FNE VISEGRAD FORUM: Country Focus Poland 2009

    Poland with the sixth largest population in the Europe and the seventh largest GDP has taken its place as one of the most important members of the European Union since joining in 2004.
    This year Poland is the only country in the EU that is posting economic growth despite the global financial crisis.

    This position is reflected in the audiovisual sector with the country enjoying a healthy and growing production sector and a film law that is increasingly serving as a model for other countries. Poland has also become a serious player in European co-productions participating in films by directors such as Lars Von Trier and Peter Greenaway.

    Attendance at Polish cinemas has increased by 33% from 2007 to 2008, and 2009 looks set to be a record breaking year with 19.8 million admissions in the first half of this year surpassing the previous record set in 2004.

    Any overview of today's Polish audio-visual landscape has to start with the Polish Film Institute - PISF- (www.pisf.pl) and the renaissance in the country's film industry that the establishment of the institute has brought about.

    Polish film has a proud history and legendary directors such as Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Zanussi brought the country worldwide recognition in the 1970's and 1980's. But it has only been since 2005 and the legislation that established the Polish Film Institute and a system of state support that the glory days of Polish film have returned.

    In 2009 at the annual festival of Polish feature films in Gdynia (www.festiwalgdynia.pl) the selection committee was able to choose from over 60 feature films. Perhaps more important11 of the 24 films in the programme were debuts by young directors.

    PISF has made it a policy to support a new generation of young Polish talent. PISF supported Polish film production in 2009 with 90m PLN of its 140m PLN budget and it looks like this policy is paying dividends for Poland. Gdynia winner The Reverse a feature debut by Borys Lankosz and produced by Kadr Studio (www.kadr.com.pl) revolves around the building of the monstrous Palace of Culture, a gift of Stalin to the Polish people, and takes a new look at Polish society in the 1950's. Another standout was Snow White and Russian Red directed by Xawery Zulawski and produced by Film Media (www.filmmedia.com.pl) a second film by the director that has won a string of prizes at festivals including the second prize in Gdynia. The film takes a tough look at contemporary Polish life with stand-out performances by its cast.

    "The year 2009 is a really important one for Polish cinema," said Barbora Hollendar one of the country's leading film critics, "We saw the emergence of not only a new generation of filmmakers but also the birth of a new film language in Polish cinema."

    According to Hollendar it was partly the crisis in funding from pubcaster TVP (www.tvp.pl) that brought about this change. TVP has served as the main funder and co-producer of Polish films over the past decade but the channel has been hit by the same decline in advertising revenues that has hit broadcasters all over the world. In 2009 TVP was slated to invest 27m PLN in feature film production according to plans drafted back in 2007 but invested only 5m PLN of which over half, 3.2m PLN, went to projects already started in 2008. While PISF has been able to maintain funding at pre-crisis levels it only provides a maximum of 50% of funding and without TVP on board most big budget projects were dropped, especially historical epics.

    "Budgets in 2009 were more modest," said Hollendar, "hovering around 4m PLN. These more modestly budgeted productions opened a window for young directors." Distributors and private investors who stepped in to fill the gap left by TVP were ready to take a risk on new talent as well as a string of commercially successful romantic comedies.

    Whatever the reasons for the sea change the public obviously likes the results as Polish films occupied the second and third places on the box office for the first six months of 2009 with Kochaj i tańcz (Love and Dance), directed by Bruce Parramore and produced by TVN (www.tvn.pl) (1.34 million viewers) and Popiełuszko.Wolność jest w nas (Popieluszko: Freedom Is Within Us), a historic drama devoted to the brutal murder of a Polish priest under the communist regime directed by Rafał Wieczyński and produced by Focus Producers Co.Ltd (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) (1.31 million viewers).