Film and theatre director, actor, screenplay writer, film producer. Born in 1929 in Włodzimierz Wołyński (today's Ukraine).
Jerzy Antczak's early youth fell during the period of the Second World War. The years of the German occupation of Poland, he was taught at clandestine classes. As a liaison, he supported the resistance movement. After the war, Antczak graduated from secondary school in Opole in 1949 and entered into the Acting Department at the Film School in Łódź. He cooperated with a student theatre movement and co-founded the Czerwony wąż / Red Snake Cabaret.
He graduated in 1953 and began working first as an actor at the Powszechny Theatre in Łódź and then also as a director. As well Antczak was a lecturer in the acting department at the Film School. In 1957, he co-founded the 7 Theatre 15 in Łódź and became its director. A year later, after having produced five premieres, Antczak transferred to the Nowy Theatre in Łódź managed by Kazimierz Dejmek, where he both acted and directed.
During this time, Jerzy Antczak started cooperating with a television studio established in Łódź. In 1958, on his initiative and under his management, the Popularny Theatre was established at the Łódź television studio, and soon won recognition. This was the moment when Jerzy Antczak left acting for directing.
He settled in Warsaw and in 1963 Antczak accepted the post of the chief director of the Polish Television and general director of the Television Theatre. As a director of the Television Theatre he produced more than one hundred shows, out of which the earliest ones, broadcast live, were unfortunately lost.
Antczak shifted his interest more towards the cinema. He made his screen debut in 1962 with a short film Stary professor / The Old Professor, part of Jan Rybkowski's film Spóźnieni przechodnie / Late By-Passers consisted of a few short films. In the following years, Antczak produced films and TV series. At the end of the 1960s the director filmed Józef Ignacy Kraszewski's Hrabina Cosel / Countess Cosel (film and TV series) and, finally, in the 1970s he directed his greatest achievement Noce i dnie / Nights and Days based on Maria Dąbrowska's novel.
In 1977, Jerzy Antczak left the TV industry. Unfortunately, he failed in his attempt to run his own production company Zespół Filmowy Nurt. Two years later, Antczak and his wife, Jadwiga Barańska, an actress, decided to emigrate to the United States. They settled in Los Angeles where to this day Antczak teaches directing at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).
It was not until the 1990s that Antczak returned to directing. He produced two feature films and two television theatre productions.
Jerzy Antczak has won numerous awards for his achievements in television and theatre production. He received the Chairman of Radio and Television Committee Award four times (1959, 1961, 1963, 1969). He was granted the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta three times (in 1964, 1970 and 1976). In 1964, Antczak was honoured with the 1st Degree State Award for achievements in television theatre. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Polish Television which fell on 2002, the director received the Gwiazda Telewizji Polskiej / Polish Television Star Award for his creative contribution to the development of the Television Theatre and television films. Epilog norymberski / The Nuremberg Epilogue considered Jerzy Antczak's most spectacular success among his Television Theatre productions, receiving the 1st Degree State Award in 1970, Złoty Ekran / Golden Screen Award for directing and the script in 1971, the critics award during the 8th International Television Festival and Prague, and the award at the 41st International Film Festival in Huston. While Noce i dnie / Nights and Days regarded as his most successful film, won numerous awards including the Grand Prix (the Golden Lions Grand Jury Prize) in 1975 at the Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk, the 1st Degree State Award, the Award of the International Film Critics Asocciation UNICRIT at the International Film Festival in Berlin. Nights and Days was nominated for Oscar in the category of best foreign language film in 1976. In 2008 Antczak received the Golden Medal Gloria Artis by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Platynowy Lew / the Platinum Lion for for overall body of work in 2013 at the Gdynia Film Festival. In 2015 he was given Diamentowy Lew / the Diamond Lion for Nights and Days during the 40th anniversary of the Gdynia Film Festival.
For many years Jerzy Antczak was the person who decided to a great extent about a repertoire available for the largest Polish audience, namely TV viewers. He was often accused of paying homage to eclecticism and not choosing more innovative works. It was Jerzy Antczak's conscious and carefully thought-out selection. The Popularny Theatre that he managed was indeed meant to be popular. Antczak perceived the television's mission to popularise the reliable works, not trivial but communicative, so as to reach the wider audience. Hence, Chekhov, Balzac, Williams, Turgenev. These preferences were also common in Jerzy Antczak's films.
The entire career of this artist, from television to cinema, was actually an expansion and continuation of a concept of a popular and psychological theatre which so far has not faced a competition,
wrote Barbara Kaźmierczak-Drozdowska in a monograph devoted to the director (Jerzy Antczak, WAiF, Warsaw 1980).
Out of the Polish dramas, Antczak most willingly directed works by a contemporary writer, Zdzisław Skowroński, who was admired during the 1960s. It was in Skowroński's dramas that Jerzy Antczak found complex psychological situations which suited his vision of theatre and film. At the Television Theatre Antczak staged such Skowroński's dramas as: Mistrz / The Master, Głos / Voice, Dekret / Decreet and Notes / Notebook. The first of these dramas was filmed by Antczak. The director cooperated with Skowroński while adapting Hrabina Cosel / Countess Cosel for his film. The playwright's death in 1969 brought this rewarding cooperation to a sudden end.
Jerzy Antczak's acting background and stage experiences have been decisive in his understanding of both theatre and film directing. As a director of television productions, Antczak paid great attention to exposing the acting itself. The author of the above quoted monograph highlights that Jerzy Antczak, the artist, was guided by a certain type of imagination which allowed him to fully express himself through producing shows with great acting interpretations. Barbara Kaźmierczak-Drozdowska noticed that his early, unrecorded productions directed at the television studio in Łódź confirmed this idea: Anton Chekhov's one-act play On the Road which was played by close-ups of the actor's faces, or the film adaptation of Stefan Żeromski's Wierna rzeka / The Faithful River which was dominated by the longer shots favourable to expose the acting. In addition, acting was the basis for Antczak's docu-drama which he pursued later in his career and the first production of which was Epilog norymberski / The Nuremberg Epilogue in 1970.
The director himself admitted in one of the interviews,
I would like to explain that what interests me most is the small actor's theatre, a theatre in which the director stays at a distance; he is imperceptible. I am repulsed at the shows (theatre, film or television) in which the director's intervention is too apparent (interview by Elżbieta Smoleń-Wasilewska, Film 38/1968).
This statement referred directly to the theatre, however it was also true for Antczak's film productions (it happened a few times that he filmed the same work that he earlier directed as a theatre performance). Tadeusz Lubelski called Jerzy Antczak "the producer who consciously chooses to hide behind the actors and the text" (Film 19/1981). The reviewer means a literary text. Yet another feature of Antczak as a director is his willingness to adapt literary works for films.
The director said,
It seems disgusting to me to use somebody else's work and pump into them other psychological, social, moral and political values in order to support the so called concept, or rather as it is very popular today, one's own idea. I believe it is not fair. In particular, if it concerns a deceased writer who has no possibility to defend it (Theatre, June 15, 1972).
In their reviews of Antczak's films, critics noticed the director's adaptations are highly accurate. However, the monumental Noce i dnie / Nights and Days received reviews criticising the director's attitude towards the literary text. For example, Tadeusz Drewnowski, a literary critic and expert on Maria Dąbrowska's works noticed that the social issue, quite significantly discussed in the novel, was limited on screen (Kino 9/1978).
"I am passionate about great moral dilemmas and tiny everyday matters", said Jerzy Antczak in the above mentioned interview by Elżbieta Smoleń-Wasilewska.
While making the film adaptation of Maria Dąbrowska's novel, a family saga describing cultural transformations in Poland at the turn of the 19th century, the director had to make a selection, this time tiny everyday matters of the protagonists. Brilliantly shown by Jadwiga Barańska and Jerzy Bińczycki the two leading actors, covered the more general problems.
Coming back to the big screen with Dama kameliowa / The Lady of the Camellias and Chopin. Pragnienie miłości / Chopin. Desire for Love, Jerzy Antczak failed to repeat the success of Noce i dnie / Nights and Days. Though, he remained faithful to his preferences in terms of accurate adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's novel, as well as in the power of acting interpretations, shown in the film about Fryderyk Chopin and George Sand.
Jerzy Antczak is the author of Noce i dnie mojego życia / Nights and Days of My Life published in 2009 and the main protagonist of a biographical film Jerzy Antczak directed by Adam Wyżyński. In 2015 he acted as an artistic supervisor of Marcin Bortkiewicz's debut Noc Walpurgii / Walpurgis Night.
In addition, Jerzy Antczak played in the following feature films: Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Celuloza / Cellulose (1953); Ewa Petelska's Sprawa konia / The Horse Case (the 3rd short film) in Trzy opowieści / Three Stories (1953); Jan Rybkowski's Autobus odjeżdża 6.20 / The Bus Leaves at 6.20 (1954); Jan Koecher's Kariera / Career (1954); Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Pod gwiazdą frygijską / Under the Friesian Star (1954); Czesław Petelski's Nowela bokserska / Boxing Story in Trzy starty / Three Beginnings (1955); Jan Rybkowski's Kapelusz pana Anatola / Mr. Anatol's Hat (1957); Leonard Buczkowski's Czas przeszły / Simple Past (1961); Jarosław Brzozowski's and Andrzej Wróbel's Na białym szlaku / On a White Track (1962), Jan Rybkowski's short film Nauczycielka / Teacher (1962) in Spóźnieni przechodnie / Late By-Passers.
Television Theatre Productions - direction (selected productions):
Jerzy Antczak directed the following productions on theatre stages:
Author: Ewa Nawój, December 2007; updated: December 2009, July 2016 (ND)
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