The
Beginnings
of film
Few people know that Poland played an important role in the development of cinematography and television. If not for the innovative spirit of these pioneering inventors and businessmen, the film industry might not be where it is today.
Poland invents
film before
everyone else
There's no mistaking the forefathers of cinematography ‒ Edison created the kinetoscope to record film on tape, and Auguste and Louis Lumière patented the cinematograph. But they’re not the only ones who contributed to the invention of cinema. In 19th-century Poland, several inventors, among them Piotr Lebiedziński, Jan Szczepanik, and Kazimierz Prószyński, were creating film cameras of their own.
In 19th-century
Poland, several
inventors were
working on creating
a cinematograph
of their own.
Free
Poland
Patriotic
Films
Melodramas
Jewish
Businessmen
launch the Film
Industry
The masterminds and pioneers of Polish cinema of the period were Jewish businessmen. They invested in the new industry and thus furthered its development. Films in Yiddish were an important part of Polish cinema before WWII.
Poland was one
of the three main centres
of Yiddish culture
in the world, along with
the United States
and the Soviet Union.
I don't think anyone
should write their
autobiography until
after they're dead.
Sam
Goldwyn
Hollywood's
polish roots
Growing anti-semitism in the 1920s and 1930s led a number of Jewish entrepreneurs and artists to leave Poland. They were fleeing frequent pogroms and the extreme poverty that was spreading throughout Austrian Galicia. Hollywood was among the most popular destinations.
The Vamp Who
Stole Charlie
Chaplin’s Heart
Pola Negri (born Apolonia Chałupiec), a Polish immigrant, was one of the most striking stars of silent cinema. Negri's early life was marked by her father’s departure, who was arrested in 1902 by the Russians and sent to Siberia.
The Łódź
Film
School
The Leon Schiller
National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź (its full name) is believed to be one of the most prestigious film schools in the world:
three of its alumni have won an Oscar!
How does Poland
churn out so many
masterpieces?
The answer is simple: Łódź. Łódź-schooled masters include Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Roman Polański, Andrzej Munk, Krzysztof Zanussi and Marek Koterski. Over the years, the school has continued to educate new generations of filmmakers.
Film as a tool of
propaganda
Social
realism
Building
a socialist
country
Why Martin
Scorsese Shows
Polish Films to
his Actors
‘I cannot explain how your cinema ‒ from Wajda, Polański, to Skolimowski, the whole lot ‒ influenced my cinematic output. But it still does. At some point,
I realised that when I wanted to make actors or cinematographers understand something, I show them Polish films from the 1950s.’ – Martin Scorsese
The Hip
Munk
Famous for Eroica and Bad Luck, Andrzej Munk was another important figure of the Polish Film School. Wajda used stories of heroism and romanticism to help Poles recover from the war. Munk, on the other hand, used rationalism to criticise Polish romanticism.
The man who
wins every award
Andrzej
Wajda
Oscar, BAFTA, Palme d’Or, Silver Bear, you name it - Andrzej Wajda’s films
win everything.
In Poland, he is nothing short of a national hero.
Andrzej Wajda's
Meteoric
Career
Oscar, BAFTA, Palme d’Or, Silver Bear, you name it – Andrzej Wajda’s films win everything. There's no discussion about Polish cinema without mentioning him. (And if you want to mention him, learn to pronounce his name: Ann-jay Va-ee-da.)
Goodbye
Stalin
The term ‘Third Polish Cinema’ appeared
in the mid-1960s to
describe a new wave of filmmakers influenced
by the stabilisation
of the Gomułka years.
The Greatest
Talents of
the 1960s
One of the main currents in Polish film back then was the so-called ‘Third Cinema’. The term was coined by lauded Polish film critic Jerzy Płażewski as a way to describe how the filmmakers debuting after 1965 had brought a youthful new take.
These young filmmakers wanted
to describe their everyday lives,
moral choices, opportunism
and the fear of adulthood.
Polański
Roman
The black sheep of the
film world, he directed Hollywood classics such
as The Pianist, Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby.
When it comes to cinema,
evil is simply a form of
entertainment for me.
Roman
Polański
The black
sheep of the
film world
The biggest name in Polish cinema started off as a child actor in a Kraków theatre. He was discovered by director Antoni Bohdziewicz, who offered him a role in the movie Trzy Opowieści (Three Stories). Soon afterwards the future director starred in Andrzej Wajda's big debut film Generation. It marked the start of Polanski's true path: it inspired him to study filmmaking, which he did at the Łódź Film School.
The cinema of
Moral
Anxiety
In the 1970s, the past no longer interested Polish filmmakers. Now it was
the everyday reality of
the People's Republic of Poland: life in small cities and the countryside, corruption, nepotism,
and the clash between communist ideals and
the problems of a communist state.
Those in power feared all
noble words. Morality was one
of those things that didn't
function without a socialist
adjective glued to it. They
were threatened by references
to [...] values that weren't
endorsed by the communist
party
Janusz
Kijowski
the everyday
reality of
the People's
Republic
of Poland
In the 1970s, the past no longer interested Polish filmmakers. Now it was the everyday reality of the People's Republic of Poland: life in small cities and the countryside, corruption, nepotism, and the clash between communist ideals and the problems of a communist state.
The auteur
of choices:
Krzysztof
Zanussi
Zanussi is associated with the era of moral anxiety, but his work was very much its own thing. As a director, he is not subject to others' tastes or styles.
The HBO
Maestro:
Agnieszka
Holland
Holland works around the world: Germany, France, the UK, Czech Republic and especially the USA, where she has directed episodes of critically-acclaimed TV series such as The Wire, The Killing and Cold Case. In 2010, she was nominated for an Emmy for her work directing the pilot episode of Treme, the HBO series which revisits New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Krzysztof
Kieślowski
What links Amelie, the Netflix series Sense8, Run Lola Run, Iñárritu’s Babel, Malick’s The Tree of Life and Wong Kar Wai’s Eros?
The answer is
Krzysztof Kieślowski:
his works influenced
all of them hugely.
You have to want to make a film
for other reasons - to say something,
to tell a story, to show somebody's
fate - but you can't want to make
a film simply for the sake of it.
Krzysztof
Kieślowski
From
Documentary
to Feature
Filmmaker
Film critic Marek Hendrykowski writes: ‘Documentaries were Krzysztof Kieślowski's first great love.’
The Triple
-trouble
Documentary
Maker
Back then, he was only interested in making documentaries about life during the communist regime. He finally began making feature films after he accidentally made the subject of one of his documentaries look like a fool. The story of a doorman who basks in the glory of his 'power' was an open accusation of a system that demoralises. It captured totalitarianism.
The
Polish
Mafia
Runs hollywood
Cinematography
Many great cinematographers from Poland are the unknown faces behind the visuals of countless box office hits.
This is just the tip
of the iceberg
Andrzej Sekuła, a celebrated Polish-born cinematographer, worked alongside Quentin Tarantino on Pulp Fiction, Four Rooms and Reservoir Dogs, and also brought American Psycho to life. Meanwhile, Janusz Kamiński has been attached to the hip of Steven Spielberg since Schindler's List – they worked together on Minority Report, Munich, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan, just to name a few.
Find out
more about
Polish cinema
on culture.pl
Culture.pl is the biggest and most comprehensive online source of knowledge about Polish culture. It boasts a wealth of articles, artist bios, reviews, essays, synopses, videos and more. For over a decade now, the Culture.pl website has been operated by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute – a national institution working to strengthen Poland's cultural impact and the international reputation of its artists.
http://culture.pl/en/
Credits
Moving Into
The 21st Century:
Game Changers
The cinema scene in Poland is so rich and varied that we didn't quite manage to make fit it all into one guide. Head to this link if you'd like to find out more about contemporary directors.
http://culture.pl/en/article/moving...
Masters
of Polish Comedy
If our film selection was too serious for your taste, don't give up on Polish cinema just yet! Try watching one of these cult comedies to find out what makes Poland laugh.
http://culture.pl/en/article/masters...
Award Winners:
Poland's Best Films
2010-2015
Looking for more film suggestions? We've highlighted some of the top Polish movies from 2010-2015. All of them have received prizes at film festivals around the world.
http://culture.pl/en/article/award...
The Polish School
of Cinematography
Impressed by the long list of outstanding Polish cinematographers we've mentioned? There's more of them! Here is a comprehensive list of the big names of the trade.
http://culture.pl/en/article/the-polish-school...
Polish Film
Composers
Polish film composers have created soundtracks for Stanley Kubrick, Fritz Lang, Francis Ford Coppola, Alain Resnais and Louis Malle, to name just a few. Check which of your favourite soundtracks are Polish!
http://culture.pl/en/article/polish-film...
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MORE
next

Poland Invents
Film Before
Everyone Else

Kazimierz Prószyński
photo: courtesy of Mieczysław Prószyński / www.konradproszynski.pl

In 1893 Lebiedziński, a chemist and amateur photographer, beat the Lumière brothers by two years in developing a machine called the pleograph, which could record short films.


Polish inventors played an important role in the development of cinematography and television. In 1897 Jan Szczepanik, a brilliant inventor referred to as the ‘Polish Edison,’ obtained a British patent for his ‘telectroscope.’ This television prototype could transmit image and sound, thus enabling live viewing of remote images and sounds. With the invention of appropriate technology years later, his concept became reality.

Kazimierz Prószyński, an inventor and constructor of cinematographic cameras, was one of the pioneers of cinematography. As early as 1894, he created the pleograph, one of the first devices to record and display films. This invention allowed him to create several films depicting everyday life on the streets of Warsaw and Paris. In 1909 he also created the aeroscope: the first successful hand-held camera in history. Powered by compressed air, it allowed filmmakers to operate whilst moving, without the use of heavy tripods. Kazimierz Prószyński was murdered on 13th March 1945 in the German concentration camp of Mauthausen-Gusen, as the part of the so-called Intelligenzaktion – the planned extermination of the Polish elite by the Nazis.


Siegmund Lubin (born Zygmunt Lubszyński), an American Jew of Polish origins, also contributed. He is credited with the invention of the first cinema projector. While Thomas Edison patented a kinetoscope that weighed almost a tonne, Lubin's phantoscope weighed a mere 25 kilograms and was altered to be even lighter. In the dog-eat-dog film industry, Lubin became Edison's number one competitor.

Independence
After 123 Years
of Occupation

Krystyna Ankwicz and Mieczysław Cybulski in Cham
by Jan Nowina-Przybylski, 1931, photo: Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

Polish cinematography dates back to the end of World War I, when Poland regained independence following over 120 years of occupation. The large majority of films produced by the burgeoning industry were melodramas and patriotic films.


Polish cinematography developed dynamically during the inter-war period. Over 150 film studios were set up. Among the most important ones were Sfinks, Leo-Film and Falanga. Their yearly production would amount to 30 features and between 100 and 300 shorts. One of the most important films of the period was an adaptation of Eliza Orzeszkowa's novel Cham (The Boor) directed by Jan Nowina-Przybylski, which was shown in 13 different countries.

Jewish
Businessmen
Launch the Film
Industry

The masterminds and pioneers of Polish cinema of the period were Jewish businessmen. They invested in the new industry and furthered its development. Films in Yiddish were an important part of Polish cinema before WWII.


70 of the 170 Jewish films released between 1910 and 1950 were made in Poland. Poland was one of the three main centres of Yiddish culture in the world, along with the United States and the Soviet Union.


Despite increasing economic problems and the worsening political situation (including growing anti-Semitism), the Jewish population counted three million in Poland and the country became a hub for inter-war Jewish cinema.

Hollywood’s
Polish Roots

Growing anti-semitism in the 1920s and 1930s led a number of Jewish entrepreneurs and artists to leave Poland. They were fleeing frequent pogroms and the extreme poverty that was spreading throughout Austrian Galicia. Hollywood was among the most popular destinations. While in Los Angeles, Polish Jews set up the biggest and most important film studios: MGM and Warner Brothers. Broadway was created by, among others, the Shubert Brothers from Wejherowo, Poland.


Sam Goldwyn, best known for being the founding contributor and executive of several motion picture studios in Hollywood, was born in Warsaw as Szmul Gelbfisz. Before he went into the business of films, he was in the glove trade. Samuel Geldfisz became Sam Goldfish, and after setting up Goldwyn Productions with the Selwyn brothers, Goldfish turned into Goldwyn. He knew he had struck gold with Hollywood and wanted the brand to be associated with him. That didn't stop his partners from forcing him to sell his shares. He sold them for a million dollars, an unthinkable sum at the time.


Other Polish immigrants, namely the four brothers Aaron, Hirsz, Szmuel and Izaak Wonsal, would also leave their imprints on history. They first lived in Canada and later moved to the United States where in 1903, wanting to get into the booming film industry, Albert and Sam (Aaron and Szmuel) opened their first theatre, the Cascade, which they rapidly turned into a cinema. A mere four years later, they owned a chain of 15 cinemas and soon expanded into film distribution and rental. In 1918, the Warner brothers bought property and established the film studio Warner Features.

The Vamp Who Stole
Charlie Chaplin’s
Heart

Pola Negri in Mania: Die Geschichte einer Zigarettenarbeiterin
by Eugen Illés, 1918, photo: Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

Pola Negri (born Apolonia Chałupiec), a Polish immigrant, was one of the most striking stars of silent cinema. Negri's early life was marked by her father’s departure, who was arrested in 1902 by the Russians and sent to Siberia. She subsequently moved to Warsaw with her mother, where she enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Ballet.


In 1914, Pola Negri debuted in her first film Niewolnica Zmysłów (Slave to her Senses), directed by Jan Pawłowski. She became the first Polish actress to foster an onscreen image of desire and intrigue. During World War I, Alexander Hertz's films starring Pola Negri ended up on the German market.


Following one of his trips to Europe, Charles Chaplin was asked what he had found interesting. He replied: ‘Pola Negri’. Along with his help, Negri became a Hollywood star. In the summer of 1927, she left for Paris to marry Georgian Prince Serge Mdivani. Her career ended with the beginning of talking films.

How does Poland
churn out so many
masterpieces?

Still from Man on the Tracks by Andrzej Munk, 1956
photo: Boruch Łazarow / KADR Film Studio / Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

Łódź-schooled masters include Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Roman Polański, Andrzej Munk, Krzysztof Zanussi and Marek Koterski. Over the years, the school has continued to educate new generations of filmmakers. In 2014, the Leon Schiller National Film, Television and Theatre School in Łódź (its full name) was ranked among The Hollywood Reporter's Top International Films Schools.


The rebirth of cinema in Poland after WWII is inextricably linked to the Łódź Film School (Państwowa Szkola Filmowa) after it opened on October 8th 1948. Post-war cultural and artistic life in Poland unfolded slowly and had to put up with censorship. Against that backdrop, the Łódź Film School was progressive and innovative, a veritable bastion of artistic freedom.


Lecturers and students followed trends in European avant-garde, read the works of the Theatre of the Absurd, and revered the deep psychological analysis of Witold Gombrowicz and Franz Kafka. It was one of the few places in the country which screened foreign films, European classics and the newest works of the Italian neorealist school. Its cinema rooms could barely hold the masses of students and visitors who wanted to see something unique.

Film as tool
of propaganda

Still from Przygoda na Mariensztacie by Leonard Buczkowski, 1953
photo: Dymitr Sprudin / KADR Film Studio / Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

Shortly after the war, the social role of cinema and its relationship to the government was soon decided upon. The communist regime saw film as a propaganda tool fundamental in building a truly socialist country.


The works of documentary and feature filmmakers were marked by social realism. The first Polish film that was faithful to social realism and displayed a vision of socialism favourable to the ruling class was Jasne łany by Eugeniusz Cękalski. There were many others, including Uczta Baltazara by Jerzy Zarzycki and Jerzy Passendorf from 1954, and Przygoda na Mariensztacie by Leonard Buczkowski from 1953 (the first Polish film in technicolour).


Aleksander Ford's Piątka z Ulicy Barskiej was one of the best films of the 1950s. The director's efforts were awarded at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival.

Why Martin
Scorsese shows
polish films to
his actors

‘I cannot explain how your cinema ‒ from Wajda, Polański, to Skolimowski, the whole lot ‒ influenced my cinematic output. But it still does. At some point, I realised that when I wanted to make actors or cinematographers understand something, I show them Polish films from the 1950s.’ – Martin Scorsese


Out of the ashes of the war, a wave in film arose in the 1950s: the Polish Film School. Its followers set out to create works that would help in coming to terms with the war. Most of its students were from the generation born in the 1920s. The war had interrupted and ruined their young adulthood and they became adamant about showing its consequences on camera.


The artists rejected social realism and what it stood for, having another goal in mind: to free art from excessive romanticism and the use of national myths.

Andrzej
Munk

Andrzej Munk
photo: Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

During the war, Munk and his parents left their hometown of Kraków and moved to Warsaw. Munk worked as a roadworks manager, warehouseman and at times even as a writer. In 1947 he began studying at the National Film School in Łódź, first in the department of cinematography and then in director studies.


When he began his work as a filmmaker, cinema was dominated by social realism – productions were supposed to support government policies and serve as propaganda. Munk's first films were made according to social realist standards. Yet, even though the topics of his movies were imposed by authorities, works such as Destination Nowa Huta! and A Railwayman's Word stood out among the productions of the era.


When Munk switched from documentaries to feature films, he immediately became a leading creator. Eroica and Bad Luck as well as his last unfinished picture The Passenger spoke of Polish history and tradition in an unusual way. Consequently, Munk and Andrzej Wajda became key figures of the Polish Film School.


Munk was awarded multiple times at the biggest film festivals worldwide, such as Venice for A Walk in the Old City of Warsaw (1959), The Men of the Blue Cross (1955), and The Passenger (1964). His last film was also honoured in Cannes in 1964. In Poland, his films Man on the Tracks (1957), Eroica (1958), Bad Luck (1960), and The Passenger (1963) were considered by critics to be the best feature films of their respective years.

Andrzej Wajda
The man who wins
every award

Andrzej Wajda and Jane Fonda holding his Oscar in Los Angeles, 2006
photo: Reuters / Forum

Although they aren't documentary films, his cinematic works are like history books. At the start of his career, his films dealt with the war, then later, with the films Man of Marble and Man of Iron, he showed the Solidarity trade union and the part it played in suffocating communism. He has received worldwide acclaim and has a faithful following in Japan. In 2000, he won the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement.


Even though he has received the most important film awards in the world, Andrzej Wajda ‘s favourite award is… a brick, an unusual prize given to him in Gdańsk in 1977. That year, Wajda came to the Polish Feature Film Festival in Gdynia to present his film Man of Marble. This movie about a bricklayer, an exemplary worker of the Stalinist period, criticised the communist regime by telling the tale of a clash between an individual and the totalitarian system.


The communist authorities would not allow the director to receive any of the festival awards for Man of Marble. However, journalists decided to grant Wajda an unofficial award – a small red brick, signed by all the voting critics. The red brick from Gdańsk now stands between a Palme d'Or and an Oscar on Wajda’s award shelf.

The Greatest Talents
of the 1960s

Still from The Saragossa Manuscript, dir. Wojciech Jerzy Has
pictured: Iga Cembrzyńska & Zdzisław Maklakiewicz,
photo: Polfilm / East News

Its most prominent figure was Jerzy Skolimowski, who in 1964 debuted with his film Identification Marks: None. Besides Skolimowski, the Third Cinema included filmmakers such as Janusz Majewski (The Lodger) and Henryk Kluba (Skinny and the Others). In their films, they chose the creative over the literal, forging entirely new worlds on screen. They also used the tools of documentary cinema, allowing them to create stories that were almost poetical.

 The 1960s was also the era of Jerzy Kawalerowicz, a great visionary nominated for an Oscar for his film Pharaoh, and the period Wojciech Jerzy Has created several remarkable films such as How to Be Loved and The Saragossa Manuscript. It was also when Jerzy Hoffman made his first ventures into feature film – he would go on to make historical epics that brought millions of viewers to cinemas.


Jerzy Hoffman - godfather of Polish period dramas Jerzy Hoffman gained famed in 1969 with his cinematic debut Colonel Wołodyjowski, based on a novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz. The Deluge (1974) ‒ another adaptation of the same author ‒ is considered his greatest achievement. Joanna Hoffman, Steve Jobs’ right-hand woman, is his daughter.


Jerzy Skolimowski is the leading representative of the Third Polish Cinema. He is known for Four Nights with Anna (2008) and Essential Killing (2010). A bit of trivia: he often plays Russian villains in Hollywood blockbusters (of late, in The Avengers and Eastern Promises) and he’s a good friend of Jack Nicholson.


Wojciech Jerzy Has - a lone wolf, Has spoke through his work. His best known films, The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) and The Hour-Glass Sanatorium (1973), are cult classics of world cinema. When Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead first saw the Manuscript Found in Saragossa on an LSD trip, he loved the movie so much that he developed a life-time obsession with getting his hands on its rare full-length version. Other admirers of the film include Luis Buñuel and David Lynch.


Jerzy Kawalerowicz - his first films are neo-realistic. He used the style to poeticise everyday reality. He soon gained recognition as an excellent observer and a portraitist of authentic characters through sensitive visual imagery. He is best known for his films Mother Joan of the Angels (winner of the Silver Palm Special Jury Award at the 1961 Cannes IFF) and Pharaoh (nominated for an Oscar in 1967).

The Black Sheep
of the film world

Roman Polański on the set of Knife in the Water, 1961
photo: Andrzej Kostenko / Studio Filmowe Kadr / Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

The biggest name in Polish cinema started off as a child actor in a Kraków theatre.


He was discovered by director Antoni Bohdziewicz, who offered him a role in the movie Trzy Opowieści (Three Stories). Soon afterwards the future director starred in Andrzej Wajda's big debut film Generation. It marked the start of Polanski's true path: it inspired him to study filmmaking, which he did at the Łódź Film School.


From the beginning, Polański's films were hard to categorise by Polish standards. He wasn't concerned with the same topics as other upcoming directors. His films didn't tackle national traumas and history. He created his own cinematic world, grappling with loneliness and memory, sexuality as a tool of domination, and the relationship between human urges and social roles.


After Knife in the Water in 1962, Polański left for France. His films garnered international acclaim: the FIPRESCI Award in Venice, special mentions in Tehran and Panama, and an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1963 (he lost to Fellini’s 8 1/2). Success allowed him to pursue ambitious projects. After Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac, Polański went to Hollywood, where he created the masterpieces Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown.


Outside of movies, the director has had a grim personal life. In 1968, his heavily-pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered during a home invasion. Nearly a decade later in 1977, he was arrested in the USA and charged with seducing and raping Samantha Geimer, at the time a minor. He spent a year battling in court – Polański famously commented: ‘I was treated like a mouse that a huge bored cat simply plays with.’ He fled the USA hours before sentencing, never to return again. Since then, he has mainly filmed in France, creating highly-praised films such as The Tenant, Tess, Frantic, Venus in Fur and Carnage. In 2003, he won the Oscar for Best Director for his WWII drama The Pianist.

The everyday
reality of the
People's Republic
of Poland

Still from The Illumination by Krzysztof Zanussi, 1972
photo: Renata Pajchel / Tor Film Studio / Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

In the 1970s, the past no longer interested Polish filmmakers. Now it was the everyday reality of the People's Republic of Poland: life in small cities and the countryside, corruption, nepotism, and the clash between communist ideals and the problems of a communist state.


Janusz Kijowski, who coined the term 'cinema of moral anxiety', explained: 'Those in power feared all noble words. Morality was one of those things that didn't function without a socialist adjective glued to it. They were threatened by references to... values that weren't endorsed by the communist party.'


A 1975 speech by Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi during the Filmmakers Forum in Gdańsk marked the start of the new trend. They accused communist leaders of smothering artistic freedom and interfering with public debate on vital social and political issues.


The secret police ended up filing 1,911 pages on Wajda after they started following his every move.

The auteur
of choices:
Krzysztof Zanussi

Krzysztof Zanussi
photo: Jerzy Troszczyński / Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

Zanussi is associated with the era of moral anxiety, but his work was very much its own thing. As a director, he is not subject to others' tastes or styles.


Zanussi's films are regarded as examples of 'auteur cinema'. He wrote the script to almost all his films. In his works, Zanussi raises the perennial problem of love, death, happiness and conscience, looking at how they manifest themselves in the world today.


During his important 1970s period, he made films like Family Life, Behind the Wall, Illumination, Camouflage and Spiral. An archetypal character was borne out of it, one that became the quintessential hero of Zanussi's films: a man facing a choice between values and temptation.

The HBO Maestro:
Agnieszka Holland

Agnieszka Holland
photo: KADR Film Studio / Filmoteka Narodowa / www.fototeka.fn.org.pl

If you know The Wire, The Killing, Treme or House of Cards, then you know Agnieszka Holland.

Not only has she worked on gritty shows, but Holland has also seen tough times in real life. When she was a teenager, her father died during interrogation by the communist police. A few years later, she moved to Prague to study at the FAMU film school where she witnessed the Prague Spring and was arrested for being a dissident.


In 1971, Holland returned to Poland to work with other cinema darlings such as Krzysztof Zanussi and Stanisław Latałło. She also wrote several scripts with Andrzej Wajda before directing her own films, which started winning festival awards. She soon gained notoriety as part of the Polish New Wave. She gained worldwide renown for films such as Angry Harvest (nominated for an Oscar in 1985), Europa, Europa, Olivier, Olivier, The Secret Garden and Washington Square.


Holland works around the world: Germany, France, the UK, the Czech Republic and especially the USA, where she has directed episodes of critically-acclaimed TV series such as The Wire, The Killing and Cold Case. In 2010, she was nominated for an Emmy for her work directing the pilot episode of Treme, the HBO series which revisits New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.


She received another Oscar nomination in 2012 for In Darkness, a true story about a sewer worker who decides to save Jewish lives during World War II. She then made Burning Bush, an HBO mini-series based on the true story of Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in 1969 in an act of protest against military aggression by Warsaw Pact countries against Czechoslovakia. With no signs of flagging, in 2015 Holland directed episodes of the hit US drama House of Cards.

The Triple-trouble
Documentary Maker

Although he’s one of the best known Polish directors in the world, Kieślowski didn't always want to be a filmmaker. When he finally decided to enrol at the Łódź Film School, it took him three attempts. 'I was really stubborn,' he later recalled. 'If the motherfuckers don’t want me, I’ll show them by getting in.'


Back then he was only interested in making documentaries about life in communist Poland. He finally began making feature films after he accidentally made the subject of one of his documentaries look like a fool. The story of a doorman who basks in the glory of his 'power' was an open accusation of a system that demoralises. It captured totalitarianism.


'Well, you made a complete arse of the guy,' Agnieszka Holland told him after the film was premiered. The audience had burst into laughter repeatedly, and Kieślowski had kept sliding lower and lower into his seat. It wasn’t meant to be a comedy.


Film critic Marek Hendrykowski writes: ‘Documentaries were Krzysztof Kieślowski's first great love. Today, when his worldwide successes as a director of feature films have obscured his documentaries, eclipsed them, we somehow forget how much his features owe to his experience as a documentary filmmaker.’


From 1985, he began collaborating with Krzysztof Piesiewicz on feature film screenplays, resulting in lauded titles such as No End, Short Film About Killing, Short Film About Love, The Decalogue, The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colours trilogy. He began to relinquish realistic poetry for the language of mystique. His films gained international praise and won multiple awards.

From Documentary
to Feature
Filmmaker

Krzysztof Kieślowski
photo: Wojciech Druszcz / Reporter / East News

Today, when his worldwide successes as a director of feature films have obscured his documentaries, eclipsed them, we somehow forget how much his features owe to his experience as a documentary filmmaker.


From 1985, he began collaborating with Krzysztof Piesiewicz on feature film screenplays, resulting in lauded titles such as No End, Short Film About Killing, Short Film About Love, The Decalogue, The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colours trilogy. He began to relinquish realistic poetry for the language of mystique. His films gained international praise and won multiple awards.

The Polish Mafia
Runs Hollywood
Cinematography

Andrzej Sekuła a celebrated Polish-born cinematographer, worked alongside Quentin Tarantino on Pulp Fiction, Four Rooms and Reservoir Dogs, and also brought American Psycho to life. Meanwhile, Janusz Kamiński has been attached to the hip of Steven Spielberg since Schindler's List – they worked together on Minority Report, Munich, The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Saving Private Ryan, just to name a few.


Other off-screen talents include Sławomir Idziak, who filmed Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, Andrew Niccol's Gattaca and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Dariusz Wolski was the cinematographer on Pirates of the Caribbean; Paweł Edelman has worked for Polański and on the Oscar-winning Ray; Piotr Sobociński filmed Ron Howard's Taken; and Andrzej Bartkowiak was behind the camera on Speed, Lethal Weapon 4, The Devil's Advocate, Falling Down and Dante's Peak.


Among the younger Polish cinematographers is Michał Englert, who was the cameraman on Arie Folman's Congress, and Magdalena Górka, who did the camera work for I'm Still Here, the 2010 mockumentary film starring Joaquin Phoenix.


This is just the tip of the iceberg. All in all, it seems pretty much undeniable: Hollywood must be controlled by Poland.

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