Polish Ambassador, Composer, and Movie Star Join the Festivities, Nov. 13 to 17
If you've never treated yourself to Rochester's Polish Film Festival, this is the year to go.
The five-day celebration, sponsored by the University of Rochester's Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, offers some of the most innovative films to emerge from the Central European country in the past two decades. And the festival provides a chance to meet three of Poland's luminaries – the Honorable Robert Kupiecki, Polish ambassador to United States; Włodzimierz Pawlik, award-winning composer of film music scores; and Robert Więckiewicz, one of Poland's most popular actors.
"Several of these movies have been heralded as a part of a new wave in Polish film directing," says festival organizer Bozenna Sobolewska. Since the overthrow of the Communist Party in 1989, says Sobolewska, the Polish film industry has struggled with both a lack of funding and uncertainty about how to handle its newfound artistic freedoms.
But the industry is now blossoming, says Sobolewska, who travels to Gdynia, Poland, each summer to prescreen and select the festival lineup. "I've had a tremendous choice of films during the past two years," says Sobolewska. She credits much of the recent growth to the emergence of a new generation of directors and to increasing financial support from the Polish Film Institute and other sources.
On this year's roster: seven full-length feature films, two shorts, three documentaries, and one animated short. All recent releases, the films traverse several decades of the Polish experience, from the bustling life of pre-war Jewish neighborhoods captured in the documentary Po-Lin, to a wartime coming-of-age tale explored in Venice, to stories about the deeply personal costs of living under post-war Communist suppression and surveillance featured in The Lesser Evil, Reverse, and Little Rose. There's even a vampire flick, The Lullaby, with a humorous twist.
Więckiewicz, a leading actor in three of the festival picks, will take questions from the audience following the screening of The Lullaby and Little Rose. One of Poland's most popular and prolific movie stars, Więckiewicz is known for his ability to master a variety of roles; in the festival selections alone, the character actor takes on the roles of vampire patriarch, secret police officer, and corporate CEO.
Composer and jazz pianist Pawlik also will be on hand after the screening of Reverse, for which he created the musical score. (Listen to a selection from the soundtrack.) An associate professor at the Frederic Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Pawlik is a frequent performer at prestigious jazz festivals, a composer of classical and jazz, and the recipient of numerous international competitions for both his piano performances and composition work. (Listen to Pawlik's Transylvania Dance and Witkacy.)
Now in its 13th year, the festival has been steadily growing in popularity and support, attracting close to 500 attendees in 2009 and earning for the third straight year financial backing from the Polish Film Institute and the Polish Filmmakers Association. Other sponsors of the festival are the Little Theatre Film Society and the Polish Heritage Society of Rochester.
All films are shown in Polish with English subtitles at the Little Theatre, 240 East Ave. The ticket price is $8; students and seniors pay $5. Little Theatre Film Society members receive their membership discount. For details, visit http://www.rochester.edu/college/psc/CPCES/events_pff.html or contact the Skalny Center at (585) 275-9898.
The festival is bookended this year with parties. To kick off the festivities, on Friday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. Pawlik will treat guests to a jazz piano performance followed by a reception, attended by special guest Więckiewicz as well, at the The Inn on Broadway, 26 Broadway in downtown Rochester.
On Wednesday, Nov. 17, Ambassador Kupiecki will join in the closing gala and celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Skalny Center. A recognized expert in the fields of security policy and international relations, Ambassador Kupiecki was one of the pillars of Poland's accession to NATO in the 1990's and continues today to play an important role in U.S.-Polish security decisions.
The closing festivities begin at 9:30 p.m. at the Rochester Club Ballroom, 129 East Avenue, Suite 201, Rochester. Space is limited at both receptions. To attend, please RSVP by Nov. 3 to Bozenna Sobolewska at firstname.lastname@example.org, 585-275-9898, http://www.rochester.edu/college/psc/CPCES/pff10/rsvp.html, or the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, University of Rochester, 101 Harkness Hall, Box 270147, Rochester, NY 14627.
A schedule of the films follows:
Saturday, November 13
The Lesser Evil, Mniejsze Zło, 2009, 110 min., 3 p.m.
Kamil is a young poet who manages to achieve artistic success in the harsh political realities of 1980s Poland. Intentionally indifferent to unfolding events in his politically perturbed country, he is thrown between the Secret Service and opposition connected to the Solidarity union. He will have to pay the price that comes with choosing "the lesser evil."
Alien VI, Obcy 6, 2008, 30 min., 7 p.m.
When a young Jewish man appears in a tranquil Polish village years after local memories of WWII have long since faded, the villagers react in surprisingly disparate ways, reflecting their own ambivalent attitudes toward the past.
Reverse, Rewers, 2009, 99 min.
Reverse takes a look at life in 1950s communist Poland, centering on a fateful encounter between a bookish young woman and a member of the secret police. The film is the full-length feature debut of Borys Lankosz and Poland's submission for the foreign language Oscar in 2010. Lankosz calls the work "the story of spiritual victory, a tale of women who have to fight against the evil which erupts in their lives and who find themselves under pressure. In this sense, it's a sort of study of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation." Infused with an arresting jazz score, the movie has earned awards at Polish and international festivals.
A question-and-answer session with the film's composer Włodzimierz Pawlik follows the screening.
Sunday, November 14
The End of the World, Kres Świata, 2009, 9 min., documentary, 3 p.m.
A story about a small village, deserted by the young people who left to look for jobs in the town or abroad. The old people who remained are waiting every day for the mobile bread store, which is their only window on the world.
Zero, Zero, 2009, 110 min.
A film that both challenges and rewards its audience, Zero is a remarkable full-length feature debut achievement for director Pawel Borkowski. The narrative follows the lives of several characters over the course of 24 hours, intertwining their stories and leaving it up to the audience to find the parallels. Borkowski explores the phobias, fears, and disillusionments of modern life.
Sunday, November 14
Don't be afraid of the Dark Room, Ciemnego Pokoju Nie Trzeba Sie Bać, 2009, 38 min., 7 p.m.
This short film focuses on the adoring love of an 11-year-old girl for her father. In preparation for her school's Father's Day ceremony, the girl carefully observes her father and in the process, begins to discover some of his secrets.
The Lullaby, Kolysanka, 2010, 100 min.
Under mysterious circumstances, residents and guests of a picturesque village begin to disappear when the multigenerational Makarewicz family move in. The action is swift and full of sudden turns and delivered with a strong dose of humor, a trademark of director Juliusz Machulski.
A question-and-answer session with the film's lead actor Robert Więckiewicz follows the screening.
Monday, November 15
Little Rose, Rózyczka, 2010, 118 min., 7 p.m.
This inspiring tale, based on true events, is set in Poland in 1968, a year when student protests and anti-Semitic campaigns eventually forced thousands of "Zionists" to leave the country on one-way passports, forced to renounce their citizenship forever. "Little Rose" is a pseudonym for Kamila, a young graduate who is cajoled into spying by her lover Roman, a security services officer. Roman has been assigned the task of incriminating a well-known dissident writer. Kamila wins the trust of the writer, and soon his love. In the process, she begins to appreciate the writer's warmth, intelligence, and refinement and to wake up to the vulgarity of her relationship with Roman.
A panel discussion with the film's lead actor Robert Więckiewicz follows the screening.
Tuesday, November 16
Po-Lin, Po-Lin, 2008, 87 min., documentary, 7 p.m.
Based on unique archival collections, this documentary offers new insights into pre-war Poland, a world where two cultures, Jewish and Polish, coexisted next to each other, door to door, town to town. "Po-lin," which means "we shall stop here" in Yiddish, does not deny the painful past. It only shows that there was much more to it, which is worth remembering and, maybe, reconstructing. The film offers a seldom-seen documentation of Jewish societies before the outbreak of the Second World War. Through amateur film footage and magical sound design, the film recreates the living milieus of synagogues, religious schools, Jewish homes for the elderly and orphans, market places and other areas of daily life.
Rabbit a la Berlin, Królik Po Berlińsku, 2009, 51 min., documentary, 7 p.m.
This Oscar nominated documentary is a fascinating history lesson told through the eyes of animals—the unknown story of the thousands of wild rabbits who found a safe haven within the confines of the Berlin Wall. Protected from outside threats but also unable to escape, the rabbit community thrived in isolation for 28 years until the wall came down. Rabbits then had to adapt. They moved to West Berlin and have been living in the city in a few colonies since then. Like other citizens of Eastern Europe, the rabbits are still learning how to live in the free world.
Wednesday, November 17
The Kinematograph, Kinematograf, 2009, 12 min., animation, 7 p.m.
This adaptation of a comic strip by Mateusz Skutnik tells the story of an inventor in late 19th-century England who is obsessed with his dream of inventing a kinematograph. Focused solely on his work, he forgets about one thing: dreams always cost too much.
Venice, Wenecja, 2010, 110 min
A ten-year-old boy dreams of going to Venice, but his plans are disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. His family hides him in his aunt's home, where he builds a small Venice in the flooded basement. "Through his eyes, we watch six years of war," explains director Jan Jakub Kolski. "His experiences offer a unique perspective, for the war is merely a backdrop to the personal events which shape the boy's imagination and character. We will witness his first love, his first erotic fascinations, his first achievements and disappointments." A closing reception follows at the Rochester Club Ballroom. To attend, please RSVP by Nov. 3 to Bozenna Sobolewska at email@example.com, 585-275-9898, www.rochester.edu/college/PSC/CPCES, or the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, University of Rochester, 101 Harkness Hall, Box 270147, Rochester, NY 14627.
About the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies
Established through a grant from the Louis Skalny Foundation, the Center is an academic meeting place for teaching and research on Central Europe, with a special focus on Poland. At the University, the Center supports post-doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate research, brings in visiting faculty, and offers Polish language courses. For the wider community, the Center sponsors a lecture and artist series, and organizes the annual Polish Film Festival.