Film and theatre director, actor, screenplay writer, film producer. Born in 1929 in Włodzimierz Wołyński (today's Ukraine).
Film and theatre director, actor, screenplay writer, film producer. He has won numerous awards for his achievements in television and theatre production.
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 Polish Television Star Award for his creative contribution to the development of the Television Theatre and television films.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 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: The Master, Voice, Decreet and Notebook. The first of these dramas was filmed by Antczak. The director cooperated with Skowroński while adapting 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 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 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.
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.
In their reviews of Antczak's films, critics noticed the director's adaptations are highly accurate. However, the monumental 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).
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 The Lady of the Camellias and Chopin. Desire for Love, Jerzy Antczak failed to repeat the success of 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 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 Walpurgis Night.
- 1962 - The Swan Song screenplay, film adaptation of Anton Chekhov's play.
- 1962 - The Old Professor (4) in Late By-Passers based on Stanisław Dygat's works.
- 1965 - The Shot,screenplay, based on Aleksander Pushkin's short story. A young officer Sylwio uses a code of honour to humiliate a count during their duel, he does not shoot. He does so in order to come back to an old dispute and demand a duel. Sylwio is presented as a victim of his own pride. Awards: 1966 The Bronze Ramses International Television Film Festival, Cairo.
- 1966 - The Master screenplay by Zdzisław Skowroński. Film version of a previous television theatre production. During the Second World War, an old actor realizes how important his profession is to him. After breaking into a monastery where a group of people were hiding, the German soldiers choose the intellectuals to be executed. The actor has the possibility to survive because his falsified documents say he is a bookkeeper. However, by reciting the Hamlet's monologue he reveals his true identity to the oppressors and consciously chooses death. Awards: 1969 - (1966) Prix Italia, International Festival of Radio and Television Productions Prix Italia, Palermo.
- 1968 - Countess Cosel feature film, screenplay by Zdzisław Skowroński based on Józef Ignacy Kraszewski's novel. "Cloak-and-dragger" melodrama set in the 18th century. Features a story of the king's, Augustus the Strong, mistress who falls out of the king's favour and is detained in the Stolpen fortress.
- 1968 - Countess Cosel television series.
- 1970 - The Nuremberg Epilogue screenplay. Film version of the extended television theatre production which was a pioneering project of the docu-drama genre. The film is a document-based reconstruction of the Nuremberg trial. Awards: 1971 - Golden Prague, Prague International Film Festival; Intervision honorary distinction; Golden Prague, Prague International Film Festival; International Press Award; 1972 - Golden Screen awarded by Ekran magazine.
- 1975 -Nights and Days feature film, screenplay. Film adaptation of Maria Dąbrowska's realist novel set at the turn of the 19th century about a marriage of descendants from the impoverished nobility. Barbara, the main protagonist, suffers from thwarted ambitions and unhappy marriage to Bogumił, workaholic and a model of honesty. Seen from her pretentious perspective, her husband does not meet her expectations as a life partner. Similarly to the novel, the film features a family saga (the couple, their children, and Barbara's brother) against broad social background. It focuses, however, more on the subtle psychological analysis than the analysis of the social transformations vital for the novel. Awards: 1975 - Dziennik Wieczorny Award, Bydgoszcz, readers' plebiscite; 1976 - 1st Degree State Award; team award, UNICRITIC - International Film Critics Association, International Film Festival, Berlin.
- 1977 -Nights and Days television series, screenplay. Film version divided into episodes. Awards: 1978 - Złoty Szczupak / Golden Pike Award and 1st Degree Individual Award of the Chairman of Radio and Television Committee, Polish Television Production Festival, Olsztyn.
- 1994 - The Lady of the Camellias screenplay by Jadwiga Barańska based on a novel by Alexandre Dumas. Melodrama set in the 19th century. It features a story of a hopeless love of a Parisian courtesan. Under the pressure of her lover's father, the titular heroine leaves her beloved and dies in solitude from tuberculosis. The lover discovers the truth about the reasons for her leaving years later.
- 2002 -Chopin. Desire for Love screenplay co-written with Jadwiga Barańska, music selection and production. Love story of the Polish composer and French writer George Sand. The screenplay was based on a conflict between the writer's children, Maurycy and Solange, and the lovers. "The film shows that one must be responsible for the other person who loves him or her. And that is it very difficult not to hurt the other person", said Jadwiga Barańska in an interview (Kino, 7–8/ 2000). Awards: 2003 - Platinum Award for Best Drama, World Fest Independent Film Festival, Houston; Special Prize, Polish Film Festival, Houston.
Author: Ewa Nawój, December 2007; updated: December 2009, July 2016 (ND)