The 28th edition of the Polish Film Festival (Sept 16-20), held in the Baltic resort of Gdynia, turned into the most controversial event since the days when Polish filmmakers battled communist bureaucrats in the 1980's. Only this time the battle was artistic rather than political.
In a decision that drew boos, hisses and scant applause from an audience of Polish film professionals, the jury headed by veteran Polish director Marek Koterski awarded the festival's top prize, the Golden Lion, to Warszawa (Warsaw) directed by Dariusz Gajewski.
Warszawa beat out films from top Polish directors including Julie Walking Home by Agnieszka Holland, Tomorrow's Weather by Jerzy Stuhr and Pornografia by Jan Jakub Kolska.
It was a debut professional feature for the 39 year old Gajewska who also won the prize for Best Director.
Previously, he has worked in television directing documentaries and one independent feature film titled Alarm.
Warszawa, a low budget project produced by TVP (Polish Television) and shot on digital betacam was considered by many film professionals too slight a work for such a major prize.
Gdynia is the annual gathering of Polish film professionals where all the Polish feature production of the previous year is screened and the Golden Lion, is considered by most filmmakers the highest domestic award the Polish film industry can bestow.
Warszawa, which has a documentary look and feel about it, is about a group of characters arriving in the city who all experience it in a different way.
The film also won best screenplay for its co-authors, Dariusz Gajewski and Mateusz Bednarkiewicz, best supporting actress for Dominika Ostalowska, best editing for Jaroslaw Barzan and the special prize of the Polish Filmmakers Association.
While Warszawa left many in the audience shaking their heads in disbelief others, like Roman Gutek who heads top independent distributor Gutek Film, supported the decision of the jury.
"I think this is an important decision. Warszawa is serious European cinema and the jury's decision is in recognition that this herald's a new direction for Polish film," said Gutek.
With a crisis in Polish production last year the festival managed to come up with 20 features although most were low budget affairs backed partially or entirely by pubcaster TVP.
The exception was the opening film When The Sun Was God- An Ancient Tale directed by Jerzy Hoffman. The $3m historical adventure opened the festival before going on wide release this week throughout the country.
The film is the last work by famed cinematographer Pavel Lebeshev who worked on many of Nikita Mikhalkov's greatest films before passing away earlier this year.
Prizes of Polish Film Festival
Golden Lion Best film: Warszawa, Dir:. Dariusz Gajewski
Special Jury Prize :Squint Your Eyes ( Zmruz oczy) Dir: Andrzej Jakimowski
Best Art Direction: Ewa Jakimowska for Squint Your Eyes ( Zmruz oczy)
Best Director: Dariusz Gajewski for Warszawa
Best Screenplay: Dariusz Gajewski, Mateusz Bednarkiewicz for Warszawa
Best by a director: Andrzej Jakimowski for Squint Your Eyes ( Zmruz oczy)
Best Actress: Katarzyna Figura for Ubu The King (Ubu krol) directed by Piotr Szulkin
Best Actor: Krzysztof Majchrzak for Pornografia directed by Jan Jakub Kolski
Best Cinematography: Adam Bajerski, Pawel Smietanka for Squint Your Eyes (Zmruz oczy)
Best Music: Zygmunt Konieczny for Pornografia
Best Supporting Actress: Dominika Ostalowska for Warszawa
Best Supporting Actor: Jan Frycz for Pornografia
Best Sound: Bertrand Come, Katarzyna Dzida-Hamela, Jacek Hamela, Herve Buirette for Pornografia
Best Editing: Jaroslaw Barzan for Warszawa
Best Costumes: Katarzyna Bartel, Ola Staszko for Squint Your Eyes ( Zmruz oczy)
Award of Polish Filmmakers Association for Creative Representation of Contemporary Life
Warszawa, Dir:. Dariusz Gajewski