For some the term ‘Polish Cinema’ would evoke hazy memories of rather strange animations being screened on late-night Channel 4 or some of the classics from Andrzej Wajda. But contemporary Polish cinema has undergone something of a renaissance over the past few years with diverse films such as Essential Killing and the forthcoming In Darkness proving both enormous domestic hits as well having huge popularity on the international circuit. Poland itself is home to numerous festivals – Krakow (which holds two massive festivals), Warsaw, Wroclaw New Horizons, Camerimage, Gydina are just a few of the many – that celebrate and screen an enormous amount of Polish films alongside the international fare. Soon the 10th edition of Kinoteka will take place to bring British audiences across the world the best of Polish cinema both old and new. Premiering films such as Fear of Falling – an intriguing debut feature about the relationship between a son and his mentally ill father – and My Name Is Ki – an affecting story of a single mother who tries to balance her child with her zest for life – the festival shows just how interesting and diverse contemporary Polish cinema is.
Yet while national cinemas from the likes of Romania, South Korea and Iran – amongst many others – have all had a phase of huge international popularity, contemporary Polish has yet to have as much attention as it deserves. Polish Cinema Now! – originally published in late 2010 – tries to give a focus to the Polish industry as it examines some of the changes that have occurred within the Polish film industry since the fall of communism in 1989 and looks at how a new generation of filmmakers have emerged from the constraints of history and how new legislation has stimulated the growth of the industry.
After a brief and illuminating overview of the fortunes of Polish cinema after ’89 by the book’s editor Mateusz Werner, Michael Brooke writes a fascinating chapter on just how the industry responded to the post-Communist times. Crucially he points out that the fresh and (more) liberal atmosphere did not result in an explosion of new films: Eastern European audiences had been starved of ‘banned’ Western films for so-long that the biggest Czech box office hit of 1990 was Emmanuelle. Changes in both economic infrastructure and audiences meant that it was a slow process before new voices began to emerge and Polish cinema began to find a new identity. The book goes on to explore various aspects of Polish cinema, including chapters devoted to documentary and animation whilst there are also productive examinations of the relationship between Polish cinema and history (in an excellent article by Andrzej Werner) and feminist and homosexual themes between 1989 and 2009. While academic in tone, the chapters that focus on the aesthetics and politics of Polish cinema are clearly written and accessible to those who may only have a passing knowledge of contemporary Polish cinema. Most importantly they are persuasively and stimulatingly argued, making the book not only a valuable resource concerning modern cinema history but a fascinating account of a country confronting its own past. The more technical chapters of the book – such as those focusing on Polish Film Funds, festivals and Polish Film Schools – manage to give some much needed background to proceedings without ever becoming too dry or redundant.
The book also comes with two DVDs with short films from 1989 onwards. It’s a welcome addition with highlights including Katedra, a superbly realised animation from Tomasz Baginski that was nominated for an Oscar in 2002 and Melodramat, Filip Maczewski’s superb drama about youth and desire that was a huge hit on the festival circuit. Also wonderful is the measured and beautiful documentary Where the Sun Doesn’t Rush, a meditative examination of small Slovakian village.
Polish Cinema Now! is not a book designed to dismiss the rich heritage of Polish cinema and culture. There is a reason why Andrzej Wajda’s films continue to receive rapturous receptions across the word, namely that he is a superb filmmaker. But it is designed to celebrate a contemporary national cinema that perhaps does not get as much attention as it richly deserves. Those who have discovered some of the newer filmmakers in Poland will undoubtedly find this book an important resource. But those who wish to discover more will find this a fascinating journey of discovery that should stand all visitors to Kinoteka in good stead.
Polish Cinema Now! Edited by Mateusz Werner is published by John Libbey Publishing and is available now. Go to www.johnlibbey.com for more details
The 10th KINOTEKA Polish Film Festival runs 8-22 March 2012. Go to www. kinoteka.org.uk for more details.