Just when it felt like spirits might be flagging during this summer’s virtual edition of Polish Days—the industry program of the New Horizons Intl. Film Festival—the organizers turned to the unlikeliest of heroes: Wirginia Szmyt, better known by her stage name D.J. Wika, an 82-year-old icon of the Warsaw music scene, and the subject of director Agnieszka Zwiefka’s forthcoming documentary “Wika!”
D.J. Wika put on a rousing online set for the directors, producers, sales agents, and industry guests who might have otherwise been mixing on a dance floor in Wrocław, Poland, where New Horizons is typically held each July. But for anyone missing the energy of the buzzy summer fest, which because of the coronavirus pandemic has been postponed until the fall, “we tried our best to recreate it,” says New Horizons’ head of industry Weronika Czołnowska.
Czołnowska and her organizing crew still hope to mount a physical edition of the festival in Wrocław from Nov. 5-15 alongside its sister event, the American Film Festival. Nevertheless, they decided to forge ahead with an online program for Polish Days during the event’s usual summer dates. “It was quite a challenge,” Czołnowska says. “But we really thought it’s the best moment to somehow motivate and activate the film industry in Poland.”
Now in its ninth year, Polish Days has become the de facto meeting place to discover new talents and upcoming projects from Poland that will likely arrive on the festival circuit in the months ahead.
Along with key players from the local industry, the event typically attracts a who’s-who of foreign sales agents such as Films Boutique, Memento, LevelK, Wild Bunch, MK2, Luxbox, and Alpha Violet, as well as festival programmers from the likes of Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Rotterdam, Karlovy Vary, Tribeca, and SXSW.
This year organizers selected 24 projects from nearly 70 submissions, including six completed films, eight works-in-progress, and 10 projects in varying stages of development. Also presented were the five films, including “Wika!”, that participated in New Horizons’ Polish Days Goes to Cannes, the Cannes fest’s pix-in-post showcase.
“Every year we make sure the selection is varied,” Czołnowska says of an event that has launched high-profile titles including Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik’s Berlinale competition film “Spoor,” and Jan Komasa’s “Corpus Christi,” which was nominated for the best international film Oscar this year.
“We show films and present projects of renowned, well-established directors, but also newcomers and first-time directors,” she adds. “It’s really the place where you can discover all different cinema from Poland.”
The six features presented during Polish Days this year included Jan Holoubek’s “25 Years of Innocence” (TVN), a pulled-from-the-headlines drama about a man who served 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit; Grzegorz Jaroszuk’s “Dear Ones” (MD4), about an estranged family forced to reunite when their mother goes missing; and Dawid Nickel’s “Love Tasting” (No Sugar Films), a teen drama about a group of friends trying to navigate the choppy waters of school, love, friendship, sex, and family life.
Also showcased were Maciek Bochniak’s “Magnesia” (Aurum Film), a period gangster film set along the Polish-Soviet border between the two World Wars; Grzegorz Zariczny’s “Simple Things” (Before My Eyes), which follows a real-life family whose quiet life in the country is interrupted by an unexpected visit from a relative; and Magnus von Horn’s Cannes 2020 label title “Sweat” (Lava Films), about a fitness motivator and social media influencer searching for true intimacy in a life full of adoring followers and fans.
The varied selection points to the continued growth and diversity of the Polish industry, says Czołnowska. “Somehow, maybe filmmakers are braver now—probably also producers and financial institutions are braver now, and more eager to experiment, and to support arthouse movies which are brave and challenging in many ways.”
Along with closed screenings and pitching sessions, Polish Days also hosted the latest edition of New Horizons Studio+, a program for first- and second-time filmmakers focused on the marketing and promotion of films in the early stages of development. Five projects from Poland and five from other European countries were selected for this year’s event, which Czołnowska says “aims to make you think about how you want to plan your career [and] what you want to achieve with your films.”
Czołnowska reports a robust turnout for the three-day virtual event, with more than 100 industry guests participating from abroad. “Polish Days is a networking place,” she says. “You can meet the whole Polish film industry—not only producers and directors, but distributors, financing institutions, film commissions. It was the same this year. It was online, but everyone was present.”