University of Rochester

EVENT: Festival Offers Rare Chance to See Polish Films, Meet Artists

October 21, 2009

If booking a vacation to Central Europe is not in the budget this fall, let the Polish Film Festival take you there instead.

For five days, Nov. 14 to 18, the annual celebration of Polish cinematic creativity will showcase six feature films, selected documentaries, and a collection of shorts from emerging film makers at the Little Theatre. Along with the screenings, two of the leading lights of the Polish film industry, director Jacek Blawut and actress Malgorzata Kozuchowska, will be in town to discuss their work with audiences.

"We're bringing a slice of Poland to Western New York," says Randall Stone, director of the University of Rochester's Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, which sponsors the festival. "This is a great way to experience another culture without leaving home."

The festival is especially important for American audiences, because Polish films are less commercially available here than films from many other European countries, says Bob Russell, executive director of the Little Theatre. "These films are not distributed in the U.S.," Russell explains. "You can't just go to Blockbuster and pull one of these off the shelf."

Russell, who screens about 40 foreign films each year at the Little, says that he welcomes the festival because "these films are very well made. Someone does not have to be of Polish nationality to enjoy these works."

Take, for example, the opening film, Too Soon to Die. Hailed as a movie watching experience that "borders on euphoria," this sensitive tale of an elderly widow and her dog earned 92-year-old Danuta Szaflarska "Best Actress" and her pooch a special "Canine Award" at the Polish Film Awards. "Cynical at the edges and optimistic at its heart, Pora umierac [Too Soon to Die] is an excellent example of modern Polish cinema," concludes one reviewer.

Like Too Soon to Die, Before Twilight showcases stars of post-War Polish screen and stage. The "scrappy but heartfelt" feature film was directed by Jacek Blawut, veteran documentary maker, who will answer questions from viewers following the Saturday evening showing. The discussion will be moderated by Sheila Shaff from the Polish Cultural Institute in New York City.

On Monday, the festival commemorates the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II with Tomorrow We Are Going to the Movies, the story of three Warsaw high school graduates of the class of 1938 whose futures are shattered by the Nazi invasion of Poland. Polish veterans who remember the outbreak of the war are encouraged to join the discussion following the screening. Contact Bozena Sobolewska at or (585) 275-9898 for more information.

Sunday, Malgorzata Kozuchowska, one of Poland's most popular actresses, will take questions from the audience following the screening of Drowsiness, a feature film in which Kozuchowska plays one of three insomniacs who stumble upon each other as they try to salvage their troubled lives.

Now in its 12th year, the festival has been steadily growing in popularity and support. Due to increased attendance, the Little, at 240 East Avenue, has moved screenings to one of its larger theaters this year and for a second consecutive year, the festival has attracted $16,000 in financial backing from the Polish Filmmakers Association and The Polish Film Institute. Other sponsors of the festival include the Little Theatre Film Society and the Polish Heritage Society of Rochester.

All films are shown in Polish with English subtitles. The ticket price is $8; students and seniors pay $5. Little Theatre Film Society members receive their membership discount. For details, visit or contact the Skalny Center at (585) 275-9898.

A schedule of the films follows:

Saturday, November 14, 3 p.m.
Too Soon to Die, 2007, 110 min. Director: Dorota Kedzierzawska
A solitary old woman, full of life and spirit, lives with her dog in her large house. She passes her days conversing with the dog, Philadelphia, while observing the world through her windows. Unfortunately, her neighbors are interested in buying her property to build apartments and her son is willing to take advantage of the opportunity. Ninety two-year-old Danuta Szaflarska, who appeared in the first Polish film made after the war, Forbidden Songs, creates an extraordinary performance, supported by her canine companion, whose interactions with Szaflarska add depth to the story.

Saturday, November 14, 7 p.m.
The Actors, 2009, 28 min. Documentary, Director: Tomasz Wolski
The legends of Polish film caught during the filming of Before Twilight.

Before Twilight, 2008, 100 min. Director: Jacek Blawut
Poland's greatest actors, who once starred in ground-breaking films by Andrzej Wajda, Wojciech Jerzy Has, Marta Meszaros, and others, bring to life this first feature film by veteran documentary director Jacek Blawut. This heartwarming tale follows the residents of the Retirement Home for Actors as they are awakened by the vitality and enthusiasm of actor and elderly gallant, Jerzy (Jan Nowicki, Best Actor Award at Polish Film Festival in Gdynia) and his ambition plan to stage Goethe's "Faust." Rehearsals break the monotonous routine of the home, rekindling passion, joy, and artistic pride in the once-esteemed artists. It is a film about love, the passage of time, and actors — their eccentricities and their dreams about appearing on the stage for one more, maybe the last, time.

The screening is followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Sheila Skaff of the Polish Cultural Institute.

Sunday, November 15, 3 p.m.
Woman Wanted, 2009, 15 min. Documentary, Director: Michal Marczak
This film portrays people who search for love. A French nobleman hires a professional matchmaker to find him a wife in Poland. Meetings with potential candidates show their hidden desires, anxieties, and expectations.

Preserve, 2007, 115 min. Director: Lukasz Palkowski
It is often said that there are two Warsaws: the upscale left side of the Vistula River, and the seedy right side, called Praga. After a stormy breakup, freelance photographer Marcin must leave his girlfriend's luxurious apartment on Warsaw's trendy side. He moves to a dilapidated, old building in Praga where his new landlord hires him to document the deplorable state of the structure. During his work, he gets to know the personalities of Brzeska Street, motivating him to examine his own life and change. The result is a delightful, warm, and optimistic story about memory and friendship.

Sunday, November 15, 7 p.m.
Mother, 2009, 15 min. Documentary, Director: Jakub Piatek
In this examination of visitors to one of Poland's prisons, husbands, fathers, and sons are on one side, and on the other side are their children, wives, and mothers. The story focuses on one mother's story.

Drowsiness, 2008, 105 min. Director: Magdalena Piekorz
The plot centers on three people who suffer from insomnia and who have lost control over their lives. Through a combination of coincidences, the three meet and life gives them a chance to escape their lethargy. Each of them makes an attempt to follow his/her own path, which can lead to love, hatred, death, or almost anything.

Drowsiness star Malgorzata Kozuchowska will answer questions following the screening.
Reception in the Little Café.

Monday, November 16, 7 p.m.
Tomorrow We Are Going to the Movies, 2007, 100 min. Director: Michal Kwiecinski
Three Warsaw high school graduates from the class of 1938 dream of magnificent futures for their lives. They are intelligent, handsome, and optimistic. We see a glimpse of their lives on the brink of maturity, until the war begins.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Polish World War II veterans about their memories of Sept. 1, 1939.

Tuesday, November 17, 7 p.m.
Four short theme films that are directors' debuts under the Polish Filmmaker Association's "30 minutes" program provide an insider look at new trends in Polish cinema.

The Loneliness of a Short-Order Cook, 2008, 24 min. Director: Marcel Sawicki
Upon arrival in Los Angeles, a young Japanese man learns that the firm he was supposed to work for has been closed. He decides to stay nevertheless, and starts working as a cook in a Japanese jazz club. He falls in love with a Mexican girl who does not speak English and discovers the other side of the city – the one without beaches, palm trees, and expensive cars.

My New Life, 2009, 30 min. Director: Barbara Bialowas
Piotr and Alina, a couple in their thirties, are trying to fulfill their dreams and aspirations. Their engagement party turns into a tragicomic confrontation between their generation's attitudes and viewpoints and those of their parents.

What the Doctors Say, 2009, 24 min. Director: Michal Wnuk
"18-years old, 168 cm tall, 49 kg weight, no diseases, no addictions" - this accident victim is a perfect organ donor for a patient who has been waiting for a long time for a liver transplant. However, the doctor who is about to declare the victim brain dead has to confront her mother first.

Anna's Little Lies, Director: Krzysztof Bizio
A woman rediscovers the meaning of her life after a night of drinking lands her in the detoxification center. There a chance meeting with a childhood friend allows both women to look at their problems from a different perspective and changes their lives forever.

Wednesday, November 18, 7 p.m.
The Glass Trap, 2008, 15 min. documentary, Director: Pawel Ferdek
A group of Warsaw's tough guys organizes a new entertainment: aggressive aquarium fish-fights. The tournament is accompanied by betting. We watch how the dense atmosphere of the competition brings out primitive instincts in the participants.

God's Little Village, 2009, 110 min. Director: Jacek Bromski
In this third comedy about King's Bridge, the village's bucolic, leisurely life style is threatened by the upcoming mayoral elections. The longtime mayor is challenged by the owner of the local disco club with a campaign in true American style.

A closing reception will follow in the Little Café