Poland's Gdynia Film Festival Plans More Industry Events

Artistic Director Michal Chacinski intends to continue his overhaul of the established event and create cooperation with other European film festivals.

GYDNIA, Poland – Poland's national movie showcase, the Gdynia Film Festival, plans to increase its industry events and broaden activities aimed at both professionals and the public.

Michal Chacinski, the festival's artistic director, appointed three years ago on a radical brief to transform an event many agreed had become stale, wants to increase cooperation with other European festivals and expand the range of master classes, script development and Q&A sessions already introduced.

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"Last year we had 50,000 visitors and strong participation in master classes and other events. We are breaking records for media coverage, with a third more TV and online channels applying for accreditation this year," Chacinksi told The Hollywood Reporter.

"Industry is now fully integrated into the festival," he added.

Chacinski, who courted controversy in his first year by slashing the competition program in half to 12 films, has now established the principle that not every movie made in Poland in the previous year makes the festival grade. Around 40 features are produced in the country each year.

This year there are 14 films in competition and a further 11 in a Panorama section where audiences can vote for their favorite film.

He introduced an international jury, which this year includes British playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton, German film fund chief Kirsten Niehuus and Polish director Agnieszka Holland, and adopted an online ticketing system developed by another Polish festival, Wroclaw's New Horizons, with which Gdynia closely cooperates.

Funding challenges this year when key sponsor Canal+ Poland pulled out meant many new initiatives had to be postponed, including a panel discussion by film festival directors and programmers scheduled this year.

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HBO Poland, which works with many leading film directors and this year produced Agniezska Holland's mini-series Burning Bush, about the self-immolation of Czech student Jan Palach in an 1969 protest against the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet forces, has stepped in as a sponsor.

HBO's involvement will be different from that of Canal+ with a more hands-on approach, such as bringing directors and film crews to the festival for public events, Chacinski said.

There will also be new sections, such as personal retrospectives of European film festival directors, allowing them to choose the films they most loved from recent editions of their events.

And selections of programs from other festivals will be screened, a move that develops an existing section that brings films from New Horizons to Gdynia audiences.

Chacinski acknowledges that his approach to a festival once dominated by Poland's conservative film industry old guard, has ruffled feathers.

One director whose film has been widely seen at international festivals said he was furious when he learned of his Panorama slot, rather than Competition.

"I'm still angry," the director told THR. "But I respect that Chacinski has a set of criteria and concepts and decided my film should not be in competition."

Chacinksi sees his key achievements as opening up the festival to a younger generation of filmmakers without abandoning more established figures.

One absence this year from the festival is veteran director Andrzej Wajda's biopic on Lech Walesa, the founder of the pro-Democracy Solidarity movement, Walesa, Man of Hope.

"The president of the city of Gdansk was closely involved in the production and has the right to screen the film first. It was planned for late August but then the film was invited to the Venice film festival and they moved the date to early October," Chacinski said.

Chacinski is on a three-year contract and a decision is due on its renewal early next month. The signs are he will remain in place and the modernization of the Gdynia Film Festival will continue for its 39th edition next year.

This year's edition, which opened Monday, wraps Saturday.