Poland's Box Office Booming Amid New Shooting Incentive

Cold War Still 1 -Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Protagonist Pictures

The government is seeking to boost the local industry with a generous new incentive that will set up a 30 percent upfront cash rebate for productions that shoot in the country.

The Polish film industry is having a moment.

Back home, the box office for local-language movies is booming. Polish audiences are packing cinemas for action thrillers like Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s Pitbull: Last Dog ($14 million local gross) or Patryk Vega’s Botoks ($13.3 million) and rom-coms with titles like Pretend Fiance ($6.3 million) and Taxing Love ($6 million).

On the art house side, Polish cinema is arguably stronger than it’s been in a generation, thanks to the likes of Pawel Pawlikowski, who directed the 2015 Oscar foreign-language winner Ida and followed up this year with awards-season favorite Cold War, which earned him the best director’s honor in Cannes. Malgorzata Szumowska, who took the top director prize in Berlin for her 2015 dramedy Body, added a Silver Bear to her trophy case this year with Mug, a similarly wry look at modern-day Poland told through the strange tale of a man who undergoes a face transplant and begins to question his own identity.

"I think it’s a particularly important time to be making films in Poland," Pawlikowski tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It’s important to go against the reductive, simplistic historic narratives that we have been sold by the government, to steer clear of ideology and present a more emotional, ambiguous version of the people and our history."

What’s been lacking, until now, has been international production. Only a handful of prominent international titles have shot in Poland the past few years. "We definitely need to catch up with our neighbors," says Radoslaw Smigulski, general director of the Polish Film Institute, who attributes Poland’s international production gap to one simple factor: Money. "Everyone except us has a tax incentive to attract shoots."

Poland, however, will have its very own production incentive in 2019. A new bill moving through parliament in Warsaw will set up a 30 percent upfront cash rebate for productions that shoot in the country. The incentive will earmark up to $54 million per year in tax relief for qualifying productions. Feature films, documentaries, TV series and animated features can apply for the rebate, which applies to local spend. All productions will be required to meet a "cultural qualifying test" — with points awarded for stories inspired by Polish or European history, shooting on Polish locations and using Polish talent in front of and behind the camera.

The incentive, modeled on similar schemes such as Germany’s federal film fund (DFFF), was designed to be compatible with other European initiatives and co-production treaties. The rebate will be capped at about $4 million per project and $5.4 million per applicant per year to ensure no one film, or company, scoops the lion’s share of funding. The Polish Film Institute will manage the incentive and present it to interested producers at AFM on Saturday at the Loews Hotel.

"Poland is a country of a great cinematographic tradition, and the upcoming incentives can further shine the spotlight on Polish talent on the international stage," says Smigulski. "I have no doubt that Poland will quickly become a go-to filming destination in Europe."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 2 daily issue at the American Film Market.