As the T-Mobile New Horizons film festival (July 19-29) kickstarts the Polish Days initiative, Marcin J Sobczak explains how government support and an emphasis on co-productions is giving the Polish film industry a stronger international standing.

For the first time, local films will get their own spotlight at this year¹s T-Mobile New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw. The organisers say the time is right for the initiative because the Polish industry is in such good health, with more attention being paid to Polish films internationally. Titles to screen this year include You Are God by Leszek Dawid and Oblawa by Marcin Krzysztalowicz.

“The number of films made in Poland has been going up every year since the creation of the Polish Film Institute [in 2005],” says the festival¹s artistic director, Joanna Lapinska. “Currently, it’s around 50 films each year. There is a wide variety among them - from commercial hits to auteur cinema, on which we would like to focus at Polish Days [see sidebar, below]. We will present films in different stages of production, from pitching films in development, to works in progress and finished films. That way we can keep an eye on the whole production chain and see what’s coming up.”

Recent Polish hits include Jacek Borcuch’s All That I Love, a music drama set in the Solidarity era that was selected for Sundance 2010; Marcin Wrona’s arthouse crime thriller The Christening, which was a popular selection at festivals including San Sebastian and Toronto; Agnieszka Holland’s well-sold Nazi-occupation tale In Darkness, which was nominated for an Oscar; and Jan Komasa’s Berlinale 2011 Panorama pick Suicide Room.

The Polish Film Institute and the Film Commission Poland are the two main bodies that support production efforts for both local and incoming foreign shoots. There are also plenty of private foundations and companies interested in financially supporting film-making or in advertising their brands in films.

‘The number of films being made in Poland has been going up every year since the creation of the Polish Film Institute in 2005’

Joanna Lapinska, T-Mobile New Horizons

The Polish Film Institute is focused on supporting Polish film-makers, both administratively and financially. The institution oversees the government’s budget for film support - stable for the last few years at around $16.2m annually. Most funding has traditionally gone to Polish feature films, but recently more and more grants have been given to the growing number of co-productions. To qualify for financial support from the institute as a foreign production company, at least one Polish producer must be on board and 80% of the film’s budget must be spent in Poland.

Producers from Poland and Germany can also apply for up to $37,000 in funding for the development of film projects from the Polish-German Co-Development Fund. The fund is in partnership with Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung.

Challenging times

In spite of the positive effects of this kind of funding, critics say it is more difficult to get small independent films made, especially for film-makers with no track record.

“There is always a limit beyond which local productions just stop being profitable and some of the projects cannot find funding, especially those with a higher budget,” says Robert Balinski, international co-productions project manager at the Polish Film Institute. “International co-productions allow creators to share the financial risk and to step into the real [heart of] European cinema with their movies and benefit from everything good the European market has to offer, including festivals and distribution.”

He continues: “The Polish Film Institute is not as generous as it was, but we will not give up in our efforts to finance and support the Polish co-production sector. We are waiting for a moment of change, when Polish films will be in competition at the most important film festivals.”

New Horizons’ Lapinska adds: “I wouldn’t say Polish film is fashionable in the same way that Romanian or Argentinian film is. Still, there are more and more interesting productions coming from Poland - we had a film in Rotterdam competition this year [It Looks Pretty From A Distance] and in the Berlinale Forum [Secret]. Poland is also a strong co-production partner, as seen by the recent success of In Darkness, Crulic: The Path To Beyond [which won the best feature award at the recent Annecy International Animated Film Festival] or Ari Folman’s upcoming The Congress.”

Recent co-productions also include Malgoska Szumowska’s Elles starring Juliette Binoche (with France and Germany), Jerzy Skolimowski’s Venice award-winning drama Essential Killing starring Vincent Gallo (with Norway, Ireland and Hungary), Piotr Mularuk’s thriller Yuma (with the Czech Republic) and Andrzej Jakimowski’s English-language Blind Watching, starring Edward Hogg and Alexandra Maria Lara (with France and Portugal).

Foreign affairs

Meanwhile the Film Commission Poland, with offices in Krakow, Lodz and Silesia, supports film-makers and represents Poland at foreign film markets.

“The Film Commission Poland offers professionally prepared and easily accessible information about the Polish film market designed for foreign artists,” says Rafal Orlicki, Film Commission Poland’s representative.

“The institution is also an intermediary that supports finding locations, studios, directors of photography, etc. The commission maintains a Polish site and database of companies and has access to the databases of film professionals. The Film Commission Poland also organises ‘virtual scouting’.

“The Polish film market has got to the point where producers have a great range of possibilities. Still, it would be great if Poland could offer more tax discounts for film-makers and development opportunities.” Poland does not currently have any tax credit/rebate for film-making, as seen in most other European countries.

Poland already offers top-quality facilities at all stages of production. One of the best known is Alvernia Studios [pictured] near Krakow, which is involved in international co-productions such as Amy Heckerling’s Vamps and Nicholas Jarecki’s financial drama Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere, Tim Roth and Susan Sarandon.

“We are one of the most modern film laboratories in the world, with expanded DI, VFX and sound studios,” says Alvernia spokesperson Anna Dziedzic. “Moreover, we are trying to be up to date with the latest technologies. In the near future, we will provide motion-capture services with an option of remote management.”

Opus Film in Lodz is known for its talented crew and co-ordination abilities. Post-production companies in Poland also include The Chimney Pot and Platige Image, founded by the great Polish animator Tomasz Baginski.

Spotlight on New Horizons

The 12th T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival in Wroclaw will present around 440 films. Some 14 new titles (including The Double Steps by Isaki Lacuesta, and Dominga Sotomayor’s Chilean road movie Thursday Through Sunday) will compete for the Grand Prix, while feature-length documentaries will go head to head in the Films on Art International Competition.

There will also be retrospectives of works by Dusan Makavejev, Ulrich Seidl, Carlos Reygadas, Peter Tscherkassky and Witold Giersz.

Polish Days (July 21-23) is a new event which will present the latest Polish films to the international industry. “We wanted to capitalise on the great industry presence we’ve been enjoying in Wroclaw in previous years and offer the Polish industry a place to showcase their works at closed screenings,” says artistic director Joanna Lapinska.

Screenings include You Are God by Leszek Dawid and Oblawa by Marcin Krzysztalowicz. Pitches will include Andrzej Zulawski’s Dark Matters and Bartek Konopka’s The Mute.