Interview with two of the organizers of the 12th APFF about the program

12th Austin Polish Film Festival 2017

Interview with Angelika Firlej and Karolina Camara, the organizers of the 12th Austin Film Festival, by Joanna Sokołowska-Gwizdka

The 12th edition of the Austin Polish Film Festival will take place on November 2-6. How long were the planning and preparations?

We have been involved in the preparations since the beginning of this year—such events are so time-consuming. Then, all preparations intensified in August and we are always especially engaged during the last three to four weeks; this is the time when a lot of matters need to be settled and many important details have to be finalized.

It is worth noting that one of the organizers always participates in the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia. It is in Gdynia that the final decisions about the film selection and a possibility of bringing guests from Poland to our event are made.

Does the City of Austin support the Festival? Do they provide any funding?

We managed to obtain some financial support from the City of Austin this year. We are happy that Austin is so keen on funding various cultural events, not only ours. I would like to add that the Festival also receives financial support from the Polish Film Institute, Polish Filmmakers Association, and the Polish Ministry of Culture. We can’t forget about our local sponsors, who are eager to support the Festival. 

What is the target audience of the Festival?

We want to reach out to the broad American audience, who want to learn more about Poland. In the case of films which are difficult to understand because of the historical background, we make every effort to bring in an expert, who will provide an introduction and explain the historical or cultural context so that the film will be easier to comprehend and appreciate.

This year, the Festival will have a presenter, Mr. Sebastian Smoliński, a film expert from Poland.

That’s correct. After an extensive search and long talks, we decided to invite the film critic, who agreed to be the host of our event. He will also help the audience better understand the films presented at the Festival and will moderate Q&A’s with the invited guests. Sebastian is a recipient of the Krzysztof Mętrak Award for Young Critics. He gets published in such magazines as Kino and Ekrany He is also a Program Director of the “Dwa Brzegi” Film and Arts Festival in Kazimierz Dolny and collaborates with other film festivals, such as Polish Feature Film Festival in Gdynia and “Terra Italiana” Italian Film Festival in Warsaw. We hope that our audience will like him.

This year’s Festival offers a vast selection of both feature and documentary films that deal with a wide-ranging spectrum of issues. How do you make a choice of which films to present?

We always try to present films that have a universal message and can be followed by anybody, no matter where they come from. What is also essential for us is to show the best representation of what is trending in the Polish art of filmmaking, as well as show the films that mirror Polish roots and artistic legacy. It is also essential for us to present recent releases which have won awards at international festivals.

In the past, the Festival had a leitmotif. Is it going to be so this year, too?

Yes. The 2017 Festival has two main intertwined themes. We are going to show historical films which deal with the facts that have been forgotten or obliterated by the communist era. These include such movies as Cursed (“Wyklęty”) by Konrad Łęcki and Hatred ("Wołyń”) by Wojciech Smarzowski. The topics discussed in these movies have never been shown in Polish movies on such a large scale. Another example of a historical movie is Blindess ("Zaćma”) by Ryszard Bugajski, which depicts a story from the Stalinist era in Poland and is based on the life of Julia Brystiger, who was nicknamed “Bloody Luna.”

This brings us to the other theme of this year’s festival—movies partially or totally based on facts. Afterimage (“Powidoki”) by Andrzej Wajda is a story about an induvial destroyed by a system, based on the life of a painter, Władysław Strzemiński. We will also show a story about the family of another artist, Zdzisław Beksiński, in The Last Family (“Ostatnia rodzina”) by Jan Matuszyński or as story about Michalina Wisłocka, who had a great contribution to sexual education in then devotedly Catholic Poland – The Art of Loving ("Sztuka kochania”) by Maria Sadowska. Another movie partly based on a true criminal case is Amok by Kasia Adamik.

The program on Saturday (November 4) will be devoted to artists. Besides Afterimage and The Last Family, we will show a documentary By Stanley For Stanley (“Film dla Stasia”) by Monika Meleń about a handicapped painter and a documentary film The Eternal Wanderer (“Wieczny tułacz”) by Grzegorz Królikiewicz about a Polish-Canadian director, the late Tadeusz Jaworski, who passed away last September.

Sunday will be dedicated to women directors. We will show a documentary film Return of Agnieszka H. (“Powrót Agnieszki H.”) about director Agnieszka Holland by Krystyna Krauze and Jacek Petrycki, and Spoor (“Pokot”) directed by Agnieszka Holland and Kasia Adamik, which won an award at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia and is a Polish candidate for an Oscar.

Several VIP’s have been invited to come to the Festival: directors Ryszard Bugajski, Krystyna Krauze, and Monika Meleń, and actors Maria Mamona, Łukasz Simlat, and Robert Wrzosek, as well as screenwriter Ryszard Karpala. Have all the guests confirmed their attendance?

Yes, all guests have confirmed and will be present at the reception on Friday, November 3. We are pleased that so many wonderful artists will come to Austin and share their experience with the audience. They will participate in Q&A’s after the screening of the movie they appeared in or directed. This is a rare opportunity to have such a close meeting with the artists.

Please tell us something about the events that will accompany the Festival?

As in the past, we will have an exhibition of Polish film posters. We would like to thank the collector Michał Poniż for sharing about 50 posters from his unique collection. The exhibit will be open simultaneously and admission is free. Another additional and free event is the presentation of films for children. We want to get them interested in movies.

How many people do you expect to attend?

We hope that—as always—the audience will not disappoint and everyone will find something in the Festival’s program that will appeal to them. This is the 12th edition of the Festival and the American audience has already become accustomed to this event. Polish films have a lot to offer to the audience worldwide and will surely attract the locals. We also believe that thanks to the widespread advertising campaign in the media, we will draw in new fans.

I am in awe of your time-consuming and selfless work in promoting Polish culture in Texas and wish you every success. I can’t wait for the excitement of this movie fever.

A Review of "Strong Coffee isn't that bad" by Shelly Lay

Strong Coffee Isn’t That Bad
Strong Coffee Isn’t That Bad (2014) is a creative short from director and writer Aleksander Pietrzak.  He based his creation on the book and play titled Mending Fences (2007) by Norm Foster, a story about a son and father who have not kept in touch and have had a tumultuous relationship.  This film has been widely shown at numerous film festivals and has won awards including the “Bridging The Borders Award” at the Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles.  
The film is visually stimulating with beautiful scenes of the Polish countryside.  Pietrzak uses long drawn out takes to capture the honesty of both the landscape and the interactions between the characters.  This approach creates a genuine quality to the film and captures the capabilities of the actors.  The music of this film is quite playful, a sort of Django Rienhardt “hot” jazz guitar theme that embraces the light-hearted moments of the story.  It also helps to balance out the awkward moments and tension between Jack and Lucas, the father and son of the story.  
The film presents us from Jack’s point of view, as a father who never really knew how to be close to his son.  We get to experience his attempts at trying to talk with Lucas in a normal way but also see his struggles to prove that he is a good man, perhaps a better man than his son.  There is a definite push and pull of emotion throughout the duration of this film that keeps us on our toes.  As the film progresses Jack and Lucas take jabs at each other and they slowly become more serious as the lightheartedness of Lucas’ visit wears off until it culminates in total disagreement.  
Will Jack and Lucas be able to overcome their differences to have a better relationship, or are they just too similar?  Pietrzak gives us the answer while leaving room for our own imaginations.  This film examines those complicated relationships that we are all too familiar with and reminds us that it is never too late to take the first step.  

a review by Shelly Lay

The Legacy of Polish Poster Design

Before the era of globalized entertainment made movie posters look the same in every country, Polish artists were creating their own versions for the internal market. What resulted was a whole school of artists trained in the art of the poster. This article presents a short historical look at how this movement was born and how it developed, form its art-related beginnings at the end of the 19th Century to the golden era of the film posters throughout the 20th Century.

Read this great article by Andrea Austoni, an Italian freelance designer currently living in Krakow, Poland. He specializes in icon design and illustration. He runs Cute Little Factory, his personal portfolio and blog.



MP: Chciałbym pokazać zjawisko Polskiej Szkoły Plakatu, czyli bardzo indywidualnej interpretacji tematu (filmu, sztuki) na podstawie kilku autorów takich jak Franciszek Starowieyski, Roman Cieślewicz, Jan Lenica czy Jan Młodożeniec. Każdy z tych artystów miał unikalny, rozpoznawalny styl, charakterystyczną formę, własne liternictwo. Jeśli się te plakaty zestawi, powstają estetyczne plamy, co z mojego doświadczenia, jest ciekawe w odbiorze. Na wystawie będą głównie plakaty filmowe, od lat 40-tych do współczesności, przede wszystkim zapowiadające filmy amerykańskie, ale też mniej znane, za to ciekawie interpretowane plastycznie, bedą plakaty od powojennych afiszy Tomaszewskiego i Trepkowskiego, do współczesnych prac autorskich. Mam nadzieję, że próby znalezienia esencji tematu, metafora, skrót myślowy, indywidualizm autorski oraz różnorodność formy zainteresują każdego, nie tylko polskiego odbiorcę.

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Serce na dłoni

Serce na dłoni

Dla mnie to cud natury, kiedy serce w pustej klatce piersiowej zaczyna bić i utrzymywać krążenie.

(prof. Zb. Religa, fragm. książki)

W październiku 2014 roku na ekrany kin wszedł film Łukasza Palkowskiego „Bogowie” opowiadający o życiu i walce o ludzkie życie prof. Zbigniewa Religi, wybitnego polskiego kardiochirurga, który jako pierwszy w Polsce przeszczepił ludzkie serce.  Film ten cieszy się duża popularnością, otrzymał wiele nagród, pokazywany jest na festiwalach na całym świecie. W październiku będzie prezentowany na Festiwalu Polskich Filmow w Austin w Teksasie, dlatego siegnęłam po książkę - wywiad rzekę, przeprowadzony z profesorem krótko przed jego śmiercią. Zbigniew Religa wie, że choruje na raka, wie, że niewiele mu już życia pozostało i z tej perspektywy opowiada o swoim życiu, zastanawiając się co zdziałał, co po nim pozostanie i jakie popełnił błędy. Profesor przypomina wiele dramatycznych sytuacji, kiedy sekundy decydowały o ludzkim życiu. Wywiad jest bardzo szczery i pełen pasji, warto po niego sięgnąć, aby lepiej zrozumieć postać otwarzaną w filmie przez Tomasza Kota.

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Celebrating 10 Years of APFF

This week marks the 10th year of the Austin Polish Film Festival and another year that the festival team brings Austin a taste for many of the great and unique films Polish filmmakers have to offer. Every year the festival highlights a wide variety of films, from dramas and comedies to documentaries and animation, from popular thrillers to indie gems. The team has worked very hard to bring this year’s selection of films—as well as several filmmakers—from Poland to Austin. For viewers in Austin and the Central Texas region, this week will be the only opportunity to see many of these films outside of Poland. If you are new to Polish cinema, the festival is a great introduction to Polish film; if you are a long-time fan of Polish cinema, the festival is an excellent way to explore more deeply the contemporary landscape of film and video in Poland.

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History through Polish Documentary Film

Documentary filmmakers continue to reflect and contribute to the politics and cultures of Poland, past and present. One documentary being featured at this year’s Austin Polish Film Festival is Jurek, by director Paweł Wysoczański, which examines the life of Jerzy Kukuczka, a socialist worker turned celebrity in the 1980s who, as a poor mountain climber with homemade equipment, rose to compete in climbing the highest Himalayan peaks. Other documentaries screening at this year’s festival include Joanna (dir. Aneta Kopacz, 2013), which offers an intimate portrait of a mother diagnosed with an untreatable illness as she promises her son she will try to live as long as possible, and Obiekt (Object, dir. Paulina Skibińska, 2015), which takes a very creative and abstract look into an underwater search. We hope you will attend these screenings and more to see the many fascinating sides of Polish documentary and narrative film!

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A Political Thriller Jack Strong Review - don't miss it at APFF on Oct. 25

Review by Shelly Lay

Suspense is the name of the game for Polish director Władysaw Pasikowski, who has a knack for bringing to life controversial and damaging events in Poland’s recent past.  In his 11th film Jack Strong, Pasikowski examines the true story of Ryszard Kukliński, a Polish colonel who turns to espionage to save his country from nuclear disaster during the Cold War.  Responsible for supplying the United States CIA with valuable documents dealing with top-secret plans from Moscow, Kukliński became a crucial figure in the success of dismantling the USSR’s plans of complete Western destruction.  The film spans the entirety of Kuklinski’s time as a spy from 1970 to 1981, but does not stop there.  First released in 2014, Jack Strong takes a look not only at the on-goings of Kukliński and the Polish Army under supervision of the Russian government but also the attitude of various loyal Polish officers and youth towards the Soviet takeover of Poland. 

Pasikowski conjures a sense of awareness of the severity of the situation Poland was facing during the Cold War through the rapid progression of the events in which Kukliński participates.  After facing disappointment from his organization of the plans for the Warsaw Pact to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the massacre of Polish protesters in 1970, Kukliński makes the executive decision to contact the United States Army to do what he can to save his country from imminent destruction at the hand of nuclear annihilation.  His actions against Moscow eventually catch up with him and begin to affect his family and their safety.  You are left on the edge of your seat as Moscow officials become suspicious of a mole in Warsaw and start to narrow down who it could possibly be, with Polish officials doing the same.  Will Kukliński be found out by the Polish counter-intelligence?  Will his family pay the consequences of his actions? 

Throughout the first half of the film viewers are immersed in the game of figuring out who is loyal to whom.  Jack Strong begins with a scene that burns a sense of uncertainty and fear into the audience as it provides an example of the consequences that face Kukliński should he be found out. Anticipation builds as the film progresses with some moments where Kukliński is nearly caught in the act and the transition from severe scenes to those that are more upbeat. These cinematic devices serve to move the story of the film along without creating stale moments and also emphasize the types of danger the protagonist faced throughout his career as a spy.  In addition to the focus on foreign intelligence, the film builds up the relationship between Kukliński and his son Bogdan that works on two levels.  On one hand it creates an image of Kukliński with softer edges who cares deeply for his family and, like many other fathers, has difficulties with raising his troubled son.  In another way, the film inadvertently sheds light on the attitudes of Polish youth toward their home army, who were split between obeying orders from Moscow and maintaining their Polish heritage and honor. 

Pasikowski uses a minimalistic soundtrack of simple instrumentation in just the right places.  It serves to make the film feel more realistic, without the overwhelming distraction of unnecessary sound.  The language that is spoken changes throughout the film depending on the location from Polish and Russian to English.  These transitions in language add a sense of authenticity to the progression of the conflicts between the aforementioned countries.  The location of the film and the costume of the characters work together in order to create a convincing step back in time.

While this film is not to serve as the definitive story of Ryszard Kukliński, it does shed light on the underlying conflict that divided Poland in the aftermath of World War II.  For Americans, the Cold War consisted of fear mongering and suspicion around the activities of the USSR, but for citizens of Poland and other Communist entities, the problem was much more complex.  Jack Strong serves as a reminder of the sobering realities faced by those caught in the middle of the conflict between the Western powers and the Communist regime, and captures the risks some were willing to take in order to better serve not only Poland but the safety of her citizens.  Władysaw Pasikowski effectively combines all aspects of filmmaking to create this nail-biting thriller that should not be missed.  

The 10th APFF Poster Exhibit

The 10th APFF Poster Exhibit

Michal Poniz is a scheduled guest at the 10th APFF.  For the last forty years, he managed to gather much over ten thousandposters . The exhibit he is bringing to the festival venue this year will focus on the American film poster by the masters of the Polish Poster School dating from the 1940s to the present. A few excerpts below from the catalog of another poster exhibit he curated for the Warsaw Museum of Poster will give us a feel who he is and what to expect in October.

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