could be proposed to the Polish parliament.

How does the Polish Film Institute select projects for production funding?
Through the years the system has changed several times. The projects are evaluated by the groups of experts, these are highly acclaimed Polish filmmakers, together they decide about the financing. As the director I have at my disposal 15% of the PFI budget, and I can support the projects they have rejected or give additional financial support if the project needs it.

Does the Institute give priority to supporting filmmakers at the start of their careers?
Yes, from the beginning our goal was to help young filmmakers to start their career. That’s why we could support first and second films up to 70% of the total budget, while (veteran filmmakers get) up to 50% of the budget.

Which films that the Institute has funded are you most proud of and why?
There is a group of Polish directors who have had experience working in other countries, or have made their films abroad — Pawel Pawlikowski, Urszula Antoniak, Malgorzata Szumowska, Jerzy Skolimowski, Agnieszka Holland, to name a few. These are the filmmakers who are regarded as the most expressive personalities in Polish cinema. In line with this, it could be argued that directors such as Katarzyna Klimkiewicz, who won the European Film Award for best short film and made her acclaimed feature debut in the U.K., have the biggest chance for an international career. That seems especially likely in the case of this exceptionally talented young director.

But there is another trend that is becoming increasingly significant. We are experiencing an increased interest of foreign producers and sales agents in filmmakers based in Poland. Directors who have made one or two feature films (in Poland), and whose films have been well-received at international festivals go on to make films in co-production with international partners; this was the case with filmmakers such as Tomasz Wasilewski, Anna Kazejak, Katarzyna Roslaniec, Marcin Wrona and Jacek Borcuch.

I hope that Polish film production will also include more low-budget projects that will be both professional in terms of production value and uncompromising in terms of artistic merit. Whether these films are independently financed or with funding from the Polish Film Institute is irrelevant. This is a good way of discovering emerging talents.

If I were to place special emphasis on a particular trend, I would mention the interesting phenomenon of films made by visual artists who previously worked more with video art, painting or theater. These artists are recognized around the world — Wilhelm Sasnal, Zbigniew Libera, Grzegorz Jarzyna. Their films are made mostly for the festival circuit, but they are often also released theatrically.

What will be the challenges and opportunities for the Institute over the next 10 years?
This year brings to an end my second and last term in office as the head of the Polish Film Institute. My successor will surely have his or her own ideas for ways to develop the Polish Film Institute, and thus Polish cinema as a whole.
The key issue is not to allow everything that has been accomplished over the past nine years to go to waste. We should do everything in our power to prevent the destruction of the stable, transparent, and politically independent system for supporting the development of Polish cinema: starting with financing film production at all stages, through international promotion of Polish films, educational programs, all the way to supporting the modernization of cinemas.

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