Polish cinema eyes leap to international stage

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To Western cinephiles, Polish cinema may always be synonymous with Criterion Collection favorites like Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy or Agnieszka Holland's "Europa, Europa." But these days, Polish filmmaking is just as popular at the multiplex as at the art house.

In fact, local audiences just can't seem to get enough of their homegrown cinema and have quietly transformed the Polish film market into one of the healthiest in the world.

"On the domestic front, [the situation] is very good," says Maciej Karpinski, deputy director of the Polish Film Institute, which administers public sector support for the national film industry. "We have a very high attendance in cinemas, and public interest in Polish films is really very big."

Karpinski is especially encouraged by a new generation of filmmakers who have scored hits right out of the gate, including Boris Lankosz's comedy "Reverse," which won every major prize at the Polish Film Festival and took in almost 400,000 admissions at the local box office; and Katarzyna Roslaniec's "Mall Girls," a youth-oriented comedy that, despite a cast of complete unknowns, also took in an estimated 400,000 admissions.

"We've had a wave of contemporary psychological dramas, especially made by young people, films that tell stories about young people and their problems in the contemporary life of Poland," Karpinski says. "This is a very interesting tendency, and this genre is preferred by young filmmakers."

He adds that Poland is even producing its first 3D feature this year, "The Battle of Warsaw 1920," a big-budget historic drama directed by veteran helmer Jerzy Hoffman

Insiders agree that domestic success is a good thing, but argue that the time has come to target the global market.

"I think the Polish cinema is at a crossroads and the way we will choose to go will determine its fate in the upcoming years," says Piotr Mularuk, head of Warsaw-based Yeti Films. "I would go for quality and universality, naturally. That's what's missing now."

Ironically, Poland may be a victim of its own success when it comes to international co-productions, another avenue to the world market that many locals would like to explore. "Co-productions are rare," Mularuk says. "Poland is big enough to support its own film business, so, there is little motivation for most people to go out into the world."

"Reverse"
 

Poland's current production boom also creates problems in the financing arena. While public sector funding for the national film industry comes from the Polish Films Institute -- which this year plans to distribute between $20 million and $26 million among selected projects -- many believe the amount is not meeting current demand.

"The number of applications [for financial support] submitted to the Polish Film Institute is growing at a quick pace," Karpinski says. "On the one hand, it is good that there are so many new film projects. But on the other hand, we don't have enough funds to be able to fund all these projects, even those which deserve it. So lately we've had to become much more selective and we've had to reject more projects than before because there are so many of them."

Compounding the problem is the fact that financing from the once-supportive local TV sector has diminished significantly in recent years, and when it does invest the range of projects is limited to genres with strong commercial appeal.

Dariusz Zawislak, CEO of Adyton International, believes that until sweeping changes are made to local funding mechanisms, smaller producers won't be able to take the same risks as major players.

"A good place to begin would be through the implementation of collective insurance for productions co-financed by the Polish Film Institute, including insurance and credit guarantees for small and medium-sized production companies," he says, adding that the PFI or broadcasters could guarantee grants or refinance the costs of loan interests to producers.

Meanwhile, according to Mularuk, international exposure is not going to improve until Polish filmmakers develop more interest in universal themes. "They would have

to go out there and explore the world and its themes," he says. "They would have to understand international audiences and learn to tell good stories appealing to them."
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