Polish Directors’ Guild Expresses ‘Outrage’ at Public Television Network’s Attack on Oscar-Winning Film ‘Ida’

Polish Directors' Guild Expresses 'Outrage' at
Courtesy of Sundance

LONDON — The Polish Directors’ Guild has written a letter to express its sense of “outrage” at the decision by Poland’s public broadcaster TVP to screen a program strongly critical of Pawel Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning film “Ida” immediately before the film aired Thursday on TVP2.

The 12-minute program, titled “Around ‘Ida,’” is composed of clips from the film and monologues by two TVP commentators — film critic Krzysztof Klopotowski of TVP Kultura and historian Piotr Gursztyn of TVP Historia — and Maciej Swirski of the Polish Anti-Defamation League, which campaigns against perceived attacks on Poland’s reputation. In it they claim that the story told in “Ida” is historically inaccurate, and presents an overly negative picture of Polish people’s actions during the Nazi Occupation.

Swirski stated: “If a film is to be part of a nation’s catharsis it should have a meaning that Polish people agree with.” He added: “You should talk about horrible things in a nation’s history but you cannot do it in a way that offends the nation.” Gursztyn added: “Poles have every right to feel sensitive when they are accused of crimes they did not commit, or when they are accused of a scale of crime that is disproportionate to the actual events.”

The program also alleged that “Ida” would not have won its Oscar if it hadn’t presented events in Occupied Poland from the point of view of Jewish characters. Klopotowski said: “If this film did not contribute to the defense of Jews in the Polish-Jewish conflict then it would not get an Oscar.”

The program immediately preceded the film, without an intermission, and ended with a number of title cards that were designed in such a way that they could have been thought to be part of the film itself. These title cards stated that far from participating in the persecution of Jewish Poles during the Occupation, many non-Jewish Poles helped Jews to escape from the Nazis at great risk to themselves.

The multi-layered film follows an 18-year-old novice nun in 1960s Communist Poland, who was orphaned during the Nazi Occupation, as she embarks on a search for the truth about her past and the fate of her family. The film is a nuanced existentialist exploration of questions of faith, identity and forgiveness, and juxtaposes the young nun’s naivety with her aunt’s cynicism. (See Variety review here.)

In its protest letter, the Polish Directors’ Guild stated: “For the first time in the 25-year long history of free public media in Poland a film was accompanied by an ideological interpretation, which did not present the viewer with an analysis of the film’s subject or its artistic value, but instead it enforced ‘its one and only correct’ interpretation.”

It added: “Such actions show not only the lack of respect toward the creators but also the viewers, who lose the opportunity to interpret the film on their own. It’s a sign of the broadcaster’s lack of faith in the viewers’ sensitivity and intelligence. It’s a violation of good conduct and a clear example of manipulative propaganda practices, which do not fit the standards of media in a democratic state.”

The controversy has also provoked a letter of protest from Polish film critics and theorists in which they stated that the title cards “presented by TVP were not clearly separated from the film, and many viewers could have taken it for part of the front credits of the film,” and “instead of a debate we received a one-sided judgement of the film.”

The film’s producers are understood to be taking legal advice to determine whether TVP has violated the terms of its license.

Last week’s assault on “Ida’s” credibility follows a series of attacks by nationalists on Pawlikowski’s film over the past year, including criticism from Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo.

Pawlikowski told Variety: “They paid no attention to ‘Ida’ when it first came out. It was black and white, starless and arthouse. But when it reached a worldwide audience, started winning awards and threatened to win an Oscar, they used its growing exposure to their own advantage, as part of an election campaign based on fear, a sense of siege and crisis, saying that it’s anti-Polish and part of a sinister worldwide conspiracy by murky forces against the good image of Poland.”

Pawlikowski added: “‘Ida’ is not about an issue, it’s not about setting the record straight, it’s not a film about Polish history — God forbid! — but a layered and complicated film about complicated and ambiguous characters and universal existential questions. Which makes their never-ending attacks on it all the more absurd and self-serving.

“These nationalists don’t deal with the actual film at all. Most of them haven’t actually seen it. They use the film as a mere pretext to rouse patriotic sentiment and give vent to their neverending obsession with a supposed worldwide Jewish-German-leftwing-liberal-Russian (sic) conspiracy against Poland. It’s their outrageous xenophobic statements that do damage to our reputation abroad — not my film.”

Last week’s assault on “Ida” follows a change in Poland’s media law to allow the Law and Justice Party government to take direct control of TVP and other publicly owned media outlets. The party, which has a strongly nationalist agenda, has also taken measures to restrict the role of the constitutional court and increase surveillance of digital communications. The European Union is now investigating these changes, which Parliament president Martin Schulz has described as a “dangerous Putinization of European politics.”

On Saturday, more than 80,000 people protested against what they saw as a smear campaign by the ruling party on the reputation of former democracy leader and Polish president Lech Walesa. The government has alleged Walesa was a paid informant of the Communist secret police in the 1970s; Walesa rejects the allegations and claims documents released by the government have been forged.

Pawlikowski told Variety: “The awful thing is that Poland is a lively, democratic, varied society, and these people, who were voted in by a mere 6.5 million (out of a nation of 40 million), are ruining the image of our country for all of us and for a long time.”