Warsaw Film Festival sets out to spotlight a slew of new local releases, from “Anxiety” by Sławomir Fabicki – Oscar-nominated for his short “A Man Thing” – to this year’s opener “Song of Goats” by Andrzej Jakimowski.
The latter, featuring “EO” star Mateusz Kościukiewicz and set in Greece, will show characters living close to an active volcano, exploring the question of how “each of us is responsible for maintaining our fragile heritage,” says the director.
“We are witnessing a war in a neighboring country [Ukraine], threats from a barbarian empire and rapidly growing populism that is devastating politics. It’s a dreadfully worrying mixture.”
As Poland braces for parliamentary elections on Oct. 15 and the controversy over Agnieszka Holland’s “Green Border” refuses to die down, emotions run high.
“What happened went beyond the accepted framework. There was no shortage of absurdity, like the attempt to force cinema managers to screen propaganda material before the film,” says fest’s director Stefan Laudyn.
“I don’t know what can and should be done, but I called Agnieszka Holland, expressing my support. I should also add that I was not on the Oscar committee this year.”
Despite Holland’s recent win in Venice, animation “The Peasants” was selected as Poland’s Oscar submission.
“The sheer hate unleashed by this government on an individual is reminiscent of the bully-boy tactics of the Communist thugs that did the same in the pre-Solidarity days,” adds Mike Downey, one of the producers on “Green Border” and “Song of Goats.”
“It becomes a bit excessive when a president, prime minister and minister of justice feel they must speak out against freedom of expression and attempt to intimidate artists, public and civil servants into only promoting the party line of the government.”
While making films about “Polish themes and Polish issues” without governmental interference is crucial, argues Downey, local filmmakers dare to venture beyond its borders.
In Fabicki’s “Anxiety,” two sisters, who couldn’t possibly be more different, head to a clinic in Switzerland.
“It talks about a subject that’s taboo in our country, namely assisted suicide,” says Laudyn.
Screenwriter Monika Sobień-Górska adds: “In 2013, I met a woman with late-stage cancer, who asked her best friend to help her organize a trip to an end-of-life clinic. ‘Anxiety’ is not just about assisted dying: it’s about reinventing yourself and finding the strength to live your own life, ignoring the expectations of others – even when they are the people we love.”
“In cinema, I’m interested in people, their relationships with loved ones and with the world. I know there are many who like it and these are the viewers I make films for,” Fabicki says.
Traveling even further, Vita Maria Drygas shows holidays in territories under conflict in her doc “Danger Zone.”
“It’s not just a story about adrenaline-seeking individuals. The business of ‘war tourism’ serves as an excuse to hold up a mirror to our times,” she says.
“When I began working on this film, the situation in Ukraine was different. Then we witnessed the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan, dramatic changes in the plight of the Kurds in Syria. People tend to be interested in conflicts that are prominently covered by the media, but every war is cruel and horrifying.”
Paweł Hejbudzki’s “The One I Love,” Aniela Gabryel’s “Radical Move” and Agnieszka Elbanowska’s take on local paramilitary groups, “Pray for Peace, Train for War,” will also be shown. As well as Gabriela Muskała’s directorial debut “The Clowns,” about a group of young actors competing for a lead role in their graduation film.
“First and foremost, it’s about acting. About that thin line between reality and fiction with which we, actors, struggle every day,” says Muskała, previously seen in Cannes entry “Fugue.”
“I don’t know if I would have dared to make a full-length film right away if the subject wasn’t so familiar to me. Acting is a material for a novel, TV series and another film. Which, by the way, I’m already thinking about.”
Praising her cast, Muskała remains cautiously optimistic about the future.
“The young generation always has stories to tell and many emotions to offer, and they are doing it with passion and sincerity. But whether we, adults, will give them a chance to spread their wings, that’s another question,” she says.
Still, in her view, “Polish cinema is doing better and better.”
“What worries me, however, is the increasing politicization of the selection of films for Gdynia Film Festival [dedicated to Polish films]. This does not benefit art.”
The fest will also celebrate “EO” helmer Jerzy Skolimowski with a retrospective of his earliest films, including “Hands Up!,” banned by the censors for years. Recently, Skolimowski reunited with Roman Polański on the script for “The Palace.”
“He is a great master of cinema. He turned 85 this year and is in great shape. I had the pleasure of meeting him back in 1991, when we showed ‘30 Door Key’ at the end of the festival,” recalls Laudyn.
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