Polish Film Sector Targets International Market

Cannes Film Festival

Nearly 50 feature films were produced in the country last year.

MOSCOW -- For the last few years, the Polish film industry has been among the strongest in Central and Eastern Europe, largely thanks to its public-sector funding system. However, there are plans to improve the procedure of providing funding for projects in a bid to focus on films with better potential both domestically and internationally.

Last year was quite successful for the Polish film industry in quantitative terms, with nearly 50 feature films produced in the country and the audience figures breaking all previous records and reaching 45 million tickets sold. At the beginning of this year, however, there has been some decline.

“The attendance in the cinemas is slightly lower, compared with last year,” says Maciej Karpinski, international advisor at the Polish Film Institute [PFI]. “But that was an absolutely record-breaking year. And the decline, which we saw in the first quarter of this year, is not dramatic.”

According to Karpinski, while most movies that are successful at the box office are melodramas and comedies, among recent Polish box office champions were at least a couple of serious movies.

“We are happy that at the beginning of this year, we had a highly artistic film, Suicide Room, which participated in the Panorama program at the Berlin International Film Festival and later had almost 800,000 viewers at Polish cinemas,” he says.

Jan Komasa’s feature debut tells a story about Dominik, a high school senior from a successful middle-class family who has 100 days before graduation. He has a hard time conforming with rules imposed on him by both school and society and eventually escapes from real life to the virtual world.

Tine Klint, managing director of the Denmark-based distribution company Level K, which handles international sales for Suicide Room, says that the company is in negotiations with several potential international buyers about the movie.

But can a Polish film work on the global market?

"A foreign-language film is a foreign-language film, so Polish films stand as good a chance as any other,” she says, adding that generally Suicide Room production company, Studio Kadr, tries to adjust to international standards where necessary and without affecting the local market.

Another movie that recently did well in the Polish theaters is Black Thursday, a historic drama about brutal suppression by communist authorities in Gdynya in 1970, directed by veteran Antoni Krauze, which garnered about 600,000 admissions.

“We may say that some of the viewers were organized groups, like students taken to the cinema by their teachers,” Karpinski says. “But there were still many viewers who went to see the film just by themselves because the interest in that historic subject is very strong. These two examples show the broad scope of interest of Polish audiences. One is a film for younger audiences about problems of young people, and the other is a historic drama.”

The budget of the Polish Film Institute, which depends upon the previous year’s national box office, has increased in 2011 by about 25 percent. The organization is to allocate about 90 million Polish zloty [$33 million] to about 40 film projects this year. Of that amount, 80 million zloty [$29 million] is to be provided as non-repayable financial support, and the remaining 10 million [$3.6 million] is to be distributed as loans to be repaid within a two-year period to projects with high box office potential.

However, the number of projects that have applied for funding is also on the rise. “The industry has more public funding than ever before,” Karpinski says. “But, on the other hand, there has been an enormous increase in [the number of] projects that are applying for financial support. Frankly speaking, even with more money it is not easy to support even those projects which deserve it.”

Meanwhile, not all industry players are satisfied with the way PFI, which is responsible for the lion’s share of film funding in the country, chooses which projects to finance.

“The Polish Film Institute has recently been focusing on historical epics which eat up a lot of PFI’s budget,” says Piotr Mularuk, head of Yeti Films. “Not much money is left for other films. Many good projects did not get financing.”

Still, due to the well-established public-sector film founding system, Poland remains an attractive country for foreign producers looking for co-production partners. Still, PFI has recently changed its priorities with regards to co-productions and focuses mostly on those projects where Poland could be a majority partner.    

“Minority co-productions are having a hard time, especially if they are not relevant to the Polish culture,” Mularuk observes. “PFI is definitely cutting down on participating in co-prods. It’s no longer easy money like it used to be some years ago. Now foreign producers looking for money from PFI must bring projects linked with Poland to the table.”

Karpinski agrees:. “Getting financing is a problem in many countries, and gossip has been going around that we have money in Poland. So, we’re getting many requests for funding co-productions. And we have to be more careful than in the past. We can’t simply give money to projects in which we would be just minority co-producers.”
One notable exception is Roman Polanski’s new project Carnage, co-financed by PFI as a minority co-production. Other co-productions, for which PFI funding has been recently approved, are the Polish-British co-production Sanctuary, to be directed by Norah McGettigan, and a co-production with Israel, Cyril’s Song, to be directed by Michael Levinson.

“We have a co-production with Israel called Two, with 2-Team and Pie Films,” Mularuk says. “We are also developing some other international projects. Umshlagplatz deals with the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto through a contemporary supernatural story and Film As Life deals with the eccentric Polish-Jewish director of pre-WWII films, Michal Waszyski. In that film we will attempt to recreate and revive the Bohemian world of pre-WWII Warsaw.”

Elsewhere, PFI is currently considering changes to its system of disbursing funds to film projects. No concrete details are available at this time, but a new system is likely to be introduced as of 2012.

“Maybe, money will be allocated to fewer projects, but there would be more money to an individual project, if it deserves it,” says Karpinski.