Polish Film Institute Fifth Anniversary Special: Interview with Maciej Karpiński

By Anna Franklin

    Maciej Karpinski, a leading figure in the Polish film industry for decades, is Deputy Director responsible for international relations at the Polish Film Institute (PISF). In addition to his tireless work to support and develop the industry he is also one of Europe's top scriptwriters for such iconic Polish filmmakers as Andrzej Wajda, Volker Schlondorff and Agnieszka Holland, and the author of theatre plays and books. FNE spoke with Karpinski about the PISF.

    FNE: You have been at PISF since the very beginning. Tell us about how it all started?

    Karpinski: When we began at PISF we had no computers, nothing. In September and October 2005 when we started our first task was the first Oscar campaign. We didn't even have an email address or a website, phones or a bank account. We understood that we had to move quickly and show results. We were new and everyone would be watching to see what we could do.

    This was the real professional Oscar campaign that was ever done for a Polish film in Los Angeles, the first time it was really done as it should be done was done by PISF in 2005. We paid for real professional services in Los Angeles. We began to win respect for the Polish film industry and establish our reputation internationally. This was something completely new for the Polish film.

    We started from modest beginnings and during just five years we have won a position on the professional scene, in the professional world, the festival scene and in film production internationally.

    PISF was a complete change of mentality. The Polish were always asking for money, not funding things themselves. But PISF isn't only about money; it's about attitude, the "can do" attitude, before everything was very bureaucratic. People were surprised when we came were ready to find solutions and get the job done. Also PISF was totally transparent financially.

    FNE: Have other countries tried to follow the PISF example and the PISF structure.

    Karpinski: We are often asked about this and other countries have indeed incorporated part of the Polish system into their film support structures. But the PISF system cannot be replicated in every country. The size of the country and the audience makes a big difference. But other countries have used our system in a modified way.

    The core of the question is to generate enough funds from the market to make the system self-sufficient. We had a fortunate situation in Poland in this respect from the beginning because the market is large enough. The biggest payers were TV stations and cable operators and initially they were not in favour of the new cinema law at but now they are our allies.

    We had the potential and we also possessed a certain level of film culture and stable democratic structures. One of the proofs of this is that when the first deadline to pay arrived in March 2006 everyone paid. This illustrated that there was already a certain level of legal and corporate culture in Poland. "Civic awareness" in many countries is much lower than in Poland but in Poland we were fortunate.

    FNE: What were some of the early challenges you faced?

    Karpinski: We had to prove as soon as possible that the system is working and that it is working for everyone.
    An example is our first meeting with cinema owners and distributors. Exhibitors and distributors had to pay 1.5% levy under the new law and at the first meeting they were against the new cinema law. They didn't realize the benefits

    But In six months they were all enthusiastic. They could see that this can work for everyone, but we had to be in a hurry to get results and demonstrate the benefits.

    FNE: What do you consider some of the greatest achievements of the past five years?

    Karpinski: Undoubtedly the greatest achievement is that today we have a real film industry in Poland and five years ago you could not have said that.

    Film often creates a situation where the gains are not direct. People don't realize that when you invest one euro you get three or four euros back into the Polish economy. This comes from money spent during productions in hotels, catering, people who are employed and who pay taxes. Sometimes the benefits are indirect.

    One of the biggest direct achievements in the past five years has been to bring back Polish audiences to see Polish films. The increase in the number of films produced and also in the variety of genres of films available has been a major factor in bringing back the audience.

    Another factor is that PISF created a good atmosphere around Polish film. This is something that has changed completely over the past five years.
    Overall PISF contributed to this situation not only directly by the films and other activities that it supports but even those films that PISF doesn't invest in have benefited. Private investors are more likely to invest when there is a general atmosphere of success around Polish film.

    Polish audiences for Polish films have increased ten times in the past five years. In 2000 the number was 600 000 and today 6 million tickets are sold. And that is only for Polish films.

    The average per capita attendance has also increased from 0.5 to 1.0 this means it has doubled. The EU average is 2.5 which means there is still room to grow.

    There's still tremendous potential. We can still double the numbers for attendance.

    The second biggest accomplishment I have to say is the return to the international scene of Polish film. Fifteen years ago with the death of Krzysztof Kieslowski Polish film almost disappeared form the international scene. Polish films are today present everywhere. Now everybody knows that something is happening in Poland. Polish cinema once has become a recognizable "trade mark". Polish film today, it means something.