History through Polish Documentary Film

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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​The official poster for the APFF 2015 arrived!

Poster by Leszek Żebrowski

Make sure you come by in October and take a selfie at the festival by this fantastic design by Leszek Zebrowski. A limited number of festival posters will be available for purchase. If you want to reserve one earlier, shoot us an email with the subject line APFF 2015 POSTER.

Zebrowski’s  unique work is recognizable at first sight all over the world.  Austin Polish Film Festival has been announced to the public by Leszek’s talented hand and unequalled imagination for multiple years since 2006. The artist visited Austin twice, once as an APFF guest and once invited to exhibit at the SXSW Flatstock 24. Let’s have a glimpse at how we described his posters a few years back when Austin hosted an exhibit of his works:

"Zebrowski's World" is populated with strange and delightful creatures and images: sinuous females with swirls of hair, soulful expressions and tearful stares, and girls with lollipop faces; men and women with alien-like eyes and heads and Brueghel-like expressions; playful animals, horses and exotic birds; and Polish folk images and religious symbols. All of these are set in an imaginary world of Polish landscapes and mythical plains. With a truly individual style and a painterly hand, Zebrowski displays a powerful range of emotions from silent angst to explosive psychedelic zaniness. Zebrowski's bold and dynamic images are richly textured and fill the poster surface. Sometimes the images are monochromatic and other times his palette goes wild, but always the images are drawn with a draftsman's precision."

Zebrowski is a tenured professor of graphic arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Szczecin, Poland.


Beautiful piece about Leszek, but in Polish: