APFF POLISH POSTER ART EXHIBIT
Film Stories Based on Facts
Interview with Joanna Gutt-Lehr, Chair of the Austin Polish Film Festival (in Polish in "Nowy Dziennik" http://www.dziennik.com/przeglad-polski/artykul/historie-filmowe-oparte-na-faktach)
By Joanna Sokołowska-Gwizdka
Joanna Sokołowska-Gwizdka: Fervent preparations for the 10th Polish Film Festival in Austin, TX are under way. The program includes such feature films as “The Gods” (“Bogowie”) about a prominent Polish cardiologist Zygmunt Relgia, “Jack Strong” about the Cold War era Colonel Kukliński, “The Word” (“Obietnica”) touching on problems the youth of today have to face, “Clouse-ups” (Zbliżenia”) on the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a crime story “A Grain of Truth” (“Ziarno prawdy”). What other thrills can we expect?
Joanna Gutt-Lehr: We have added one more feature film, which came out in September in Poland, “Anatomy of Evil” (“Anatomia zła”), written and directed by Jacek Bromski. This thriller will keep you on the edge of your seat and has a wonderful cast – Krzysztof Stroiński received the award for the best male role at the 40th Film Festival in Gdynia and Marcin Kowalczyk, a young rising star of the Polish film, was fantastic in this movie. The film tells a story about some scandals in the recent Polish history – the murder of General Marek Papała, the still-unsolved to this day disappearance of a journalist Jarosław Ziętara, and the charges of war crimes against Polish soldiers who fought in Nangar Khel in Afghanistan. There is one more reason why we are so pleased to be able to show this film in Austin – music to this film was composed by Ludek Drizhal, who used to live in Austin and once came to our Festival. Jacek Bromski was among the guests at that time and that’s how they met and started the collaboration. The “Anatomy of Evil” is the fourth fruit of their partnership. Another Austinite Spencer David Gibb, a musician, photographer and owner of a recording studio in Austin is also involved in this collaboration. We expect that all of them will be guests at our Festival.
JSG: Many people are anxious to see Jan Komasa’s famous movie “Warsaw ‘44” (“Miasto ‘44”) about the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. This year, on the anniversary of the Uprising, it was shown on German primetime TV and was preceded by a presentation given by historians. German viewers noticed that the director focused on the facts, without the emotional baggage, so prevalent in the past and so widespread among the artists who remember those events. It created a space for discussion about contemporary Polish-German relations.
JGL: It took eight years for the young and talented director, known to the Austin audience from “Suicide Room” (“Sala samobojców”), to create “Warsaw ‘44.” I regret that my mother, who fought during the Uprising cannot see this film. She talked about it till the end of her life and considered it to be the most important experience of her life. Jan Komasa said, “When I was writing the screenplay, I did not realize how important this movie would be for many Polish generations. Not for experts or politicians, but for regular people, who have dispersed all over the world.” We realize that quite often the American audience may not read the context of Polish movies so we try to familiarize them with the subject before the show. “Warsaw ‘44” will be introduced by Dr. Tatiana Lichtenstein, history professor at the University of Texas.
JSG: It is important to have experts describe and elucidate those complicated issues of the Polish history as well as people who happened to be part of those historical events.
JGL: Absolutely. Besides the above mentioned Dr. Tatiana Lichtenstein, Elliot Nowacky of the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at UT will participate in a Q&A session after “Jack Strong,” moderated by Chale Nafus, a film expert, recently retired Director of Programming of the Austin Film Society and an experienced lecturer and former dean at a local college liberal arts department. Also, Zbigniew Banaś lecturer at the film department at Loyola University, who has made presentations at numerous festivals, including Camerimage [International Film Festival], has accepted our invitation and will not only do pre-show presentations but also Question & Answer sessions for the 2015 Austin Polish Film Festival audience.
JSG: Documentary section looks equally interesting: “People on the Bridge” (“Ludzie na moście”) inspired by a poem by a Polish poet and Nobel Prize laureate Wisława Szymborska, “Object” (“Obiekt”) about a snow and under-water rescue operation, “Joanna” about a blogger with a deadly disease, and many more. What criteria did you establish while choosing those films?
JGL: We are trying to show films which will enchant the audience but at the same time fit the program and the main motif. That’s why two of the documentaries depict human portraits, “Joanna” – nominated for an Oscar – and “Jurek,” which tells a story about a Polish Himalayan climber, the late Jerzy Kukuczka. We are also trying to show young talented filmmakers, hence Paulina Skibińska’s “Objekt,” an award winner for “visual poetry” at the Sundance Festival, which was created at Munk Studio. Hence “People on the Bridge,” whose protagonist will definitely charm our audience. Its creator Beata Pozniak is a very interesting artist and we will host her at the Festival.
JSG: For the first time in the history of the Festival, you will grant an award to young filmmakers for a short movie. Did it attract a lot of interest?
JGL: The contest was open to independent filmmakers and students from all over the world. The movies had to meet two criteria: it had to be maximum 10 minutes long and had to relate to Poland. Out of 40 selected movies, our judges will choose five films to be shown at the Festival. The winner shall receive the Silver Reel Award and $500. Austin Film Society has promised to show the winning movie on its online channels. Besides an award for the best movie selected by the judges, we are planning the audience award in the amount of $200. It has been sponsored by Austin’s Door No 4, the organizer of the so-called Immersive Cinema Experience.
JSG: Among the guests at this year’s Festival we expect President of the Polish Filmmakers Association, director of “Anatomy of Evil”, Jacek Bromski, and director of “The Word” Anna Kazeja-Dawid, as well as Paweł Wysoczański, who directed the documentary “Jurek”. Does the University of Texas at Austin take advantage of the visits of Polish filmmakers?
JGL: Every year, we make sure that our guests get a chance to share their expertise and experience with students in Austin. Zbigniew Banaś will give a talk at the UT's Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, which has hosted many Polish artists. A few years ago we organized a Skype discussion with the wonderful director, cinematographer and screenplay writer Sławomir Idziak. The Department of Radio, Film and Television at UT has invited some of this year’s guests to visit graduate student classes.
JSG: The collaboration with other cultural institutions in Austin has become a Festival’s tradition. It helps familiarize American audiences with Polish film art.
JGL: We always try to attract interest of many different organizations in Austin, such as Austin Film Society, American Institute of Graphic Arts–Austin, or Austin Jewish Film Festival. A part of the Festival’s proceeds go to the Polish Study Fund at UT, which supports students’ scholarly trips to Poland and other academic initiatives promoting Polish culture.
JSG: You will also present a poster exhibit and host Michał Poniż, collector of film and theater posters, who once studied in Austin and who now lives in Warsaw. The participants will have a chance to get acquainted with the famous Polish school of poster art.
JGL: Exhibition of Polish posters has accompanied the Festival from its very beginning. Polish posters are widely admired, and have their long-time fans in Austin, including Richard Linklater, the director of the celebrated Academy-Award nominated movie, “Boyhood.” It turned out that they have known each other since their college times and Mr. Linklater is the lucky owner of many stunning Polish posters. He has given some of them to the Austin Film Society, and now they adorn their walls and have won great admiration. Also, the Marchesa Hall & Theater, which has hosted the Austin Polish Film Festival since 2011, has one wall dedicated to Polish posters. Michał Poniż is planning to show the gems of Polish masters: Tomaszewski, Swierzy, Młodożeniec, Górka and many others. I can’t wait. This will be a feast for the eyes and the soul.
JSG: This year’s festival poster has been designed by Leszek Żebrowski, professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Szczecin. The posters promoting the Austin Polish Film Festival form a collection on their own and have become an essential part of the Festival’s history. Will the audience be able to view those posters during the event as well?
JGL: We are honored and elated that professor Leszek Żebrowski has designed this year’s festival poster. He is an exceptional artist and a wonderful human being. What imagination and talent! The collection you are talking about contains ten posters, including five designed by him. We proudly displayed the entire collection last year. Since Michał Poniż is curating the poster exhibition this year and we have given him a free hand how to do it, and I can’t tell if this collection will be included.
JSG: When you look at this year’s repertoire, you can clearly see a certain leitmotif – stories based on facts. What picture of Poland will the American audience see during the Festival?
JGL: I think they will see Poland as a place where many trends of history run through, where both individuals and the society very actively take part in creating this history rather than passively succumb to its stream. Authors of this year’s films will force the viewer to reflect, to ponder about life and moral decisions. The audience will see our country as a place brimming with talent and certainly worth seeing with their own eyes.
Austin Polish Film Festival – October 22-25, 2015
Translated by Bożena U. Zaremba