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Polish Filmmakers Debate the Effect of the Country’s Right-Leaning Government

The Polish Film Institute is credited with having spawned a renaissance in local filmmaking over the past decade, but some filmmakers are concerned that its independence could be eroded and creative freedom compromised.

The ruling Law and Justice Party has been trying to extend its influence within cultural and media organizations, such as public broadcaster TVP, in order to promote its conservative and nationalist outlook.

Filmmakers like Agnieszka Holland, whose “Spoor” plays in Berlin’s competition, and Pawel Pawlikowski, who won a foreign-language Oscar with 2013’s “Ida,” fear that if the Polish Film Institute is forced to toe the ideological line as well, the creativity of the sector may not continue to flourish.

“As in all post-communist countries in Europe the private sector is extremely weak and so filmmakers are dependent on the state, so when the state establishes some kind of censorship it is very difficult to find another source of financing,” Holland says. “Filmmakers are quite anxious about the situation, and would love to protect their creative freedom.”

In a statement, the board of the Directors’ Guild of Poland said: “We want to be able to guard the functioning of the Polish Film Institute in its present form. The past 10 years showed that Polish cinema is very dynamic and diverse, and we are concerned that this process could be politicized. We all remember the not-so-distant past when we fought political censorship.”

Jacek Bromski, president of the Polish Filmmakers Assn., says the political climate has not affected the film sector so far, and the government has chiefly focused its attention on increasing financing for the production of films about Polish history.

“Politics is always dancing with culture and media, and tries to influence it, but one thing has to be said loudly: Poland has created a healthy, well-organized, and well-financed system, which should not be dismantled. Continuity is of huge value in every industry,” says Jan Naszewski, CEO of Poland’s New Europe Film Sales.

Michal Oleszczyk, artistic director of the Gdynia Film Festival, remains optimistic. “Some members of the filmmaking community were vocal in their criticism of the current administration, but since there is no state censorship in Poland, and since the Polish Film Institute remains a diverse body that allows for voices from both sides of the political barricade to influence current film production, I expect diverse projects to keep emerging from Poland.”

He credits the government with moving toward implementing the much-needed tax incentives for foreign film producers, which will make Poland a desirable partner and destination for international co-productions. “I would say that despite some tensions that will hopefully be fast overcome, there is potential that the current changes and the discussion they provoke will make the Polish film scene even more dynamic.”

Pawlikowski believes that the febrile atmosphere has helped stimulate the country’s filmmakers. “As for the political situation, I think it has had a galvanizing effect. There is the feeling that we are possibly living on borrowed time, so every film has to mean something and it is focusing people’s minds,” he says.

Movies about life under the authoritarian communist regimes of the post-war era have suddenly become more relevant. “In this ideologically contaminated climate everything rings a bell. Context has returned, so people going to the movies are totally aware of how relevant it is to set something in the past,” he says. “So there is a tension in the air, which is good for cinema, but bad for society.”

He says the PFI has remained free from political interference because the filmmaking community is quite strong and resistant. “There is a certain loyalty and solidarity among filmmakers,” he adds, and credits the Polish Directors’ Guild with having helped facilitate resistance to ideological meddling.

Film critic Malgorzata Sadowska says many younger Polish filmmakers seem to lack any interest in politics, preferring to focus on personal issues and relationships. Jan Komasa’s “Warsaw ’44,” for example, resisted a critical reflection on the uprising of 1944, instead focusing on friendship and emotions.
But she lauds Michal Marczak’s “All Those Sleepless Nights” for turning “indifference into the main subject, and creating an honest portrait of the urban young: drifting, selfish, spoiled, and focused on their inner life.”

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