Cinema of Poland

Cinema of Poland

Film festival Off Plus Camera in Kraków, 2012
Number of screens 1,122 (2011)[1]
  Per capita 3.2 per 100,000 (2011)[1]
Main distributors United International Pictures 26.8%
Forum Film 12.8%
Imperial Cinepix 11.9%[2]
Produced feature films (2011)[3]
Fictional 32 (62.7%)
Animated 1 (2.0%)
Documentary 18 (35.3%)
Number of admissions (2011)[4]
Total 39,663,222
  Per capita 1 (2012)[5]
National films 11,624,566 (29.3%)
Gross box office (2010)[4]
Total PLN 703 million
National films PLN 43.5 million (6.2%)

The history of cinema in Poland is almost as long as history of cinematography, and it has universal achievements, even though Polish movies tend to be less commercially available than movies from several other European nations.

After World War II, the communist government built an auteur based national cinema, trained hundreds of new directors and empowered them to make films. Filmmakers like Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Agnieszka Holland, Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Żuławski, Andrzej Munk impacted the development of the cinematography. In more recent years, the industry has been producer-led with finance being the key to a film being made, and with a large number of independent filmmakers of all genres, Polish productions tend to be more inspired by American film.


Early history

The first cinema in Poland (then occupied by the Russian Empire) was founded in Łódź in 1899, several years after the invention of the Cinematograph. Initially dubbed Living Pictures Theatre, it gained much popularity and by the end of the next decade there were cinemas in almost every major town of Poland. Arguably the first Polish filmmaker was Kazimierz Prószyński, who filmed various short documentaries in Warsaw. His pleograph film camera had been patented before the Lumière brothers' invention and he is credited as the author of the earliest surviving Polish documentary titled Ślizgawka w Łazienkach (Skating-rink in the Royal Baths), as well as the first short narrative films Powrót birbanta (Rake's return home) and Przygoda dorożkarza (Cabman's Adventure), both created in 1902. Another pioneer of cinema was Bolesław Matuszewski, who became one of the first filmmakers working for the Lumière company - and the official "cinematographer" of the Russian tsars in 1897.

Museum of cinematography in Łódź

The earliest surviving feature film, the Antoś pierwszy raz w Warszawie (Antoś for the First Time in Warsaw) was made in 1908 by Antoni Fertner. The date of its première, October 22, 1908, is considered the founding date of Polish film industry. Soon Polish artists started experimenting with other genres of cinema: in 1910 Władysław Starewicz made one of the first animated cartoons in the world - and the first to use the stop motion technique, the Piękna Lukanida (Beautiful Lukanida). By the start of World War I the cinema in Poland was already in full swing, with numerous adaptations of major works of Polish literature screened (notably the Dzieje grzechu, Meir Ezofowicz and Nad Niemnem.

During the World War I the Polish cinema crossed borders. Films made in Warsaw or Vilna were often rebranded with German language intertitles and shown in Berlin. That was how a young actress Pola Negri (born Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec) gained fame in Germany and eventually became one of the European super-stars of silent film.

After WWII

In November 1945 the communist government founded the film production and distribution organization Film Polski, and put the well-known Polish People's Army filmmaker Aleksander Ford in charge. Starting with a few railway carriages full of film equipment taken from the Germans they proceed to train and build a Polish film industry. The FP output was limited; only thirteen features were released between 1947 and its dissolution in 1952, concentrating on Polish suffering at the hands of the Nazis.[6] In 1947 Ford moved to help establish the new National Film School in Łódź, where he taught for 20 years.

The industry used imported cameras and film stocks. At first ORWO black and white film stock from East Germany and then Eastman colour negative stock and ORWO print stocks for rushes and release prints. Poland made its own lighting equipment. Because of the high costs of film stock Polish films were shot with very low shooting ratios, the amount of film stock used in shooting the film to length of the finished film. The equipment and film stock were not the best and budgets were modest but the film makers received probably the best training in the world from the Polish Film School. Another advantage was that as Film Polski was a state organisation film makers had access to all Polish institutions and their cooperation in making their films. Film cameras were able to enter almost every aspect of Polish life.

The first film produced in Poland following the World War II was Zakazane piosenki (1946), directed by Leonard Buczkowski, which was seen by 10.8 million people (out of 23,8 total population) in its initial theatrical run.[7] Buczkowski continued to make films regularly until his death in 1967. Other important films of early post-World War II period were The Last Stage (1948), directed by Wanda Jakubowska, who continued to make films until the transition from communism to capitalism in 1989, and Border Street (1949), directed by Aleksander Ford.

By the mid 1950s, following the end of Stalinism in Poland, Film production was organised into film groups. A film group was a collection of film makers, led by an experienced film director and consisting of writers, film directors and production managers. They would write scripts, create budgets, apply for funding off the Ministry of Culture and produce the picture. They would hire actors and crew, and use studios and laboratories controlled by Film Polski.

The change in political climate gave rise to the Polish Film School movement, a training ground for some of the icons of the world cinematography, e.g., Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water, Rosemary's Baby, Frantic, The Pianist) and Krzysztof Zanussi (a leading director of the so-called cinema of moral anxiety of the 1970s). Andrzej Wajda's films offer insightful analyses of the universal element of the Polish experience - the struggle to maintain dignity under the most trying circumstances. His films defined several Polish generations. In 2000, Wajda was awarded an honorary Oscar for his overall contribution to cinema. Four of his films were nominated for Best Foreign Language Film award at Academy Awards with five other Polish directors receiving one nomination each: Roman Polański, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Jerzy Hoffman, Jerzy Antczak and Agnieszka Holland.

It is also important to note that during the 80's, the People's Republic of Poland instituted the martial law to vanquish and censor all forms of opposition against the communist rule of the nation, including outlets such as cinema and radio. A notable film to have emerged during this period was Ryszard Bugajski's 1982 film Interrogation (Przesluchanie), which depicts the story of an unfortunate woman (played by Krystyna Janda) who is arrested and tortured by the secret police into confessing a crime she knows nothing about. The anti-communist nature of the film brought about the film's over seven-year ban. In 1989, the ban was repealed after the overthrow of the Communist government in Poland, and the film was shown in theaters for the first time later that year. The film is still lauded today for its audacity in depicting the cruelty of the Stalinist regime, as many artists feared persecution during that time.[8][9]

In the 1990s, Krzysztof Kieślowski won a universal acclaim with productions such as Dekalog (made for television), The Double Life of Véronique and the Three Colors trilogy. Another of the most famous movies in Poland is Krzysztof Krauze’s The Debt (1999), which became a blockbuster.[10] It showed the brutal reality of Polish capitalism and the growth of poverty. A considerable number of Polish film directors (e.g., Agnieszka Holland and Janusz Kamiński) have worked in American studios. Polish animated films - like those by Jan Lenica and Zbigniew Rybczyński (Oscar, 1983) - drew on a long tradition and continued to derive their inspiration from Poland's graphic arts.

Cinema Audience

The Communist government invested resources into building a sophisticated cinema audience. All the cinema were state owned and consisted of first run premiere cinema, local cinema and art house cinemas. Tickets were cheap and students and old people received discounts. In the city of Lodz there were 36 cinemas in the 1970s showing films from all over the world. There were the Italian films of Fellini, French comedies, American crime movies such as Don Siegel's "Charley Varrick" . Films were shown in their original versions with polish subtitles. Anti communist and cold war films were not shown, but a bigger restriction was the cost of some films. There were popular film magazines like "film" and "screen", critical magazines such as "kino". This all helped to build a well informed film audience.

Notable films

Main article: List of Polish films

See also


  1. 1 2 "Table 8: Cinema Infrastructure - Capacity". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  2. "Table 6: Share of Top 3 distributors (Excel)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  3. "Table 1: Feature Film Production - Genre/Method of Shooting". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  4. 1 2 "Table 11: Exhibition - Admissions & Gross Box Office (GBO)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  5. "Country Profiles". Europa Cinemas. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
  6. Marek Haltof (2002). Polish national cinema. Berghahn Books, p. 49. ISBN 157181275X.
  7. Marek Haltof (2002). Polish national cinema. Berghahn Books. pp. 49–50. ISBN 978-1-57181-276-6.
  8. Benson, Sheila (1990-09-26). "MOVIE REVIEW - 'Interrogation': Janda's Arresting Performance - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  9. "Second Run DVD - Interrogation". Second Run DVD. Retrieved 2009-09-24.
  10. Presentation of the Polish cinema on Eurochannel website

Further reading

Media related to Cinema of Poland at Wikimedia Commons

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