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Berlin: Polish Film Institute Enters Second Decade With More Co-Productions

Not so long ago, co-production traffic in Europe was mostly one way: Eastern European producers looking to the West for financing. Now it’s starting to move in the other direction, with Western Europeans seeking partners in the East, and Polish producers are leading the way, with films like German director Fatih Akin’s “The Cut” attaching a Polish co-producer.

According to Nikolaj Nikitin, who is in charge of the selection of films from Eastern Europe for the Berlinale, this change is due to the increased confidence that international producers have in the Polish film funding system.

“In my eyes, it is one of the most stable, interesting and active countries we have right now in Europe,” Nikitin says. “Polish film professionals are seen as equal players in Europe.”

The pivot for the turnaround is the Polish Film Institute.

When the PFI was set up 10 years ago, its strategic goals included the creation of a stable financing system, the increase in production of local films, and finding a market for them at home and abroad.

In 2005, about 20 Polish films were produced a year, and they attracted 700,000 admissions at home. Last year, 39 Polish films were released in Poland, and five of the top 10 films at the domestic box office were local. Polish films attracted 11 million admissions, which is 27% of the total. There are now almost 150 production companies in Poland.

Another priority for the PFI, which has an annual budget of $40 million, is supporting first-time filmmakers, says Agnieszka Odorowicz, the PFI’s general director. Since 2005, it has backed the debut features of almost 140 directors.

Malgorzata Szumowska, whose “Body” plays in competition at Berlin this year, is an example of how PFI’s support for local talent has paid off. Szumowska’s “Stranger” screened in Berlinale’s Panorama section in 2004, and in 2012, she returned with “Elles,” also screening in Panorama. A year later, she was in competition in Berlin with “In the Name Of.”

A key mandate for the institute is the support for international co-productions. “On average, we’re involved in almost 40 such projects per year. Polish producers are increasingly active internationally,” says Agnieszka Odorowicz, PFI topper.

The audience for Polish films abroad is growing. Andrzej Wajda’s “Walesa: Man of Hope,” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida,” which picked up two Oscar noms this year, both sold around the world, and films by younger filmmakers have also been a success, like Tomasz Wasilewski’s “Floating Skyscrapers” and Szumowska’s “In the Name Of.”

For Izabela Kiszka-Hoflik, head of international relations at the PFI, one of its achievements has been to find more international sales agents willing to represent Polish films. “The case of ‘Ida’ is helping all our Polish film,” she says. “Now we have sales agents coming to us asking whether we have a film we would recommend, and just a few years ago it worked the other way around.”

Another priority for the PFI is to persuade more international filmmakers to shoot in Poland, led by efforts of the Polish Film Commission.

“We have been able to convince several major productions to film in Poland,” says Odorowicz. “Wroclaw was the shooting location for parts of Steven Spielberg’s latest film, while the new film by Anne Fontaine will be shot entirely in Poland.”

The Polish biz lacks a production incentive, but industryites are pushing politicians to establish a program.

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