Poland is on the brink of its biggest push to become an international film and TV production hotspot thanks to upcoming 25% cash rebates touted as the single missing element holding back an industry bursting at the seams with energy.
Consider these indicators: 2016 set a Polish box office record with more than 50 million admissions and five local movies among the top 10; in February, Agnieszka Holland’s murder mystery “Spoor” scooped the Berlin Silver Bear; in March, “The Art of Loving,” a biopic of Poland’s pioneering communist-era sex therapist Michalina Wislocka, soared to become this year’s top grosser to date, with more than 1.7 million admissions as of the end of March; and Pawel Pawlikowski, whose “Ida” scooped Poland’s first foreign-language Oscar in 2015, is back behind the camera in his native country on new film “Cold War.”
“The production incentive is crucial,” says Polish Film Institute general director Magdalena Sroka, who claims the rebates will allow the Polish film industry to double its production volume within a few years.
Sroka points out that the incentives will allow Poland to fill a gap and compete with the rest of Europe, especially neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic and Romania, which have been luring international shoots thanks to long-time incentives.
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Polish film commissioner Tomasz Dabrowski, who is waxing optimistic that rebates will be in place by late summer, boasts they will make Poland more attractive than its neighbors for various reasons, including a higher per-project cap. The annual pot of coin now on the table is $23.5 million, which can be claimed by feature films including animation, documentaries and TV dramas. The country already has several regional funds in place.
Even without rebates, Poland has already gained a strong reputation as an international production destination, Dabrowski notes, thanks to the country’s top-notch crew base; its state-of-the-art studio facilities such as Alvernia Studios near Krakow where Richard Gere-starrer “Arbitrage” was shot; its animation and special effects studios; and the diversity of its locations, which have probably been its strongest suit to date.
Poland offers a mix of modern and ancient architecture, Gothic castles and hulking communist-era factories and steel mills, forests and nature preserves, coastlines, and cities that can double for European capitals that are more expensive to shoot in; for example, Wroclaw stood in for Berlin in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.”
Dabrowski says he has been talking to “lots of people in L.A.” including studio and indie execs and Netflix. A delegation from China Film Group recently visited Poland and scouted locations in Krakow, Warsaw and Gdansk.
Upcoming high-profile projects already planning a Poland shoot include Claire Denis’ English-language sci-fi thriller “High Life,” toplining Robert Pattinson and Patricia Arquette; Holland’s Stalin-era drama “Gareth Jones”; and possibly a new installment in smash hit “The Witcher” video-game series conceived by Warsaw-based CD Projekt Red and produced by Platige Image, which is Poland’s top VFX and animation production outfit.
The political scenario has more recently taken a right turn after the nationalist Law and Justice Party won elections in 2015. This has been cause for concern among local filmmakers due to clear indications that the ruling party is exerting ideological influence on state-run cultural institutions. Pubcaster TVP in 2016 mounted a campaign against “Ida” with a program that claimed the film would not have won an Oscar if it had not “contributed to the defense of Jews in the Polish-Jewish conflict.”
Nevertheless, the current government is expected to finally make the long-awaited cash rebates happen. Meddling with movie content would certainly nullify their beneficial effect.
“I must point out that the mission of the Polish Film Institute has in no way changed since 2015,” says Sroka, who adds that the institute’s independence is shielded by current legislation.