Katyn heads for international premiere


    Katyń, a personal odyssey for renowned Polish director Andrzej Wajda about the massacre of Poles during World War II, is heading for its international premiere at the Berlinale boosted by an Oscar nomination and international rights locked up or under negotiation in nearly 30 countries.

    The film's domestic popularity has been phenomenal. It has been seen by nearly 3 million people in Poland since its September release, placing it eighth on the list of all films distributed domestically since the democratic transformations in 1989 and ahead of such blockbusters as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, said Hanna Samsel, international promotion manager at Telewizja Polska SA, which holds international sales rights. It also captured 11 nominations for Polish Eagles, the Polish equivalent of the Oscars.

    Yet for all its lustre and appeal, Katyń will not be in the competition at Berlin, where it premieres Feb. 15. The Berlinale runs from Feb. 7-17.

    The film depicts the 1940 massacre of 20,000 Polish officers and citizens by the Soviets through stories of their families back home. But it's much more. Wajda's father, Capt. Jakub Wajda, was one of the victims and his mother continued, to her death, to hope for his return.

    "Katyń is not only a feature film, a drama, but is a very personal film of the director, very emotional," Samsel explained in an email exchange with FNE. "As such it is very unique and special, and should not be in the competition."

    Yet Wajda hopes the film will have broad appeal. "I would not like the Katyn film to be my personal search for the truth, a vigil light on the grave of Capt. Jakub Wajda," the 81-year-old director said. "Let it spin a tale about the suffering and drama of many Katyń families."

    The Oscar nomination in the best foreign-language film category has predictably boosted its worldwide appeal. "We've received many new enquiries and offers both from new markets as well as those where negotiations are under way," Samsel said. Katyń has been sold in Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Brazil and negotiations are under way for rights to North America, France, Japan, Benelux, Germany, England, Ireland, Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Korea, China, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.

    Both Katyń and a second film produced by TVP Kultura, the animated short Kizi Mizi by Mariusz Wilczynski, will be widely promoted both at the festival and at the accompanying European Film Market, Samsel said.

    TVP productions and co-productions have won several awards recently, including an International Emmy for The Magic Tree by Andrzej Maleszki and the Grand Prix in Trieste for Saviour's Square by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze. In all, TVP has captured about 50 awards at 30 international film festivals.