Apple Film 20th Anniversary: Interview with Dariusz Jablonski

By FNE Staff

Apple Film Production (www.applefilm.pl) has been a ground-breaking company since it was launched 20 years ago. On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, FNE spoke with founder Dariusz Jablonsik about the company and the past, present, and future for filmmaking in Poland.

{mosimage}FNE: Apple Film was one of the first independent film companies established in Poland. What were the advantages and the disadvantages you faced?

Dariusz Jablonski: At the beginning I was planning to produce my films only, not wanting to stand in front of the doors of the state owned studios, but quickly the success and the interest of the directors, along with my own personal experiences, caused me to abandon thinking about my own directing. Only after seven years, fate put "Photographer" as a director's challenge in front of me, but this is a completely different story... What were the disadvantages of being one of the first ones? There was no one to learn from how to be an independent producer. And advantages? Maybe it's actually good that there was no one to learn from...

FNE: You were one of the pioneers in coproductions between CEE neighbors. How has the field of coproductions in CEE evolved for Poland since you began?

Jablonski: Everything started with Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Yugoslavian and Soviet films, which - apart from the Polish ones - I grew up and matured watching as a teenager, seeing them in the Film Discussion Club in the Palace of Culture in Warsaw. Forman, Menzel, Jancso, Zafranovic created pictures that next to films by Wajda, Poland and Has were the world of my imagination, too.

Later on, after transition, in the years 1991-1995, Katya Krausova and Linda Myles supported by the British Know-How Fund organized the East-West Producers Seminar for new independent producers from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. In the end they also included Romania. What an excellent school that was! We learned together from the best British producers -- like Steve Clark-Hall, Timothy Burrill, Simon Perry, Chris Auty -- what it is and how it works to be an independent producer in Europe. It will probably be enough to say that some of the situations and opportunities that we learned about back then haven't developed in our countries to this day. Thanks to that a couple of the best producers in these countries know and like each other today.

This is when I started to look for an opportunity of a co-production with Czechoslovakia. In the meantime it became Czech Republic and Slovakia, but the thought didn't leave my head. And then one day in 1996 I got a phone call from Rudolf Bierman on behalf on Jaroslav Boucek, saying that they'd like to get me into the production of "Sekal Has To Die" directed by Vladimir Michalek and based on a beautiful script written by great late Jiri Krizan. Back then in Poland the words "Czech film" meant a film where a lot of things happen and nobody knows anything. But I read the script -- in Czech! -- and flew to Prague right away. That's how the first Czech-Polish-Slovak-French movie was made. The first and - I will say immodestly - the best to date.

This is also when I understood than even though I am desperately trying to get my foot in the door of the British or French producers, it's actually easier to spread the enthusiasm for stories that are important to me among my friends that live nearby, just across the border. Maybe it's because we watched, laughed and cried on the same movies?

Right now Czech films have excellent reputation in Poland, and there are more Slovak and Hungarian co-productions appearing. That's great, we should support this tendency, because we can do more together. I'm sure that Agnieszka Odorowicz, the General Director of the Polish Film Institute, knows that well. My dreams came true at the highest point when I was able to make my first feature film "Strawberry Wine" based on the novel of an excellent Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk, in co-production with the Slovaks, with the Slovak actress Zuzana Fialova and Czech actor Jiri Machacek playing the main characters. What a crazy time it was!

FNE: What have been the major developments for Polish filmmaking?

Jablonski: When along with my producer friend Henryk Romanowski in 1995 on behalf of independent producers and directors we undertook the task of writing the new film law in Poland, it seemed like a daydream, an illusion. Thanks to the help of many European associations and organizations we managed to do it in three months. And then we took it to the Polish parliament and it was almost outvoted. It was a real Blitzkrieg! It's a pity it took so long afterwards. We took it to the parliament three more times and finally we succeeded in 2005. In the meantime, based on our film law project, written voluntarily, from our own membership money, there were projects written in other countries. New laws in Slovakia and Hungary are partly based on our project as well; even the law in Israel is based on our project, which my friend Marek Rosenbaum, who fought for it there, admits.

Now we're all happy that the Polish Film Institute, which was created based on this project, brings so many positive changes in the Polish cinematography. What if we managed to bring these changes 10 years earlier? It's a pity we lost so much time, so many films could have been made. But such thorough changes are difficult: the more difficult, the more people are bound to the past.

FNE: What is unique about Polish film? Is it possible to retain a national cinema as coproductions become increasingly important?

Jablonski: Polish films are like Polish people and Poland today. We open ourselves toward the world, we're not so different from our friends from abroad, far and close, but we can always draw from our rich culture, our often painful history. Right now the differences between cinematographies are continent-specific: European cinema is different from Asian, and they differ from American and South American, too. African cinematography is more and more interesting.

But there are differences in Europe, too, which, for example, inspired us to limit the activity of ScripTeast to 10 new EU member countries. This common past, the communist one, can paradoxically be our advantage. Cinematography, maybe thanks to Lenin who supposedly said that it's the most important art, at that time was rich, meaningful, multinational and wonderful. We watched movies from countries we had never visited and never had a chance to visit -- watched them in our home, in a theatre behind a corner, not at big foreign festivals. And this can be our added quality, if to our background we add the knowledge of the rules of cinematography today.

One of my friends told me honestly one day that Polish films are considered slow and sad by the rest of the world. First, it's not true that all of them are like that; there are also the ones we laugh at, and there are those I like the most where laughter mixes with tears and happiness with sorrow. And even so, do all movies in the world need to be super fast and super funny? Let ours be the way they want to be!

FNE: How do you see the future for the Polish film industry?

Jablonski: Things that limit our development from the production side need to change. All directors and producers should obey the same rules, all should have the same opportunities and all should pay the same taxes. Let's award and support the best. Sounds simple? Knowing from personal experience the speed of changes in the Polish cinematography, it will take about 10 years more...

But seriously, it's not that bad, we have our fund that we fought for so hard, Poland has the best economic condition in Europe, the Polish language-speaking market is pretty large and 38 million Polish people like our films more and more each day. Now we really need to learn how to write, make, produce and show our films the way that will make people in the rest of the world want to watch them, too. Co-productions are an excellent tool for that and this is why in the last 15 years we made almost all our movies as co-productions.

I'm a moderate optimist when it comes to the future of Polish cinematography and I believe that I have the best years and the best films in front of me. And I just hope that seeing this kind of future for our business I am not as naive as a 1938 producer of zeppelins, airships that were supposed to replace airplanes, only to see World War II end their life a year later...