This week, the 17th Kinoteka Polish Film Festival opens in London and Belfast. The festival will include a Stanisław Lem retrospective at the Barbican, the new film Ether from the renowned Krzysztof Zanussi and a celebration of new female filmmakers at the BFI Southbank, including Olga Chajdas’s award-winning LGBT romance Nina. The festival will close with a special screening of Cold War, an immersive night of dining with the film’s director Paweł Pawlikowski and live music from Zbigniew Namyslowski. We spoke to Marlena Łukasiak, Artistic Director and Producer, now in her 14th year at the helm of the event.
Can you tell us more about Kinoteka’s origins and how you think the festival has developed during its seventeen years of celebrating Polish film?
The festival began a year before Poland joined the European Union. It felt like the right time to make an impact on the London arts scene. At that point, there was limited funding for film production in Poland. Most were co-financed by Polish television with small budgets whilst private money enabled one or two large-scale historical productions a year. However, the situation changed dramatically in 2006, when the Polish Film Institute (PFI) was established. They provided a funding infrastructure both for production in Poland and international film festivals.
By 2008, we had a vast selection of contemporary films to choose from. The festival, rebranded as Kinoteka, expanded from just a few days to several weeks, including concerts, talks and masterclasses. We worked with organisations like the BFI, Barbican and Tate, who were keen to provide content for Polish audiences arriving in the UK. There was also a curiosity among British audiences to learn more about the new energy of Polish film. It is a testament to these relationships that the institutional partnerships have continued.
We are in changing political times. The film industry is also in transition, as are the expectations of audiences. If someone leaves home to watch a film, they want an event. We are investigating the logistics of streaming Kinoteka, but it’s important that the festival is a live event too. Festivals are about meeting people, being able to exchange thoughts. Human contact is needed.
You have said that this year’s festival “celebrates cultural mavericks from the past, present and future and culture across borders” – can you tell us more about this theme? Is this also a nod to the importance of thinking across geographical and cultural borders in both Poland and Britain’s current political climates?
Production is co-production. Take Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War, for example. It was made thanks to European Union funding from Creative Europe and draws upon a European pool of different talents, cultures and experiences. There are also national identifiers – there is a Central Eastern European School of film – Polish, Czech, Hungarian – that is markedly different to French or British cinema. But importantly, cinema allows you to travel to another place for a few hours. This idea is very present in Polish cinema, such as Małgorzata Szumowska’s Mugat the recent Berlin International Film Festival.
Polish filmmakers go beyond boundaries. In the current Polish film scene, these are often women, such as Jagoda Szelc, Olga Chajdas and Agnieszka Smoczynska. They are fearless. They feel very strongly about the cinema that they want to make and are currently very successful at festivals like the Cannes Critics’ Week and Berlinale. There are various theories around the movement: social programmes have been introduced in Poland over the last two years that implement child support, so women are more secure. The political unrest concerning recent legislations around women’s rights in Poland have also motivated demonstrations and protest. But they are also answering the global discussion around the lack of female directors and filmmakers.
Is it challenging to frame a festival like this within a particular curatorial perspective?
The balance between ticket numbers and artistic content is always needed. But we also do not want to have commercial aims only – we try to think of the most interesting films being made in Poland which would appeal to British audiences. Interestingly, for contemporary films 50% of our audience is composed of Polish people living in London, but for an art house screening the Polish audience is around 20%. After 17 years, we know what our audience likes. Key filmmakers such as Krzysztof Zanussi, whose new film Ether will be showing this year, will be popular with followers. As a speaker he also has an incredible rapport with the audience.
The festival is opening with an animated memoir ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE, based on the experiences of renowned veteran journalist Ryszard Kapuściński (directed by Oscar-shortlisted filmmakers Raúl De La Fuente and Damian Nenow). What kind of role does animation play in contemporary Polish cinema and what motivated the decision to open with this film?
We had a long debate around which film should open the festival. Especially with Brexit, we wanted to think about what kind of impact certain films would make. Should we talk more about Polish history and traditions, or should we take a more pro-European view? But then we thought, let’s focus on taking people into a two hour event when they will see something visually stunning, innovative and engaging. It is based on journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s account of conflict in Angola, but speaks to conflict everywhere. The film is contemporary but historical at the same time.
Right now we are seeing a dominant post-Soviet, post-Communist ‘90s revival aesthetic and nostalgia around its associated identity – can you tell me a little more about the decision to have a night dedicated to ‘90s Polish Rave culture?
The programme, 140 Beats Per Minute: Rave Culture and Art in 1990s Poland is curated by Łukasz Mojsak, Zofia Krawiec, and Łukasz Rondud, and will present a two-part programme of films and works defining the historic era. The event at Tate Modern’s UNIQLO Tate Lates looks at the very distinctive visual culture of 1990s’ rave in Poland. It was a subculture that responded to the new environment of free market capitalism, and importantly encompassed not just musicians but also artists.
There will be a series of Stanisław Lem screenings at Barbican. Could you talk more about this and his significance to both Polish and British audiences?
He is like Andrzej Żuławski [whose long-lost masterpiece On the Silver Globe will be screened at The Horse Hospital alongside an exhibition of costume and ephemera from the film] in that he is underappreciated: he has influenced artists around the globe. The Lem retrospective ties in with a whole-year programme Life Rewiredat Barbican, which explores artist responses to technological change and scientific shifts. Importantly, we’ll be screening visual material that is not known here, including a Russian TV production and two Polish films that just arrived today on 35mm reel – it will be interesting for audiences to see these lesser known works.
Who are you particularly excited about this year?
The closing night gala! We were delighted Paweł Pawlikowski agreed to come to London, he must be exhausted! And the accompanying music from 82-year old Zbigniew Namyslowski is really special. He received one of his first standing ovations in London many years ago and it is meaningful for him to come back.
Where next for Kinoteka?
I hope to have less events but make them bigger. So not forty but twenty really special events – and to add more music, more concerts. We want to cross art forms.
For the full Kinoteka 2019 Programme, see more details here https://kinoteka.org.uk/