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Festival Showcases Outstanding Polish Films

November 2, 2012 | 0 Comments

Wartime drama, romantic comedy, and haunting animation are all part of the line up for this year’s Rochester Polish Film Festival at the Little Theatre. The six-day event brings to town eight feature films and four shorts, including award winners, a blockbuster comedy, and three director debuts. Sponsored by the University of Rochester’s Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, the festival also hosts three Polish film artists to discuss their works following the screenings.

Among the week’s gems is Rosa, the harrowing tale of a German-speaking widow caught between pillaging Russian soldiers and vengeful Poles at the end of World War II. Hailed by Variety as “unbearably brutal yet hauntingly romantic,” this tragic story of survival and tenderness won Best Picture at this year’s Polish Film Awards and Grand Prix from the Warsaw Film Festival.

The festival concludes with 80 Million, a quirky thriller based on the real life intrigues of Solidarity activists as they attempt to quietly withdraw 80 million zlotys to fund the underground resistance movement. The film is Poland’s foreign-language nominee for the Oscars this year.

For opening night only, Wednesday, Nov. 14, the festival moves to the Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave., for the screening of the 1921 classic Miracle on the Vistula. Set during the Polish-Soviet War of 1919 to 1921, the film chronicles the surprise victory of the outnumbered and outgunned Polish army at Vistula River over Russian forces.

Guest artists will take questions from the audience following several of the screenings. Leszek Wosiewicz, director of the festival pick, Totentanz, is a well-known veteran of the Polish film industry with a distinguished list of documentaries, feature films, and television series to his credit. Rising talent Jan Komasa is one of Poland’s “most talented young directors,” says festival organizer Bozenna Sobolewska. His work, including the festival selection Suicide Room, is “pushing the Polish film industry in new directions,” Sobolewska says. Actor, movie producer, and author Arkadiusz Wojnarowsk will discuss his disturbing and animated documentary, Crulic—The Path to Beyond.

Now in its 15th year, the Rochester festival works hand in hand with Polish film festivals in Houston, Toronto, Austin, Seattle, and Los Angeles to secure the best film selections. The festival is made possible through the support of the Polish Film Institute, the Polish Filmmakers Association, the Little Theatre Film Society, and the Polish Heritage Society of Rochester.

All films are shown in Polish with English subtitles, and all are screened at the Little Theatre, except for opening night at the Memorial Art Gallery. The festivities wrap up with a reception on Monday, Nov. 19 in the Little Café, following the showing of 80 Million. Tickets are $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.

The festival schedule follows:
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m.
Opening night at the Memorial Art Gallery, 500 University Ave.
Miracle on the Vistula, 1921, 54 min.
Directed by Ryszard Boleslawski, this classic Polish film chronicles the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921 and the amazing victory of the Poles at the Vistula River over the superior Soviet Russian forces. The greatest star of the inter-war period, Jadwiga Smosarska, headlines the cast, which also features other famous actors. The film concludes with documentary footage of General Józef Pilsudski receiving the baton of the First Marshal of Poland.

The following films are at the Little Theatre, 240 East Ave.

Thursday, Nov. 15, 7 p.m.
Totentanz: Scenes from the Warsaw Uprising, 2012, 93 min.
The year is 1944 and Warsaw is in flames under German attack. When Warsaw’s Old Town is reduced to rubble under German bombs, poet and dreamer Marek sets off alone through a labyrinth of underground cellars and tunnels for the city center, where his father is central figure in the Resistance. Along the way, he falls in love with Irena, a beautiful blonde Volksdeutsch woman, whom he impulsively saves from execution as a spy and child-killer. She tries to find her son, who fought in the uprising as a boy scout.

Following the screening of this film, director Leszek Wosiewicz will be available for discussion.

Friday, Nov. 16, 7 p.m.
The Lake, 2011, 30 min.
After losing his wife, Tadeusz tries to find an answer to her mysterious death at the bottom of a lake. Pangs of conscience, a desire to be close to his wife, and an uncontrollable curiosity lead him deeper and deeper into the abyss of the lake.

Crulic – The Path to Beyond, 2011, 73 min.
This animated documentary tells the story of Cladiu Crulic, a Romanian native living in Poland who was falsely arrested for a theft allegedly committed in his adopted home of Krakow. After his attempts to contact the Romanian consulate and to seek out other means of justice lead to nothing, he launches a hunger strike that ultimately leads to his death. Crulic’s ghost haunts this tale in a calm and detached manner, retracing the steps that brought him to a sham trial defined by a casual absurdity that rivals some of the most distressing moments in Kafka. The film’s beautifully layered mix of watercolor backdrops, collage cutouts, photographs, stop-motion, and live-action animation, combined with a beautiful score by Piotr Dziubek, intensifies the stark injustice of Crulic’s fate. The case resonated widely with public opinion in Poland and in Romania and led to the resignation of the minister of foreign affairs of Romania and the Romanian ambassador to Poland.

Following the screening of this film, co-producer Arkadiusz Wojnarowski will be available for discussion.

Saturday, Nov. 17, 3 p.m.
My name is Ki, 2011, 98 min.
Ki is a young woman who refuses to play the part of a tired single mother. She wants to live a fast-paced and colorful life. Skillfully she divides the responsibilities of taking care of her little son among her friends to get time away and stay afloat financially. Roma G¹siorowska is perfectly suited to her part in this coming-of-age story, told with joyous ease and a hint of irony.

Saturday, Nov. 17, 6:30 p.m.
Courage, 2011, 85 min.
Courage is the story of Alfred and Jerzy, two brothers who witness a brutal incident on a local train: a couple of hooligans harassing a young woman. Jerzy stands in her defense. Alfred hesitates and becomes a helpless bystander as his younger brother is thrown off the moving train. After this incident, Alfred tries to cover up his lack of courage. The film, with the excellent role of Roman Wiêckiewicz as Alfred, is acclaimed as one of the best Polish films in recent years. It raises a fundamental question: is cowardice inherent to human nature?

Saturday, Nov. 17, 8:30 p.m.
Rosa, 2011, 90 min.
The main narrative unfolds during 1945 and 1946 in the Mor¹g Lake region of Mazuria, a border territory that, after a long period under German control, reverts to Polish rule. As Poland’s new pro-Soviet government seeks to resettle Poles from areas annexed by the Soviet Union, the Mazurians, descendants of Baltic Prussians (German-speaking Lutherans), endure humiliation and attacks from vengeance-seeking Poles who regard them as Germans, as well as from Russian troops who feel entitled to the fruits of victory. Through the eyes of an underground Home Army officer who finds sanctuary on the farm of attractive Mazurian widow Rose, we follow the struggle of a nation doomed to annihilation by two conflicting nationalisms. It would seem that these hard times leave no room for love. But love comes. And brings hope.

Sunday, Nov. 18, 3 p.m.
Letters to Santa, 2011, 116 min.
A romantic comedy by Slovenian director Mitja Okorn, the film is a collection of 15 extraordinary characters and five unique stories about ordinary people and the little miracles that occur in the magic of Christmas. They find love, friendship, family, and finally themselves. Letters to Santahas drawn record audiences in Poland, attracting almost 400,000 moviegoers on opening weekend alone, the country’s third most popular film launch in the last 20 years.

Sunday, Nov. 18, 7 p.m.
Suicide room, 2011, 117 min.
Suicide Room is a compelling and unique look at the issue of high school bullying, virtual reality, and the gradual departure from real human relations in favor of virtual ones. Dominik, a high school student humiliated by his classmates one too many times, feels like his whole world begins to crumble. He meets a beautiful and mysterious girl online, who brings him into the virtual world of the “suicide room” – a place of no return.

Following the screening of this film, director Jan Komasa will be available for discussion.

Monday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m.
80 Million, 2011, 105 min.
The film is based on real events which took place in 1981 Wroc³aw, ten days before martial law was introduced in Poland. A group of young activists of the Solidarity movement launch a bold attempt to withdraw the astonishing amount of 80 million zlotys from Solidarity’s bank account, before it would be blocked. Security Service officers follow their steps. A fascinating cat-and-mouse game begins, involving clergy and petty money-changers.

Following the screening of this film, the festival wraps up with a reception in the Little Café.

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.

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