Producer Piotr Sliwowski has been appointed to spearhead a major filmmaking operation in Poland backed by state-owned companies. The initiative, which has a budget of $70 million, supplemented by an additional $20 million a year starting from next year, aims to produce bigger-budget English-language movies penned by Hollywood scriptwriters.
Sliwowski told Variety, ahead of a visit to Los Angeles, that he wants to produce “big American movies, but about Polish history.” The ambition is to produce films of universal appeal, of interest to audiences worldwide, that will boost “promotion of Polish history and Poland,” he said. The first movie project is in development, and will be announced later this year. Television shows may also be developed.
The new film-production operation is part of the Polish National Foundation, a nonprofit organization set up two years ago and funded by a group of state-owned Polish companies. The mission of the Warsaw-based organization, which also backs educational and sports projects, is “to promote Poland’s cultural heritage, celebrate its achievements, and support its growth,” according to a statement.
Sliwowski said that the Polish government, currently ruled by the conservative Law and Justice Party, would not dictate the content of the films. “To be honest, I cannot imagine the [Polish] government producing movies or telling a Hollywood scriptwriter what to write and how to write,” he said. The films would, however, broadly reflect the policies of the Polish government, which has been keen to project a positive, patriotic view of the country and its history. “Yes, the same way ‘The Patriot’ with Mel Gibson reflects U.S. policy…Our policy is to promote Poland and Polish history using the best pop-cultural tools. That’s the only policy the films will reflect,” Sliwowski said.
Sliwowski’s involvement in moviemaking started with his role as a producer of the 2010 short film “City of Ruins,” which presented a 3D digital reconstruction of Warsaw in 1944, showing the devastation wrought by the Nazis in revenge for the Warsaw Uprising. The film was nominated for a Visual Effects Society award. Sliwowski’s second film as producer was the 2014 documentary-drama feature “Warsaw Uprising,” directed by Jan Komasa, using original footage shot during the doomed 1944 rebellion but voiced by actors.
Sliwowski said his involvement in those earlier films convinced him that “pop culture is the best tool to popularize history.” He quoted Frank Capra, the director of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to explain his interest in moviemaking: “No saint, no pope, no general, no sultan, has ever had the power that a filmmaker has: the power to talk to hundreds of millions of people for two hours in the dark.”
“That’s why I want our foundation to focus not only on educational and sports projects….Movies are key to getting people interested in Polish history, especially the history of the 20th century,” he said, adding that this period was “complicated, fascinating.”
The Polish National Foundation attracted criticism in Israel earlier this year for a video it produced about the Nazi occupation of Poland, which was posted on the YouTube site of Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The video was produced before Sliwowski joined the foundation, and he wasn’t involved in its production, he said.
The video states: “Germany put Poland through hell on Earth. Jews and Poles suffered its terrors together. We did much to save Jews, as a state, as citizens, as friends. Today, we are still on the side of truth.” It ended with the hashtag #GermanDeathCamps.
The video, described by the Jerusalem Post as “propaganda,” appeared as the Polish government was defending a bill that would have criminalized statements implicating Poland in the Holocaust, and set out to outlaw the phrase “Polish death camps.” Critics of the bill, including the Israeli government and senior Jewish figures around the world, accused the Polish government of attempting to “whitewash” history.
In June, the Polish government softened the legislation, and Morawiecki and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a joint statement that attempted to draw a line under the affair.