Kinoteka – The 7th Polish Film Festival
by Guy Sangster Adams
Kinoteka is the annual flagship event of the Polish Cultural Institute, a non-profit organisation, linked to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dedicated to promoting Polish culture in Britain. Marlena Lukasiac has been the artistic director of Kinoteka for the last four years, in which time she has overseen its development from a one day event at London’s Riverside Studios showcasing contemporary Polish films to this year’s 7th annual Polish Film Festival which not only features its widest ranging programme to date, presenting New Polish Cinema, a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Krzystof Kieslowski’s Dekalog, and a retrospective of Polish New Wave, but also its widest reaching programme whereby in addition to its London programme, which continues until 8 April, in March Kinoteka began began a nationwide tour which has already visited Belfast, Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth, Mold, and Hereford, and from 20 April – 4 May will form part of Canterbury’s Sounds New Festival, before continuing to Bristol, Warwick, and Wolverhampton.
Lukasiac brought the retrospective element to the festival because, as she says, “I think it’s nice to show the films which are now recognised as masterpieces, and make people think why they are masterpieces, what makes a film survive, and in Polish cinema there are so many wonderful masterpieces that can be fully appreciated by a foreign audience.”
In this year’s festival, the juxtaposition of the retrospective and the contemporary also illustrates and contextualises the seismic changes and extraordinary cultural journey that Poland has undergone over the last 70 years. The key featured directors fall neatly into two generations. Jerzy Skolimowski, Andrzej Zulawski, and Kieslowski, born in 1938, 1940, and 1941 respectively, were born into a terrible stage of Polish history as 6 million Poles lost their lives in World War II—the highest percentage of a population of any of the countries involved in the war—and Warsaw was nigh on completely reduced to rubble, followed by the USSR’s post-war absorption of Poland into the Eastern Bloc stymieing many freedoms of creative and cultural expression. Whilst Malgoska Szumowska and Kaisa Adamik were both born in the early 1970s and came of age with the reduction to rubble of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the fall of communism and Poland’s subsequent rebirth as the democratic Republic of Poland, and the country’s entry into the European Union in 2004.
The censorship of the Communist era acutely affected the careers of Skolimowski, Zulawski, and Kieslowski, leading them, at different points in their careers to both make films in co-production with other European countries and to live outside Poland. Skolimowski is based in Los Angeles and in recent years has been far more visible as an actor, appearing most recently in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. But, after a 17 year directorial hiatus, his new film 4 Nights with Anna, a black comedy about obsessive love and voyeurism, received its British premiere as part of the Kinoteka’s London programme. Zulawski moved to France in 1972, where he still lives, to escape the type of censorship that was meted out on his cult mid-1970s sci-fi epic On the Silver Globe which was suppressed and almost destroyed by the Polish authorities, a newly-mastered version of which he introduced to open the Polish New Wave season.
For Kieslowski it was, as Lukasiac says, “problems in a different kind of censorship because when he made Dekalog he was heavily criticised in Poland” that lead him to make what would be his last films The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colours Trilogy predominantly outside Poland as French and Swiss co-productions. The success of these films directly lead to the posthumous international release of Dekalog which has become the most critically acclaimed film cycle of all time.
Parallels are often drawn between Malgoska Szumowska, and Kieslowski, in response to which she told online magazine Aviva-Berlin, “it seems it’s hard not to compare me to him, not because of the style of the films but because of the fact that I start to make films internationally.” Szumowska’s 33 Scenes From Life, which explores how a woman in her early thirties copes with losing both her parents in quick succession, is a German/Polish co-production, and her next film is being shot in France. “I think that is what’s happening in Polish cinema,” explains Lukasiac, “we have many co-productions with France, Germany, Britain, that’s what the Polish Film Institute is interested in, which I think is just a natural thing in Europe now, you have to mingle, you have to exchange.”
This internationalism also links Szumowska to Kaisa Adamik, though they also have in common the fact that they are both the children of filmmakers—Szumowska’s father was the late Maciej Szumowski, and Adamik’s parents are Agnieszka Holland, director of the Golden Globe winning Europa Europa, and Laco Adamik—and that they are part of a new generation of female directors overturning the previously heavily male dominated Polish cinema. Adamik was brought up in Paris, and has already had an extensive career in Hollywood as a storyboard artist. Her first feature film, ark, was an English language US production, whilst her second feature, The Offsiders, a comedy drama about a football team made up of homeless people, is both her first film to be both in Polish and a Polish production, and is included in this year’s Kinoteka.
One name that at first glance is perhaps surprising to find in the programme of a Polish Film is Michael Nyman. But Lukasiac explains that when she met Nyman at a film festival in Poland, he told her his grandparents on both sides were Polish, “their families moved to England at the beginning of the twentieth century, and his parents, who were both from Polish Jewish families, met here in England.” Michael Nyman joins forces with Motion Trio, an innovative and experimental Polish accordion trio, for the Kinoteka London Closing Night Gala Concert at the Barbican, in which they will not only reinterpret a selection of Nyman’s film scores, but also present the World premiere of Nyman’s celebration of Polish cinema that will be performed alongside a montage from the films that have inspired him, including the work of Andrzej Wadja, Zulawski, and Kieslowski.
With such a list of names, who have inspired so many audiences and filmmakers alike, it is clear that Poland’s, as Lukasiac says, “struggle to establish ourselves, to establish a spirit of Polish cinema” particularly over the last two decades since the fall of Communism is very much coming to fruition. “There’s a huge improvement in quality and a recognition,” says Lukasiac, in which both her passion and determination and the work of the PCI as a whole has played a key role in what has been a steep climb as she explains, “some countries have been promoting their culture for so many years and they have had the tools and means to do so, whereas we are like small toddlers who are trying to shout, yeah we are here! Please look at us!” Even the most cursory glance at the Kinoteka programme should convince one to heed Lukasiac’s exhortation and take a far closer look at the films, exhibitions, and events that make up the festival.
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