Poland has produced world-class filmmakers such as Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, The Piano) and Oscar-winning cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, ASC, who has shot most of Steven Spielberg’s films—including Schindler’s List on location in Poland.But with all the political upheavals that occurred in Eastern Europe over the last 10 years, Poland has had to radically rethink the manner in which its film industry produces and distributes films and animation. Under the communist regime, the state supported the film industry, and socialist Europe, especially the Soviet Union, provided a ready market. According to Marcin Lunkiewicz of Poland’s Se-ma-for Studios, Polish studios like Se-ma-for churned out these films. Among the filmmakers who grew in this system were Polanski in the ’60s and Zbigniew Rybczynski in the ’80s. The latter made the animated Tango, which won an Oscar.In the beginning of the 1990’s state sponsorship was discontinued. With that investment gone, Polish production plunged. “Poland was going through a serious crisis, making only five films a year,” says Lunkiewicz. “In theatres 90 percent of the repertoire was American films. It made the whole film business unprofitable.” Se-ma-for was able to survive liquidation because in 1999 a group of employees officially set up a production to continue the studio’s tradition of producing animated material, especially puppet films. The company is facing the future by meeting all kinds of production challenges, from traditional cartoons and puppet animation, through experimental techniques, to live-action films, while offering a range of additional options, including computer graphics.According to the publication Polish Cinema 2005, television supports some of the Polish film industry, but is mostly involved in producing film series, sitcoms, soap operas and reality shows. Still, Polish production volume, although remaining low, is moving up from the early ’90s with 19 new films released in 2004 and more on the slate for 2005, according to Andrzej Kolodynski, editor of Kino magazine. But local production is challenged both by limited funds and by the need to compete in a global marketplace dominated by Hollywood blockbusters. It also has to contend with numerous economic incentives from other European countries like tax credits and rebates designed to attract production.Although currently no financial rebates are offered to lure production to Poland, the associations of producers operating in the Polish audiovisual market (KIPA—National Chamber of Audio-Visual Producers; SFP—Polish Filmmakers Association) are trying to make politicians aware of the need to develop economic incentives to support the sector, not only for its cultural significance, but because of its potential for economic development. In 2005 the Polish parliament passed a bill that lets money supporting a particular film production rise fivefold, up to 100,000 zlotys. It will allow filmmakers access to money from the Polish Film Institute as well as European Union institutions. International companies can find lower production and post costs in Poland. Lack of large orders has contributed to depressing the cost of producing animation in Poland to below what it was 10 years ago, according to Eva Sobolewska of TV Studio of Animation Film in Poznan, a company primarily engaged in making 2D animation films for children commissioned by Polish public television. “Compared with the ‘old’ European Union countries, our price is on average 50 percent lower,” says Sobolewska. “The cost of animation production in Poland should be attractive and cost-effective to American producers.” There are plenty of young, talented and educated filmmakers determined to work hard, according to Lunkiewicz. Most of them speak English or another language. What is more, wages are about four to six times lower in Poland than in Western Europe, which means lower production costs without sacrificing quality. Award-winning craftspersons in Poland include costume designers Magdalena Biernawska-Teslawska and Pawel Grabarczyk (Quo Vadis), production designer Janusz Sosnowski (Quo Vadis, Sexsmission), cinematographer Lukasz Kosmicki (Street Games, Poznan56) and writer/director Slawomir Fabicki, who shared a 2001 Oscar nomination with cinematographer, Bogumil GodfrejÃ³w for the child-abuse drama, Meska sprawa (A Man Thing).Another international breakout is Tomek Baginski, a writer, director, animator and visual effects artist with Platige Image, probably the most well-known visual effects and animation studio in Warsaw. Located in a vaulted Russian-era military post now converted to more artistic ventures, the studio is a smaller version of its Western VFX counterparts. Baginski received a Best Animated Short Oscar nomination (2003) and Best of Show (2002) at Siggraph for his film Cathedral. He also received Jury Honors for Fallen Art, an animated short that premiered this year at Sundance that provides a disturbing commentary on war.Despite uncertainty in the industry, this new breed of Polish filmmakers is emerging as a talented force. Filmmaker Malgosia Szumowska’s first feature, Happy Man, received recognition from Variety, and her Stranger–in which a young woman strives to introduce the world to her unborn child–premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Her crews are made up of local craftspersons, including some who have branched out internationally. Szumowska met her cinematographer Michal Englert at film school, “the same school as Kaminski. We grew up together as filmmakers. Now he’s doing a big French-German co-production in the Himalayas. A lot of students from the DP department are working in Hollywood.”These filmmakers have not only learned how to expand their experience but also how to tap into EU co-production deals to gain financing. The Polish film industry has a long tradition of training students. Universities there have been developing film study programs, including the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and Lodz University. The radio and television department at the Silesian University in Katowice boasts well-known graduates. The animation department at the Academy of Art in Warsaw focuses on computer technology. The Academy of Film, Television and Theatre in Lodz has educated numerous film notables, including directors Polanski and Krzysztof Kieslowski (Three colors: Red).Young filmmakers such as Anna Kubik, who graduated from the Academy in 2002, frustrated by limited opportunities and budgets, often decide to work abroad on higher-caliber projects. Kubik recognizes the work of her Polish colleagues. “Sadly it is still only connected to TV and commercials, but it should be enough to take a look and judge if they could handle bigger productions. Warsaw could become another Prague,” she says. According to the Polish Film Office, permits are not needed for shooting. Permission from the private property owner is enough, although large-scale shoots do need local authorization. Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow, Poznan and Wroclaw are main production centers, with published resources of film and video service companies. Publishing house Montewideo issues a yearly catalogue of Polish audiovisual companies and the film office itself is a mine of useful information for filmmakers.
Written by Mary Ann Skweres