30th Gdynia Festival of Polish Feature Films

All the stops were pulled out for the 30th anniversary of the Gdynia (formerly Gdansk) Festival of Polish Feature Films (12-17 September 2005). And with good reason — for the celebration also marked the 25th anniversary of Solidarnosc (Solidarity), the »Independent Workers Trade Union« founded in August of 1980 during the strike at the Gdansk Shipyards. Moreover, since Solidarity had historically spurred the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe, a welcomed »25th Anniversary Retrospective« of former Gdansk/Gdynia Golden Lion winners was programmed by festival director Maciej Karpinski in the Silver Screen multiplex, many with the directors present to take their bows once more. The icing on the festival cake was a Special Screening of an omnibus film titled Solidarnosc, Solidarnosc — 13 short films by well known Polish directors about Solidarity and »what it means to me today« in a new Poland recently accepted into the European Union.

Of course, Andrzej Wajda’s contribution to the Solidarity collection, titled Czlowiek z nadziei (Man of Hope), was the one that fascinated. Shot inside the »Neptun« cinema in Gdansk, it’s a talking-head documentary about a film project that never went much beyond the talking stage. Following the success of his Czlowiek z marmuru (Man of Marble) (1978) and Czlowiek z zelaza (Man of Iron) (1981), Andrzej Wajda was approached by Lech Walesa to consider a third film to complete the trilogy, a film titled Man of Hope that would focus on the destiny of the Solidarnosc movement with Jerzy Radziwilowicz and Krystyna Janda again in the lead roles. To review the ideas in this lost project, Wajda brings Walesa together with Radziwilowicz and Janda to discuss the times just before martial law pulled the curtain on both Solidarnosc and a vibrant Polish film culture.

Two other films in the Solidarity collection are well worth noting. In Robert Glinski’s Krajobraz (Landscape), a documentary sketch, we see the Gdansk Shipyards today: empty docks, rust-covered machinery, stray dogs and cats, garbage blowing in the wind, and a tourist guide leading a Japanese group into the hall where the historical agreement between Lech Walesa and the Polish communist mediator had been signed 25 years ago. And in Piotr Trzaskalski’s Dlugopis (Ballpen), a fiction film that spoofs the events surrounding the Solidarity Agreement, we see Lech Walesa signing the short-lived contract with that famous »ballpen« raised over his head for all to see. In the Trzaskalski’s spoof this ballpen with its wrap-around portrait of the Virgin Mary was originally conceived by its resourceful maker as an eye-catching ploy to sell the pen as a souvenir during the Pope’s forthcoming visit to Poland. How that ballpen found its way into the hands of Lech Walesa, well, that’s the fun part in the film that should be seen firsthand.

With so much nostalgia on hand, the festival jury headed by Andrzej Wajda looked to the past for top awards at Gdynia 2005. The Golden Lions for Best Film and Best Production went to the same entry: Feliks Falk’s Komornik (The Collector), a Film Studio Perspektywa production brought to the screen by veteran producer Janusz Morgenstern. The story of a debt collector who ruthlessly does his job without a sense of morality or conscience, the twist comes when he meets a long lost love struggling to care for her child against all odds. Like a repentant Judas, he tries to rectify his wrongs — and sinks deep into a morass of self-pity. Falk, who hasn’t directed a film in nine years, shows that he still is a master craftsman. It’s the story that rings hollow, although strongly applauded by the audience as a bitter portrait of contemporary Polish mores.

Ask cineastes attending this year’s festival whether Polish cinema is about to rebound as a leading national cinematography in a reconstituted European Union, and the answer is an unequivocal yes. Two Gdynia entries were already on their way to key international festivals: Dorota Kedzierzawska’s Jestem (I Am), selected by Toronto, and Piotr Trzaskalski’s Mistrz (The Master), destined for the Debut Competition at San Sebastian. I Am, Kedzierzawska’s fourth feature film, is arguably her best. The story of a sensitive 11-year-old boy committed by his mother to an orphanage, he runs away to live on an abandoned river-barge somewhere in backwoods Poland and make his way by collecting and selling scrap-iron. According to Dorota Kedzierzawska, the story is drawn from an actual experience: »When I first met the real-life Kundel (Piotr Jagielski in the film), I was impressed by his self-esteem. He went so far as to say that he was a poet — simply because he looked like one!« Although awarded an armful of prizes at Gdynia — Best Cinematography (Artur Reinhart), Best Music (Michael Nyman), and the Audience AwardI Am, it seems to me, deserved more.

Piotr Trzaskalski’s Mistrz (The Master), too, heralds a return to Polish film aesthetics of the postwar era. A finely directed film metaphor, The Master chronicles the painful journey of a wandering Russian circus performer whose skills as a knife-thrower are surpassed by feats of magic and deception. Played by Konstantin Lavronenko — in a role quite similar to his performance as the father in Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Return (Russia, 2003) — the »Master« is able to help others who join his company, but is deathly afraid of facing his own need for love and companionship. Not since Federico Fellini’s La Strada (Italy, 1954) has a film so deftly sketched the inner agony of a heavy-drinking circus artist in his subconscious search for a God to forgive the sins of his past. Unfortunately, the only festival prize awarded to this remarkable film went to Wojciech Zogala for Best Art Direction. It’s the kind of oversight that tends to minimize the importance of an overly protective nationalist film festival.

Two films by veteran directors were warmly received by the home audience. In Krzysztof Zanussi’s Persona non grata, a Polish-Russian coproduction set in Montevideo, the legendary Polish actor Zbigniew Zapasiewicz gives a refined performance as the alcoholic Polish Ambassador to Uruguay in a contretemps with his arch rival Nikita Mikhalkov, the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, over the favors of his recently deceased and beloved wife. And in Marek Piwowski’s Oskar, set in a children’s ward for terminally ill cancer patients, a sensitive 10-year-old discusses life and love in some moving scenes with a guardian angel, who has been sent to help him through his last days on earth. This short feature for children deserves a transfer from Betacam to 35mm for a run on the festival circuit.

A gala screening of Robert Glinski’s Wrozby kimaka (The Call of the Toad) closed the festival. This German-Polish coproduction by Berlin producer Regina Ziegler stars Krystyna Janda and Matthias Habich in a Günter Grass story about reconciliation between Germany and Poland. As much black comedy as it is political commentary, The Call of the Toad was also a televised media event when the world premiere was held in Gdansk a few days before the Gdynia festival. After all, Günter Grass, recently honored with Nobel Prize winner for Literature, is a native son of Danzig.

Ron Holloway


Grand Prize — Golden Lion for Best Film:
Komornik (The Collector), dir Feliks Falk

Grand Prize - Golden Lion for Best Production:
Film Studio Perspektywa, prod Janusz Morgenstern, Komornik (The Collector), dir Feliks Falk, Barborka (St. Barbara’s Day), dir Maciej Pieprzyca

Special Jury Prize:
Oda do radosci (Ode to Joy), dir Anna Kazejak-Dawid, Jan Komasa, Maciej Migas

Jury Prize:
Barborka (St. Barbara’s Day), dir Maciej Pieprzyca

Mayor of Gdynia Award for Social Sensitivity:
Doskonale popoludni (The Perfect Afternoon), dir Przemyslaw Wojcieszek

Mayor of Gdynia Award for Best Debut Actors (ex aequo):
Anna Cieslak, Masz na imie Justine (Your Name Is Justine), dir Franco de Pena
Tomasz Kot, Skazany na bluesa (Destined for Blues), dir Jan Kidawa-Blonski

Best Director:
Leszek Wosiewicz, Rozdroze Cafe (The Cross-Way Cafe)

Best Screenplay:
Grzegorz Loszewski, Komornik (The Collector), dir Feliks Falk

Best Actor:
Andrzej Chyra, Komornik (The Collector), dir Feliks Falk

Best Actress (ex aequo):
Krzystyna Janda, Pare osob, maly czas (A Few People, A Little Time), dir Andrzej Baranski
Karolina Gruszka, Kochankowie z Marony (The Lovers from Marona), dir Izsbella Cywinska

Best Supporting Actor:
Nikita Mikhalkov, Persona Non Grata, dir Krzysztof Zanussi

Best Supporting Actress:
Grzegorz Loszewski, Komornik (The Collector), dir Feliks Falk

Best Screenplay:
Kinga Preis, Komornik (The Collector), dir Feliks Falk

Best Cinematography (ex aequo):
Bartosz Prokopowicz, Komornik (The Collector), dir Feliks Falk
Artur Reinhart, Jestem (I Am), dir Dorota Kedzierzawska

Best Editor:
Leszek Wosiewicz, Krzysztof Raczynski, Rozdroze Cafe (The Cross-Way Cafe), dir Leszek Wosiewicz

Best Musical Score:
Michael Nyman, Jestem (I Am), dir Dorota Kedzierzawska

Best Sound Design:
Bartek Putkiiewicz, Jestem (I Am), dir Dorota Kedzierzawska

Best Art Direction:
Wojciech Zogala, Mistrz (The Master), dir Piotr Trzaskalski

Best Costumes:
Ewa Krauze, Skazany na bluesa (Destined for Blues), dir Jan Kidawa-Blonski

Best Debut Director:
Anna Jadowska, Teraz ja (It’s Me, Now)


Best Film:
Ugor (Wasteland), dir Dominik Matwiejczyk

Special Mention: Homo Father, dir Matwiejczyk


Polish Journalists Award:
Pare osob, maly czas (A Few People, A Little Time), dir Andrzej Baranski

Polish Television (PTV) Award: Oskar, dir Marek Piwowski

Creative Times Award:
Barborka (St. Barbara's Day), dir Maciej Pieprzyca

Audience Award:
Jestem (I Am), dir Dorota Kedzierzawska