×

European Filmmakers and Producers Protest Sacking of Polish Film Institute Director

Removal of Magdalena Sroka is described as politically motivated

European film producers are voicing outrage over what they allege was the politically motivated sacking of the head of the Polish Film Institute, the nation’s key funding and international networking hub for cinema production.

Magdalena Sroka’s ouster, announced Oct. 9 by Poland’s culture minister, Piotr Glinski, prompted street protests at the Warsaw film festival this week. Filmmaker Wim Wenders, the head of the European Film Academy, said in an open letter that the organization’s members were “deeply disturbed” by the right-wing Polish government’s move to fire Sroka.

“The Polish Film Institute is financed by private sources, and the director can only be dismissed by the government if she has broken the law, which she hasn’t,” Wenders wrote. He described Sroka’s removal as “an expression of disrespect for culture and artistic freedom, and that, indeed, concerns us as a European Academy. It shows how shortsighted governments are when trying to subjugate culture and art to their own political interests.”

Oscar-winning director Agnieszka Holland, one of Poland’s best-known directors at home and abroad, added that ousting Sroka was an attack on the independence of a critical film industry body. “The fear is big, like a tank,” Holland said, “which will totally destroy the grass, which is pretty green.”

The Polish Film Institute, created in 2005, is funded with a share of revenue from film exhibitors and TV stations and was set up to be politically independent, with a director serving five-year terms. Sroka was halfway through her first term; Izabela Kiszka-Hoflik, a colleague of Sroka’s, has been named acting director.

The institute has helped scores of films achieve success, Holland noted, including the Oscar-winning “Ida.” It has also helped create domestic demand for less commercial films, with Polish cinema audiences growing from less than a million when it was founded to well over 11 million currently.

Likening Sroka’s removal to the authoritarian policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Holland said: “These are pretty dark times for Poland.”

The European Film Academy, formed around the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1988 to create solidarity among Europe’s filmmakers, has asked Glinski to reconsider his decision. Polish film students protested Monday (pictured) as thousands signed petitions opposing the sacking.

Another open letter, signed by 427 representatives of the Polish film industry, decried Sroka’s dismissal as “unlawful” and unjustified in light of her achievements. Firing her is “incomprehensible in the light of a recent great success of the Polish film festival in Gdynia,” which highlights the best in Polish film each year, a benchmark praised last month by the Polish prime minister.

Sroka did not immediately reply to a request for comment. But she has released a statement to local media indicating she was “not surprised” by the move, noting that the Polish Culture Ministry had been pressuring her to step down “for the last couple of months.”

A ministry statement at the time of her ouster accused her of breaching her professional responsibilities. The ministry cited a letter drafted by a Polish Film Institute staff member, since dismissed, which was sent to  MPAA President Christopher Dodd, describing filmmakers, including Holland, as facing censorship issues in Poland. Sroka has said she did not approve or know about the letter.

Sroka’s expulsion is the latest cause for international concern over Poland following an effort by the government in July to undermine the independence of the judiciary, which sparked protests by 50,000 demonstrators and reprimands by the European Union. A move to limit abortion rights by members of the reigning Law and Justice party, elected in 2015, prompted massive protests last year and was later reversed.

More Film

  • Joker movie

    With 'Ad Astra,' 'Joker' Likely, Venice Set for Strong Showing by U.S., Bolstered by Streamers

    Brad Pitt space odyssey “Ad Astra,” Noah Baumbach’s untitled new project, “Joker” with Joaquin Phoenix, Tom Harper’s “The Aeronauts,” Fernando Meirelles’ “The Pope,” the new “Rambo” installment, and heist thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” starring Mick Jagger as a reclusive art dealer, all look bound for the Venice Film Festival, sources tell Variety. The fest [...]

  • CGV's Massive Imax Screen Order Shows

    CGV's Massive Imax Screen Order Shows Optimism for Chinese Exhibition

    Korean cinema giant CGV has signed a deal with Imax to install a further 40 giant screens in movie theaters in China. The deal suggests that China’s multiplex building boom still has some way to run, and that at least one Korean company is still willing to invest in China, despite China’s currently boycott of [...]

  • BAFTA headquarters at 195 Piccadilly, London

    BAFTA Undertakes Major Renovation of Its London Headquarters

    BAFTA has undertaken a major renovation of its London headquarters that will double the building’s capacity and increase space devoted to the British academy’s programs to promote skills training and new talent. Work has already begun on the $31 million overhaul, which is expected to take two years. In the interim, BAFTA will relocate its [...]

  • Andhadhun

    Booming Digital Lifts Eros Indian Film Distribution Giant

    Eros International, India’s largest and most controversial film distributor, says that its digital revenues now outstrip conventional theatrical and syndication revenues. Its Eros Now streaming platform claims 18.8 million paying subscribers. The New York-listed company reported annual results that were distorted by multiple adjustments to presentation. Reported revenues in the year to end of March [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Second Huayi Brothers Film Is Canceled as Company's Losses Mount

    Still reeling from the cancellation of the theatrical release of its blockbuster “The Eight Hundred,” production studio Huayi Brothers has been hit with another setback: Its comedy “The Last Wish” has also been quietly pulled from China’s summer lineup. Both films have fallen afoul of China’s increasingly heavy-handed censors. The unwelcome development comes as Huayi [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content