The Storied History of the Illustrious Łódź Film School
default, The Storied History of the
Illustrious Łódź Film School, Łódź Film School celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2018, photo: Tomasz Stańczak / Agencja Gazeta, center, lodzka-szkola-filmowa-2018-70-lat-fot-tomasz-stanczak_ag_tss_05-10-181012-2_0.jpg
The Leon Schiller State Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź was born in 1958 out of the merger of two Łódź schools that had been running since 1948 – the State Acting School (renamed the Leon Schiller State Theatre School in 1954) and the State Film School.
The curriculum was expanded to include television in 1970, and the school began operating as the Leon Schiller State Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre. From 1949, the school also had a Film Production Centre, where students could work on practical and graduation pieces. From Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa, Telewizyjna i Teatralna im. Leona Schillera w Łodzi 1948–1998: Księga Jubileuszowa (The Leon Schiller National Film, Television and Theatre School 1948-1998: Anniversary Book), ed. by Jolanta Lemann:
6 Must-Know Directors from the Łódź Film School
‘The history of Łódź Film School is a rare contradiction of Norwid’s pessimistic vision’, wrote Andrzej Wajda. ‘A group of amateur filmmakers from the pre-war START [association] was given a chance for action in 1945, and did not waste it. Not only did they establish the Polish post-war film industry, by setting up successive studios in Łódź, Wrocław and Warsaw but, most importantly, they created the Film School, without which Polish cinema would have had no prospects.’
Initially, the Łódź theatre and film schools both educated actors, film directors, and cinematographers. The first film students attended a department which combined directors’ studies and cinematography, but they were later allowed to choose their specialisation.
Poland’s Breakout Film Stars of 2019
‘Both schools were still operating independently of each other’, noted Kazimierz Lewkowski, ‘but the students were excellent, often travelling between Gdańsk (the State Acting School) and Targowa (the Film School), some to visit their sweethearts, others to watch films together, discuss art and technical issues; in short, to engage in a dialogue.’
From 'Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła...', Trans. MB
The first dean of the acting school (then known as the State Theatre School in Warsaw based in Łódź) was the outstanding Polish theatre director Leon Schiller, who modified the drama curriculum and introduced final presentations for the school’s graduates. In 1949, the school moved from Łódź to Warsaw and the State Acting School took its place. Its dean from 1950 to 1952 was Kazimierz Dejmek, the founder of Teatr Nowy in Łódź, and its teaching staff included Halina Gallowa, Jadwiga Chojnacka, Janina Mieczyńska and Emil Chaberski. In the 1950s, Jan Machulski and Jerzy Antczak were among its students. In those days, like in other Polish theatre schools, drama teaching was based on the Stanislavski system devised at the Moscow Art Theatre.
6 Polish Theatre Directors Who Revolutionised the Stage
‘Jan Machulski maintains’, wrote Kazimierz Lewkowski, ‘that referring to the technical rules contained in Stanislavski’s writings saved them from soulless, administratively enforced socialist realism, since they regarded those guidelines as a natural process for professional actors who consciously chose that very system as their creative instrument when preparing for a role’.
From ‘Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa...', trans. MB
‘Many of them’, recalled Jacek Korcelli, ‘could offer us something priceless on top of their knowledge and talent: a sense of inner freedom they had carried over from pre-war Poland, which was hard to come by in the country and later controlled by the authorities. A few of our prominent teachers had connections with the authorities, but I believe they were well aware that young artists needed room to breathe.’
From ‘Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła...', trans. MB
The Art of Distortion: Polish Socialist Realist Cinema
After socialist realism was decreed to be the only valid artistic doctrine, the school and the entire (not only artistic) life of the country were subjected to political pressure. From the battle for its creative freedom, the school emerged perhaps not entirely unscathed, but it managed to put up a fight and resist state indoctrination. Lecturing at the school were pre-war professors, such as the film historian Jerzy Toeplitz, film directors Wanda Jakubowska and Antoni Bohdziewicz, documentary-maker Jerzy Bossak and cinematographer Stanisław Wohl.
The film school’s first students included mature adults who had been through the war, and some went on to become leading directors and creators of the ‘Polish School’ (Andrzej Munk, Andrzej Wajda, Janusz Morgenstern, Kazimierz Kutz), documentary-makers (Kazimierz Karabasz and Andrzej Brzozowski) and renowned Polish cinematographers (Jerzy Wójcik, Witold Sobociński, Mieczysław Jahoda and Wiesław Zdort).
The school was an oasis of freedom in the post-war cultural and artistic landscape of Poland, so it attracted personalities. Its lecturers and students did not hide their interest in the European avant-garde, the theatre of the absurd, Witold Gombrowicz or Franz Kafka. The school became one of the few places in Poland where one could watch masterpieces of world cinema, European classics, as well as the latest in Italian neo-realism.
‘HollyŁódź’: A Film Lover’s Guide to Poland’s Most Cinematic City
Screenings at the stuffy cinemas were bursting at the seams and attended not only by film and theatre students, but also by outsiders. Right from the school’s earliest years, the first illegal jam sessions in Poland were also organised there, featuring musicians such as Krzysztof Komeda-Trzciński, and Jerzy Matuszkiewicz and Witold Sobociński, who were film students at the time.
Following the thaw, the eminent film historian and journalist Jerzy Toeplitz became the dean of the film school in 1957. He had been lecturing there from the beginning, and was its director from 1949 to 1951. Before the war, Toeplitz co-founded the START Association of Art Film Lovers in 1931, together with Wanda Jakubowska and Stanisław Wohl, and he later worked in the British film industry.
In 1958, the Łódź theatre and film schools merged and future actors gained new opportunities to be cast in films while still at school.
11 Polish Movies That Almost Won an Oscar
‘The actors […] were taking part in the process of producing films and, later, television shows as well. […] Not only were they able to test their own and others’ skills on stage, they could also be in films that were shot by eminent directors and teachers, or film students creating real films while studying’.
From ‘Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa...', trans. MB
The Acting and Directing/Cinematography departments began to cooperate increasingly closely as part of the so-called integrated teaching programme devised by Jerzy Toeplitz. It hinged not only on interdepartmental collaboration but above all on the students simultaneously mastering film techniques and technology, whilst broadening their knowledge of the humanities. The aim was to integrate practical and theoretical studies.
A new generation of students joined the school in the mid-1950s, including Henryk Kluba, Roman Polański, Janusz Majewski, Andrzej Kondratiuk and Jerzy Skolimowski. One of the school’s major foreign successes was Roman Polański’s short Dwaj Ludzie z Szafą (Two Men and a Wardrobe), which won an award at the Brussels Expo 1958.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the school’s fame grew both in Poland and abroad. The school then became quite a phenomenon, as its educational methods were seen to give splendid results, with former students becoming outstanding, independent artistic personalities and thus cementing the school’s legendary status.
Polański, Zanussi, Kieślowski - First Films - Watch Online
From the early 1960s onwards, students were also able to make films for television. The Andrzej Munk Award for best debut was established in 1964, and its first winner was Jerzy Skolimowski with his film Walkower (Walkover). This period saw the school challenging the realities of Poland under Communism through its art, and it was the alma mater of future directors of the 'cinema of moral anxiety’, such as Krzysztof Zanussi and Krzysztof Kieślowski, as well as Marek Piwowski, Wojciech Marczewski, the excellent documentary-maker Marcel Łoziński and the cinematographers Adam Holender, Sławomir Idziak and Edward Kłosiński.
The events of March 1968 had a major impact on the school. In the wake of the anti-Semitic campaign, the authorities dismissed one of the school’s founders, its dean, Jerzy Toeplitz, along with some other professors and students. In the early 1970s, Toeplitz was soon invited by the Australian government to help establish an Australian film industry, and he co-founded the first Australian film school. The Leon Schiller State Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1993.
The school regained its balance in the 1970s, and many new talents appeared there. Amongst the new students were Feliks Falk, Filip Bajon, Piotr Szulkin, Juliusz Machulski and Janusz Kijowski in the Direction Department and Zbigniew Rybczyński in the Direction of Photography and Television Production Department (who won an Oscar for his short film Tango in 1983).
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Cinema
Another US Academy Award winner ‘raised’ by the Łódź Film School was Andrzej Wajda, who received an Honorary Oscar in 2000 for his lifetime achievements. The excellent director and teacher Wojciech Jerzy Has also began working with the school and later became its dean from 1990 to 1996. The school began to attract foreign students and opened up to the world as its students won awards and honourable mentions at numerous foreign festivals, such as Oberhausen, Mannheim, Munich, Cannes, Tel Aviv, New York, Huesca, Angers, Poitiers, Kraków and Łódź.
Starting from the 1970s, however, the Acting Department came to favour a style characterised by certain impulsiveness or even 'over-exuberance’. Great importance was attached to training the body, agility exercises, and stage assignments.
Following the intense beginnings of the 1980s (for Poland as for the school), ‘it would have been hard to isolate any specific trend. The phenomenon must have reflected the zeitgeist’, wrote Maria Kornatowska, describing the Direction Department:
And the Winner is… Poles Who Won Oscars
A trend also emerged there that could be described as new-age, although its irrational component was negligible.
From ‘Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa...', trans. MB
The school still continued to educate interesting personalities, however, and former students-turned-directors include Dorota Kędzierzawska, Władysław Pasikowski, Jan Jakub Kolski, Mariusz Grzegorzek, Małgorzata Szumowska and Łukasz Barczyk, as well as Piotr Sobociński and Paweł Edelman in the Direction of Photography Department.
In 1990, the dean, Professor Henryk Kluba, set up Indeks Film Studio, which produced Dorota Kędzierzawska’s Diabły, Diabły (Devils, Devils) and co-produced Władysław Pasikowski’s Kroll and Mariusz Grzegorzek’s Rozmowa z Człowiekem z Szafy (Conversation with a Cupboard Man).
Earlier, in 1982, Dean Kluba had enlisted the outstanding cinematographers Witold Sobociński and Jerzy Wójcik, former students, as lecturers, thus confirming the school’s tradition of sustaining inter-generational connections. Many ex-students became lecturers, including Kazimierz Karabasz, Andrzej Brzozowski, Andrzej Munk, Janusz Morgenstern, Grzegorz Królikiewicz and Mariusz Grzegorzek. Additionally, the school hired staff who were not just excellent teachers but often worked in the business in parallel, providing the students with direct links to the film world.
Another of the school’s distinguishing features was its unique ‘versatility’, as students could also work with leading exponents of other fields of arts and humanities. Lecturing at the film school were, for example, film theorists Bolesław Lewicki and Aleksander Jackiewicz; Władysław Jewsiewicki, a historian of science and technology, Polish–Russian relations, and cinema; the literary theorist and historian Stefania Skwarczyńska, painters Jerzy Mierzejewski (who contributed greatly to training future cinematographers) and Krystyna Zwolińska, writer and scriptwriter Piotr Wojciechowski, theatre directors Bogdan Hussakowski and Zbigniew Brzoza, and many others.
The Łódź school’s teaching methods also influenced the way cinematographers are perceived and treated, as they are often co-creators on par with directors. This educational model, plus the excellent staff of the Direction of Photography Department, account for the current international significance and prestige of Camerimage, the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography, held in Poland since 1993 (initially in Toruń, then in Łódź from 2000, and Bydgoszcz since 2010).
Docile & Conservative: Sex in Polish Cinema
łódź film school
After 1952, the school also began to train producers for film and (later) television. Lecturers on this subject included Antoni Bohdziewicz, Jerzy Mierzejewski, Jerzy Toeplitz and Stanisław Wohl, as well as the pioneering Polish producers Ludwik Hager and Zygmunt Król, then Wiktor Budzyński and Edward Zajiček. From the beginning, the teaching focused not only on elements of economics and management but also the humanities. Nowadays, the courses are management-orientated and provide immediate opportunities for students to cooperate with directors, cinematographers, television producers and actors.
The school currently has four departments: Film and Television Direction, Direction of Photography and Television Production, Film Art Organisation Production, and Acting, whose graduates include many famous, popular screen and stage actors, such as Pola Raksa, Janusz Gajos, Elżbieta Starostecka, Barbara Brylska, Mariusz Benoit, Artur Barciś, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Cezary Pazura and Wojciech Malajkat.
The school also offers full-time, two-stage screenwriting studies as a specialisation in the Direction Department. From 1983 to 2012, the Łódź Film School organised the Theatre Schools Festival, formerly known as the Polish National Review of Theatre School Graduation Works, and after 1993 as the MediaSchool International Film and Television Schools’ Festival. The school also organises the Łódzią Po Wiśle festival in Warsaw, an annual screening of works by its students.
Originally written in Polish; translated by MB, May 2018
In Their Own Voices: The Young Avant-Garde in Polish Cinema