Polish Film Institute-Backed Films Find Fans at Home and Abroad

Arguably the leading player in the rapidly expanding world of Polish film production, the Polish Film Institute has become a hub of activity in the decade since it was established. The institute was founded with the mission of revitalizing the country’s production sector, with a focus on art films.

Funding for production is derived from a 1.5% tax on the revenue of broadcasters, distributors and movie theaters, with the government paying for the org’s overhead.

Now, having co-financed more than 500 films made by directors ranging from first-timers to international lions such as Andrzej Wajda (Oscar-nommed “Katyn”) and Jerzy Skolimowski (“Essential Killing”), and after partnering on prestigious international productions such as Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist,” it’s clear that the org has found its calling, crowned by the foreign-language Oscar win for Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2014 “Ida.”

That film not only earned international accolades, but the black-and white-film about a nun discovering her past also took in almost $13 million at the box office in Poland, the rest of Europe and the U.S.

As in much of Europe, distribution for local films remains a challenge — especially for the arthouse fare that forms the bulk of the slate of pics financed by the PFI — yet Polish movies still managed to attract 11 million admissions at the home box office last year, grabbing almost 30% of the market, and taking eight of the top 20 places on the year’s charts, including three of the top five.

“Gods,” a medical thriller based on the true story of Poland’s first heart-transplant surgeon, who bucked the skeptical communist authorities, nabbed the top spot on the annual charts, with a box office of 38.6 million zloty ($10.6 million), beating “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”

In third place was Jan Komasa’s “Warsaw ’44,” a dramatization of the Warsaw Uprising, with $7.13 million.

And in fourth was Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s atmospheric “Jack Strong,” with a box office of $5.76 million. The pic is a thoughtful Cold War thriller based on the life of master spy Ryszard Kuklinski, a high-ranking Polish colonel who leaked critical intelligence on the Soviets to the West.

The rise in sophistication of local films has helped win over domestic auds, according Tomasz Dabrowski of Film Commission Poland.

“It’s a huge challenge to keep the momentum and the market share, but as the quality of Polish films is getting better and better, we are now in a good situation,” he says.

He points to the recent rise in local screen space occupied by Polish films as a hopeful sign of things to come.

Dabrowski emphasizes that the commission, whose mission is to raise awareness abroad of Poland’s strong production scene, is not involved in distribution. But, he adds, the Poland film brand is on the ascendant, which should help sales abroad.

Besides “Ida,” the trend is exemplified by Malgorzata Szumowska’s “Body” (pictured), which won the Silver Bear at Berlin. At Cannes, the PFI is represented by Directors’ Fortnight contender “The Here After,” a moody crime and redemption story and Polish-Swedish co-production helmed by Magnus von Horn.

Some 200 prizes have gone to Polish films in the past three years, according to European Film Promotion, an international publicity org with which the PFI has worked since 2006.

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