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Martin Scorsese: Ambassador of Polish Cinema

Still from Ashes and Diamonds, 1958.

As one of the most popular and critically acclaimed directors in the world, having a celebrity like Martin Scorsese getting behind your project is the kind of endorsement any organization would jump at. And if it also has something to do with movies, that's even better. So lovers of Polish cinema must be ecstatic with anticipation, given Scorsese's upcoming project, Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, a program of twenty-one feature films, selected personally by the director, that will debut in New York next February, and subsequently tour to selected cities across the United States and Canada.

This unprecedented film program will certainly serve to raise the profile of Poland's rich history of cinematic excellence, as well as introduce many classics that most film fans outside of Poland are probably not familiar with.

Scorsese has long been an admirer of Polish cinema and in 2011 received an honorary doctorate degree from its National Film School in Łódż, and stated on that occasion the importance that Polish films hold for him personally:

At some point I realized that when I wanted to make actors or cinematographers understand something, I'm showing them Polish films from the 1950s. I often showed Wajda films to different producers in Hollywood and they couldn't believe it because they had never seen anything like it before.”

For over twenty years, Scorsese has also distinguished himself as a leading proponent of film preservation and in 1990 was a founding member of the Film Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving motion picture history by providing support for preservation and restoration projects at leading film archives, as well as raising awareness of the urgent need for film preservation. Additionally, in 2006, Scorsese founded the World Cinema Foundation to address the issue of preserving films from developing countries.

The twenty-one films, which include works by legendary directors such as Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Andrzej Wajda, and Krzysztof Zanussi, were produced between 1958 and 1987 and have never previously been been showcased in North America on such a scale. According to the series' official website, “Films in the series will be presented in the highest possible quality thanks to extensive digital picture and audio restoration. Dirt, scratches and other ravages of time have been removed, while preserving the integrity and beauty of the original films.”

And here's the list:

TITLE

DIRECTOR

YEAR

Ashes and Dimonds (Popiół i diament)

Andrzej Wajda

1958

Austeria (Austeria)

Jerzy Kawalerowicz

1982

Black Cross (Krzyżacy)

Aleksander Ford

1960

Blind Chance (Przypadek)

Krzysztof Kieślowski

1981

Camouflage (Barwy ochronne)

Krzysztof Zanussi

1976

The Constant Factor (Constans)

Krzysztof Zanussi

1980

Eroica (Eroica)

Andrzej Munk

1957

The Hour-Glass Sanatorium (Sanatorium pod Klepsydrą)

Wojciech J. Has

1973

The Illumination (Iluminacja)

Krzysztof Zanussi

1972

Innocent Sorcerers (Niewinni czarodzieje)

Andrzej Wajda

1960

Jump (Salto)

Tadeusz Konwicki

1965

The Last Day of Summer (Ostatni dzień lata)

Tadeusz Konwicki

1958

Man of Iron (Człowiek z żelaza)

Andrzej Wajda

1981

Mother Joan of the Angels (Matka Joanna od Aniołów)

Jerzy Kawalerowicz

1960

Night Train (Pociąg)

Jerzy Kawalerowicz

1959

Pharaoh (Faraon)

Jerzy Kawalerowicz

1965

The Promised Land (Ziemia Obiecana)

Andrzej Wajda

1974

The Saragossa Manuscript (Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie)

Wojciech J. Has

1964

A Short Film About Killing (Krótki film o zabijaniu)

Krzysztof Kieślowski

1987

To Kill this Love (Trzeba zabić tę miłość)

Janusz Morgenstern

1972

The Wedding (Wesele)

Andrzej Wajda

1972

Also featured prominently in Scorsese's selection is Polish actor Zbigniew Cybulski. Known as the “Polish James Dean” for his good looks and innovative acting style, he appeared in over thirty films and was one of Poland's most popular actors. Tragically, in January 1967, he was killed while trying to board a moving train. Cybulski stars in leading roles in Ashes and Diamonds, Night Train, Jump and The Saragossa Manuscript.

Still from The Saragossa Manuscript, 1964

To be sure, there is a lot to look forward to in this series, and since it will go on to tour extensively in various cities throughout the United States and Canada, it will introduce the films to new audiences and might generate a new appreciation and reappraisal of Polish cinema, and the diverse range of engaging, entertaining and visually stunning work the country has produced. Taken as a whole, these films stand as a fine testament to the dedication and perseverance of the directors who managed to create great cinematic art on very limited budgets during Poland's communist era.

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema will debut on February 5, 2014 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. For more information, and to sign up for email updates on the series, go to www.mspresents.com.

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