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Polish films: still finding a way to the international market

Katarzyna Pachelska from CentEast 2008-10-20
Although more full-length features are being made in Poland in recent years, still very few of them find their way to distribution in other countries.

The two notable exceptions, Andrzej Jakimowski's Tricks and Andrzej Wajda's Katyn, only prove the rule. Though Polish productions are shown at film festivals all over the world and win awards, most recently Malgorzata Szumowska's 33 Scenes From Life in Locarno (Special Jury Prize) or the screening of Michal Rosa's Scratch in Venice, they seldom make it beyond the festival circuit. Meanwhile, staying only on the festival circuit can be lethal for a film.

Why are things the way they are? "There is no good agency in Poland selling the rights to Polish films abroad," says journalist Martin Blaney, a regular guest of the Warsaw International Film Festival. "Hiring foreign companies isn't a good idea in the longer term." On the other hand, he praises the activity of the Polish Film Institute, established under the May 18, 2005 Law on cinematography (the youngest such institution in Europe), which distributes funds for film productions and for promoting film culture.

In 2006 the PFI allocated PLN 43 million from operational programmes for the production of feature films and directing debuts (Katyn received the most, PLN 6 million, while Tricks got just under PLN 1 million). In 2007, the funds totalled PLN 52.5 million, and up to August 31, 2008 they reached PLN 81.9 million.

Interestingly, as far as the themes of new Polish films receiving funding from the PFI this year are concerned, there is no shortage of comedies or dramas. But more interesting is the unusually heavy crop of historical films, not only ones about the distant past (such as Most about the conflict between Poland and the Teutonic Knights, script by Cezary Harasimowicz), but also films dealing with World War II (such as Paweł Chochlew's Tajemnica Westerplatte which has come under a lot of discussion in Poland, General, a feature by Anna Jadowska and Lidia Kazen about the mysterious death of General Sikorski, and Smietnik Pana Boga directed by Andrzej Mularczyk), as well as recent history (such as 80 milionow Solidarnosci about Lower Silesian Solidarity activists, directed by Waldemar Krzystek, Wzgorza demonow, about Polish soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, and Operacja Dunaj directed by Jacek Glomb, a comedy-drama about the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact units in 1968).

The number of international co-productions is growing visibly, including Malgorzata Szumowska's 33 Scenes From Life (her latest film Sponsoring is also an international project), Little Moscow, and The True Story of Janosik directed by Agnieszka Holland and her daughter Kasia Adamik. Such productions stand a better chance of escaping the vicious circle of only festival screenings and reaching audiences in many countries.

Another malady of the Polish film industry is the lack of a modern film studio, similar to Barrandov in the Czech Republic. True, 2007 saw the much publicized signing of an agreement on the construction of a complex of halls, production studios, and other technical facilities, at a cost of 100 million euros, on a former airfield (467 hectares) in Nowe Miasto on the River Pilica, between Warsaw and Lodz, but a year later the idea was history. Minister of Culture and National Heritage Bogdan Zdrojewski did not include the Film Town on the list of key programmes, which deprived the project of 50 million euros of European Union money. The lack of subsidies was tantamount to halting the project.

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