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Gdynia at tje midpoint: Lions up for grabs

Alex Deleon, September 14, 2005

The annual feature film output of Poland has been hovering about the thirty marks since the mid nineties and this year is no great exception. Somewhat over thirty features were submitted for consideration, but the festival selection committee this year felt it necessary to make a distinction between high quality productions, mostly by seasoned directors, and cheapies thrown together by younger or first time directors working outside of the Polish studio system. Incidentally, it should be mentioned that Poland has long had, and still does have, a studio system, although not of the Hollywood kind. The main difference is that each "Zespol" (such as the famous "TOR" studio currently under the leadership of Krzysztof Zanussi) of
which there are about ten, such as "ZEBRA", "Perspektywa", etc. -- do not have their own film "Factory", but share shooting facilities at three or four film "factories" ("wytwornias") located around the country, with the major such complex in Warsaw. Each zespol or studio does however have at the helm an important director, such as Zanussi, Machulski, or Jerzy Hofman, and a regular production staff which handles the administration, publicity and realization of film projects. Somewhat like in the old days of Hollywood each one tends to make certain kinds of films and each has a recognizable screen logo.

This said, another categorization that has become traditional at Gdynia are the "special screenings" of major films which, for one reason or another are shown out of competition. When famous, "heavy weight" directors such as Wajda or Hofman ("Fire and Sword" 1999) make a film these days, it is basically considered "unfair" to have younger directors have go up against their blockbusters in the run for the roses, so films by exceptionally esteemed directors are often shown out of competition. This year, for example, 73 year old veteran Janus Majewski's "Off Season", which would have a hard time NOT winning the Grand Prix if it were in the running, is shown out of competition, as is Marta Mezaros' large scale production "The Unburied Man". Mezaros is, of course, a Hungarian director as far as nationality is concerned, but this Polish-Hungarian co-production about the life of 1956 Hungarian revolution leader Imre Nagy, stars gold plate Polish actor Jan Nowicki in the title role and is a very polished big-scale show.
Piwowski's "Oskar", a great audience favourite is, of course, out of the running because it is a made-for-TV job.

Of the thirty some films submitted the selection committee has narrowed the field down to just 21 features in competition, however, to give everybody a shot at something, something new has been added this year, a section called "The Independent Competition". The latter section encompassing another dozen films, has its own jury and provides a show case with potential prize money for the low budgeters and non-studio flicks referred to above. Many are shot on video and the only one this reviewer has had time to grok was a 76 minute cutie entitled "Homo Father", clearly a play on words with the Latin phrase "Homo Faber" (Man, the Tool Maker), but this has nothing to do with tools. 'Father" is, in fact, a social comedy about a "married" couple, both young men living together as he and she. While no masterpiece, this is nevertheless a kind of groundbreaker in this heavily Catholic and socially conservative country -- to my knowledge the first openly "gay" Polish film to date.
I would not be surprised to see "Homo Faber" turning up at Gay and Lesbian festivals here and there. It certainly deserves to, considering the homo-phobic national background from which it stems.

This being a jubilee year there is a plethora of film events to choose from, such that it's a bit hard to decide what to see and what not to see. For example, there is a complete review of every film which very took a Best Film prize here since 1974. One wishes one had time to see, or re-see, every single one, as this is basically a comprehensive overview of the best in Polish Cinematography over the last three decades.

Physically the festival now has two main venues, the traditional Music Hall, which is the official center of the festival, but also the five year old Gemini SILVER SCREEN multiplex, which is running festival films of all kinds on seven screens and has taken over as the venue for press conferences immediately following press screenings in salle seven. The only problem here for foreign visitors is that the Gemini complex is not yet set up for audio translation of non-subtitled films, and, to put it bluntly, I haven't seen a film with subtitles yet, except in Jacek Bromski's "Lovers of the Year of the Tiger", the dialogue of which is almost entirely in Chinese or broken Russian, requiring Polish subtitles for the local audience. In fact two other films are embellished with Polish (!) subtitles in segments where languages other than Polish come into play. In Zanussi"s "Persona Non Grata" one hears clips of English, Russian, and Spanish, giving rise to
Polish titles, and also in Trzaskalski"s "MISTRZ" ("The Mister Knifethrower") the chief protagonist is a Russian actor, Konstantin Lavronenko, who speaks heavily accented but comprehensible Polish, however lapses into Russian whenever he gets drunk, which is most of the time. At this point no film has yet emerged as a clear-cut Prize contender and the Gdynia Lion awards, which are traditionally surprising anyway -- are up for grabs.

Alex Deleon


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