CentEast Student Report:: Polish cinema today

By Mariana Hristova for CentEast

    In 2005, when the Polish Film Institute was established under a new law covering film production, Polish cinema started a new chapter of of its history.

    Previously supported by the Ministry of Culture, Polish national production faced low budgets and a significant decrease in production from 2000 to 2004, some 20 low-budget TV or independent productions.

    Starting in 2006, the new situation brought a rapid increase in the number of films being produced in Poland and enticed the interest of foreign filmmakers in co-productions. The Polish Film Institute has an annual budget of over 44 million EUR, partially funded by a 1.5% levy imposed on TV, cinema and cable operators. The grants covers not only film production, but also promotion, dissemination of film culture, professional training and distribution. In most cases, the Institute grants funding up to 50% of the total production budget.

    The year 2007 brought the launch of regional film funds - in Lower Silesia and Silesia, Gdańsk, Gdynia, Łódź, Małopolska, Wielkopolska, Pomerania, and one general fund for the remaining cities and regions. Most of them take the form of a competition with the condition of creating a link between the city or region and the the film, either by shooting on location or through the participation of local residents and businesses. Poland also participates in the two foremost European programmes for supporting the audiovisual industry, Eurimages and the European Union's MEDIA 2007 programme. Warsaw is home to Media Desk Poland, which assists producers in completing forms and settling the accounts for projects supported by MEDIA.

    Another key investors in film is Polish Television, which is the largest film producer in Poland. Commercial TV channels, including Canal+, TVN and occasionally Polsat and HBO Polska also participate in film production.

    Foreign producers seeking Polish partners have a wide range of possibilities.A number of businesses specialize in film production services for feature, documentary or animation films. Although the majority of players in the film industry consists of private businesses, among them most production, distribution and exhibition companies, there is also a number of State-owned film establishments, which is a unique element of the structure of the Polish film industry. These regional organizations include some of Poland's largest film studios and small-scale animation studios.

    Poland's film-related service industry is well developed, and many producers choose to make use of existing facilities, which saves them the cost of investing in developing their own production base. There are numerous companies that specialize in services for various stages of production, from casting, lighting equipment and special effects to editing, sound production and subtitling, but only a few major studios have complex facilities, offering everything from soundstages to editing services.

    The film distribution and exhibition market is slightly more concentrated, with approximately a dozen key players. Most film distribution companies have a complex approach to their film product, dealing with everything from cinema distribution to television sales and the DVD market. Polish independent film distribution companies have also recently been increasing their involvement in film production, contributing to the film budgets and acquiring distribution rights. The Polish distribution market is dominated by Hollywood studios and their affiliates. Apart from these major players, there are a few local companies as Interfilm - an independent distribution company that reached blockbuster success with Jan Paweł II / Pope John Paul II (2006) and a number of local romantic comedies; and Gutek Film, credited with familiarizing Polish audiences with the works of some of the world's most prominent filmmakers, including Lars von Trier and Pedro Almodovar. In 2007, the Association of Polish Filmmakers and several leading film producers jointly established the Film Polski foundation promoting Polish films in Poland and abroad, but also to handle their distribution. To date they have released nine Polish features and two documentaries.

    There are some 700 cinemas in Poland, of which 67 are multiplexes and another five are IMAX cinemas. In recent years the number of multiplex cinemas has increased steadily. Unfortunately this brought on the inevitable drop in the number of single-screen cinemas. Thanks to participation in the EUROPA CINEMAS framework, some halls in major cities are able to focus on arthouse films, while the mainstream multiplex venues focus on first run pictures. Exhibition of arthouse films is also being developed through the Arthouse Cinema Network, financed by the Polish Film Institute and run by the National Film Archive.

    By 2006, feature film production in Poland increased to almost 40 films per year, mostly medium-budget productions of approximately 800,000 EUR. A low-budget feature debut usually costs in the range of 300,000 EUR. The biggest budgets in recent years went to high-profile epic productions based on classic novels. These include Quo Vadis (21 million euro), With Fire and Sword (6 million euro), The Spring to Come (5.8 million euro) and Pan Tadeusz (3.4 million euro). These pictures were film versions of national epics and as such were virtually guaranteed to be box-office successes. Most recent films are modestly budgeted, set in the present day and dealing with modern issues and universal values, such as The Collector by Feliks Falk, Saviour's Square by Krzysztof Krauze/ Joanna Kos-Krauze and Day of the Wacko by Marek Koterski from 2006; Time to Die by Dorota Kędzierzawska, Fur by Tomek Drozdowicz and Twists of Fate by Jerzy Stuhr for 2007; 33 Scenes from Life by Małgorzata Szumowska, The Offsiders by Kasia Adamik, Little Moscow by Waldemar Krzystek, Damage by Michał Rosa and Four Nights with Anna (the grand comeback of Jerzy Skolimowski) for 2008. The newest most acclaimed titles recently became clear at the National Film Festival in Gdynia: Reverse by Borys Lankoszm and The Dark House by Wojciech Smarzowski which already had their international premieres respectively at the Berlinale and the Tokyo Film festival.