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Poland on Monday remembered the nation’s oldest and most revered filmmaker, Andrjez Wajda, after news of his death Sunday evening at the age of 90.
Wajda, who worked until the end — completing Afterimage, a biopic of avant garde artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski earlier this year — died in hospital after a brief illness.
His death left Poland’s film industry in shock. Michal Kwiecinski, who produced Afterimage as well as three more of the director’s recent films, Katyn, Sweet Rush and Walesa: Man of Hope, told The Hollywood Reporter: “We are deeply moved by the sudden and unexpected news of Andrzej’s passing away.”
He continued: “We were planning the next presentations of his latest film, Afterimage, with him. This was a film he was very keen to show and discuss with people due to its political relevance.” Kwiecinski added: “We are in a deep sorrow and just hope that his wisdom and insight will continue guiding us through films now.”
Afterimage had its world premiere in Toronto last month and is Poland’s submission in the best foreign-language film Oscar race. The film traces the decline and death of Strzeminski (played by Boguslaw Linda), an artist and teacher pushed out of his job by communist authorities for refusing to bow to their demands that his work must serve political ends. It’s a story in which Wajda clearly saw parallels with today’s Poland, where a right-wing government has provoked controversy by extending control over state television and introducing draconian plans to restrict abortions.
Wajda was due to present Afterimage at the Rome Film Festival and had been keenly following the progress of his film, which two weeks ago was announced as Poland’s submission to the Oscars.
Gazeta Wyborca, Poland’s leading quality daily newspaper, led with news of the death of the filmmaker, under a headline quoting one of Wajda’s famously staunch statements on the duty of artists to resist totalitarian regimes.
Polish state television came under criticism on Twitter, though, as users complained that broadcaster TVP had led its morning newscast not with Wajda’s death, but with a story looking at the Smolensk air disaster in 2010 that killed the then-Polish president and more than 90 members of his entourage en route to a state visit to Russia.
Born in 1926, Wajda made more than 40 films during a career spanning 60 years, many of them inspired by the turbulent times through which he lived, including wartime-set Kanal and post-war stories Man of Marble, Man of Iron and Kaytn.
Although shortlisted for an Academy Award four times, Wajda never won the coveted trophy, although in 2000 he was awarded an honorary Oscar for his outstanding contribution to cinema.
The Berlin International Film Festival, which screened many of Wajda’s films, on Monday paid tribute to the filmmaker. In a statement, festival director Dieter Kosslick said: “The film world has lost a great artist who consistently renewed the cinematic arts, even in his advanced years. A committed filmmaker, he grappled with the history of his native country and always made his stance clear. Andrzej Wajda shaped Polish cinema, and enriched the film landscape as a whole.”
Wajda’s funeral is expected to take place early next week in Krakow, with a public service followed by a private burial.
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