Wim Wenders, Agnieszka Holland Criticize Firing of Polish Film Institute Head Over Letter to MPAA

AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
Warsaw

Magdalena Sroka has been sacked as the head of the public body following allegations of "violations of legal regulations" in the letter.

Wim Wenders and Agnieszka Holland are among more than 600 filmmakers who have written to Poland's culture minister criticizing the dismissal of the head of the Polish Film Institute.

They claim that Polish law only allows the institute head to be dismissed by the government as a whole if it is proven that he or she has broken the law, which they claim is not the case so far.

Magdalena Sroka, who had been in office two years, was fired last week for alleged breaches of professional responsibilities and "violations of legal regulations" in a letter the institute sent to the Motion Picture Association of America.

The letter, addressed to MPAA president Christopher Dodd, sought to procure a license to use parts of the Oscars ceremony devoted to Polish filmmakers for a promotional film the institute intended for use during the Cannes Film Festival. The content of the letter, the ministry of culture claimed, "jeopardized the image of Poland and Polish cultural institutions on the international arena."

In a copy of the letter made available by the ministry to The Hollywood Reporter, it is apparent that some sections stray from strictly professional standards.

In the opening paragraph of the the letter, dated May 18, 2017, an oblique reference is made to the political situation in Poland: "The situation in Poland is again very danger (sic), and we are trying to be as a society, artists, filmmakers together, and have the power of freedom!"

The letter returns to politics in the next paragraph: "The present history of the country is again the crucial thing. it is scary how fast we can turn into absurd censorship, guided by xenophobic nationalists hidden in the shadow of the statue of the Christ, the King of Poland, erasing Lech Walesa from the schoolbooks and call him a betrayal (sic)."

It adds that "many artists now, including Agnieszka Holland, Krystyna Janda and Andrzej Wajda, Pawel Pawlikowski, were put on the black list."

Sroka's dismissal is being disputed by the board of the institute, a public institution that is funded by private sources.

The board agreed that the letter contained "content and form (language)" that it considered "scandalous" but accepted Sroka's explanation that the letter had been written by an employee using a "facsimile stamp of her personal signature."

Sroka told the board she had not known the contents of the letter, but after being familiarized with it, on her return from Cannes last May, fired the employee responsible for the letter immediately.

In an official statement, the board said that it "believes the explanations put forward by Sroka and found them to be sufficient, especially when — after appropriate explanations — the damage connected to the Institute [via] this letter was inconsiderable."

The culture ministry has refused to budge, prompting official protests from the European Film Academy and more than 600 members of Polish filmmakers' associations, including Holland and Pawlikowski.

In an open letter to Piotr Glinski, Poland's Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Wenders, president of the European Film Academy, alleges Sroka's dismissal is a political decision: "What you've done here is an expression of disrespect for culture and artistic freedom. It shows how short-sighted governments are when trying to subjugate culture and art to their own political interests."

Added Wenders: "The Polish Film Institute is financed by private sources and the director can only be dismissed by the government if she has broken the law, which she hasn't."

The mood among filmmakers in Poland — in a year in which people have taken to the streets to defend the independence of the country's judiciary against attacks by the government of the right-wing Justice and Law party — has darkened, industry sources at the Warsaw Film Festival this week told The Hollywood Reporter.

Mike Downey, deputy chair of the EFA and a regular co-producer with Poland, who is also in Warsaw, said: "The institute's board has affirmed that none of the criteria that could justify earlier dismissal have been met. Without doubt, this  action tarnishes international image of Poland and the specter of censorship raises its ugly head again."

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