The tragic fate of Warsaw during WWII is known to all, but surprisingly few foreigners are familiar with the heroic resistance put up by Poles during the 1944 Uprising. Culture.pl put together a series of films that will spare our readers having to pore over history books.
The impact of the war years and the brief, devastating Warsaw Uprising continues to affect contemporary Poland and its filmmakers, musicians and other artists. This shortlist of contemporary films that make use of new technologies to spotlight the Uprising indicates how the present generation confronts the past and the desperate battle that forced Poland to rebuild its capital from complete devastation. We couple these summaries with a brief historical timeline to illuminate the pedagogic competence of the films.
1.Warsaw Uprising - Jan Komasa, 2013
Warsaw entered its fifth year of German occupation in August 1944. However, with the help of the Allies and the Red Army’s offensive against Nazi forces, the perspective of liberation finally seemed feasible. The underground Armia Krajowa – known in English as the Polish resistance Home Army – organized Operation Tempest, an endeavor to make Warsaw Polish again.
For those interested in historical footage rather than reenactment, Komasa’s film is a must. The award-winning director of Suicide Room created this non-fiction war drama from over a hundred clips of archival black-and-white footage shot by two brothers in August and September 1944 chronicling the Uprising (see the end of our list for his forthcoming feature treatment of this topic). With the aid of historians, Komasa selected over 100 clips from six hours of the vintage film material to colourize and splice together to follow the brothers' tale of the Uprising. As the original footage was silent, the filmmakers used lip-reading to re-create the action's missing dialogue.
'The Warsaw Uprising as we known it is no longer black and white,' says the voice-over in the trailer.
Each film segment required detailed analysis to identify where in Warsaw the shot was taken and the people who were in it. With the help of their Facebook page, the creators requested help in accurately identifying their rare subject material. Warsaw Uprising premiered during Uprising commemorations in August 2013 and will receive wider distribution in 2014.
2. There Once Was a Child - Leszek Wosiewicz, 2013
On August 3rd, 1944, the Home Army succeeded at capturing several districts of Warsaw. Nevertheless several key areas of the city, like bridges and transportation hubs, remained under German control. In various aspects, the city gradually declined throughout the occupation, prompting the formation of a civilian resistance Army, with over 4000 women and children in its ranks for lack of men in fighting condition.
Wosiewicz’s film, There Once Was a Child / Był sobie dzieciak [editor's translation] portrays a young boy is confronted with important life lessons against the backdrop of the Uprising. An aspiring poet, the boy refuses to fight alongside the Polish insurgents. When he meets a woman accused of cooperating with the Germans, their fates intertwine. Although their motivations are different, they share the same goal - to enter Warsaw on Day 12 of the Uprising.
There Once Was a Child / Był sobie dzieciak opened in cinemas across Poland on August 1st, 2013.Wosiewicz gained acclaim for his film Kornblumenblau (1989), another film that presents Holocaust trauma in a daring, innovative way.
3. August Sky. 63 Days of Glory - Irek Dobrowolski, 2013
Using two captured German tanks, the elite Home Army battalion Zośka freed about 350 Jews from the notorious Gęsiówka prison. From August 5th to 7th, 1944, Germans counterattacked via air and ground artillery to force open a west-east corridor through the city. In accordance with Himmler’s order to spare no persons, the Germans executed about 65,000 men, women and children in the Wola and Ochota districts.
A cinematic tribute to young Poles who fought in the Uprising, August Sky. 63 Days of Glory utilizes a decidedly contemporary approach. Director Irek Dobrowolski, the son of an insurgent, weaves together interviews with living witnesses and recently discovered archival footage. His multi-thread film employs professional actors, war veterans in the roles of insurgents and the rappers Bilon (Maciej Bilka) and Wilku (Robert Darkowski) from the popular hip-hop bands Hemp Gru and Molesta Ewenement. Showing that Polish hip-hop is affected by the past too, the rapper Bilon appears on the soundtrack with the song August Sky.
August Sky. 63 Days of Glory opened in cinemas in Poland and internationally September 13th, 2013.
4. Baczyński - Kordian Piwowarski, 2013
In the last two weeks of August 1944, Poles captured several German strongholds in the city but failed in all major efforts to connect center and northern districts and break the Old Town siege. Stalin refused Churchill and Roosevelt’s pleas of help for the “handful of criminals in Warsaw.” From August 20th to 25th, 1944, an uprising of the French resistance battled to successfully liberate Paris.
Mixing feature-film and documentary approaches, Piwowarski’s film provides a biography of Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, one of the famed Polish poets of the 20th century and a soldier in the insurgent Home Army who died on the Uprising's fourth day.
Baczyński is among the most renowned representatives of the Generation of Columbuses - the generation born in newly independent Poland, which regained statehood in 1918 with the Versailles Treaty. Their adolescences were shattered by the Second World War (Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II, and Stanisław Lem, the great sci-fi novelist, were also among this group). He published his first poem at the age of 15 in 1936. After 1939, his artistic vision began to express the tragedy of the individual. An active member of the Home Army and major military component of the Polish underground state through the war years, Baczyński became the most-celebrated poet of fighting Warsaw, and an early martyr to the cause.
Pairing biography with an essay about poetry and WWII documentary with a study of youth and heartfelt courage, Piwowarski's film blends video-clip style with the talking heads characteristic of documentaries, while staging scenes and stylising war-time images and black-and-white photographs from the album Generations.
5. Coming Closer - Michał Nekanda-Trepka, 2012
When the Warsaw Uprising collapsed in September 1944, the Germans evacuated survivors then methodically completed their destruction of the city. The vicious 18-day house-to-house battle for the Old Town ended on September 2nd with insurgents retreating to the city center via sewers and with further mass executions of civilians by the Nazis. From September 3rd to 10th Germans recpatured the main riverside district, Powisle, and effectively cut off insurgents from the Vistula River.
Some six decades later, thousands of photographs from these implementations were discovered among the Luftwaffe archives at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. These aerial shots of the occupied capital taken by the German air force and photos of the city's inhabitants provide a visual spine for Nekanda-Trepka's film. Coming Closer includes accounts of insurgents, civilians and Wehrmacht soldiers who, as young boys, were deployed in Warsaw in August 1944 to help fight the most intensive, organized revolt against the Germans that occurred in occupied Europe.
6. City of Ruins - Damian Nenow, 2010
The Red Army captured the right bank Praga district on September 15th, 1944. Polish First Army units under Soviet command established bridge-heads on the left bank but lack the support to save the Czerniaków district. On September 18th, a massive mission by US Air Force B-17 Flying Fortresses brings supplies after Soviets relent and grant clearance for refueling at their airfields. The Battle of Mokotov, the southern district, ends on September 27th with a capitulation after Germans agreed to observe the Geneva conventions and cease on-the-spot executions.
In City of Ruins, a bird's eye view of Warsaw in acutely computer-animation simulates the city's grim, abandoned remains seen in spring 1945. The short film reconstructs a reconnaissance flight, its pattern similar to that of B-24 bombers that dropped munitions and aid packages for city residents - the only material assistance the battling city received from the West.
Some 30 artists labored for a year on the project, using 100 computers that required two months to render the virtual images. Over 600 Soviet photographs taken in shattered postwar Warsaw provided a model for the film's painstaking precise representations, along with two aerial maps from 1945 and 1947 provided by Polish Army cartographers and thousands of other photographic materials. According to Michał Gryn, the head of the project at animation specialists Platige Image, it was a special challenge to "re-create" bridges blown up by the Germans and the temporary pontoon bridges used as the Soviet military moved toward Berlin. The film is now a centerpiece at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, and leaves an indelible impression of what the survivors endured.
7. Hardkor 44 - Tomasz Bagiński
After 63 days of battle, all fighting ceased at 8:00 pm on October 2nd, 1944. The Home Army under Gen. Komorowski surrenders to Gen. von dem Bach who together reach a capitulation treaty. In the following days over 15,000 insurgents go to POW camps and over 5,000 wounded soldiers to hospitals. All remaining inhabitants were expelled from the city. In two months of fighting and mass murders, about 17,000 insurgents and over 200,000 civilians were killed.
Contemporary master of animation Tomasz Bagiński sends a strong message with his animated reference to the Uprising, using video-game-like characters and sequences in telling a tale of "freedom, [...], love, hope and... WAR." Baginski says his animation will be a cross between the films The Dirty Dozen, Aliens and 300. The creator of the Oscar-winning Cathedral presents an action-filled representation of the Germans as cyborg-like creatures attacking the inhabitants of Warsaw. Unfortunately, the big-budget production is on hold, and it remains to be seen whether or not it will be completed.
8. Warsaw 44 - Jan Komasa, 2014
Incensed by defeat, the Germans defied the terms of the capitulation treaty and destroyed all that remained of Warsaw. With a methodical series of dynamite attacks and the burning of houses by street, the Nazis destroy nearly 90 per cent of the city, leaving Warsaw a sea of ruins by January 1945.
As previously mentioned, Komasa is again at work with this film focusing on the bravery of young Poles during the Uprising. Depicting the sympathetic side of the Polish insurgency, it will "reflect modern issues and concerns, concentrating on the relationships between the mostly young men and women," as the director stated in the Hollywood Reporter.
Komasa was invited to direct Warsaw 44 by its producer, Akson Studio, with a budget estimated at 24 million PLN (eight million USD). In an interview with the magazine Przekroj, Komasa commented on his initial conception:
I read everything that I could about the Uprising, I spent hours on the Web, I visited the Warsaw Rising Museum, I arranged different meetings with insurgents. That's when the idea for the script, centered around a triangle of feelings between Sebastian, Biedronka and Kama, came up.
His team includes cinematographer Marian Prokop, composer Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz and costume designer Dorota Roqueplo, known for her work on Lech J. Majewski's The Mill and the Cross and on Suicide Room. Warsaw 44 is scheduled to premiere at the National Stadium in Warsaw August 1st, 2014, marking the 70th anniversary of the Uprising.