2016 was a great year for Polish documentaries. This success is owed largely to the universality of topics tackled by our filmmakers, the successful collaboration between directors and producers, a good network of international contacts, and excellent domestic film events dedicated to documentary films.

Film critic Janusz Wróblewski was right when he said last December at the “Polityka” magazine awards ceremony: “What brings us the greatest joy is the emergence of a completely new Polish school of documentary filmmaking, which has already been noticed by many international film critics in foreign press. Paweł Łoziński, Anna Zamecka, Hanna Polak, Michał Marczak, Karolina Bielawska, Wojciech Staroń, Piotr Stasik, as well as our nominees — and the list is much longer than that. This is the pride and joy of our filmmaking; our hope for change in Polish cinema,” he said.

Michał Marczak Wins Best Director in World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance

Wszystkie nieprzespane noce (All These Sleepless Nights), a Polish-British co-production directed by Michał Marczak, is the type of film that does not abide by strict genre limitations. 2016 was off to a good start with an award for Marczak at the Sundance film festival. Sundance programmer Hussain Currimbhoy described Michał Marczak’s film as follows: “this film is neither pretentious nor obvious. It shows a series of moments, but you know that they convey a deeper meaning. This film is simply beautiful. Wonderfully directed, made with love and respect.”

The film received the audience award at the 16th New Horizons IFF in Wrocław (screening in the festival’s International Competition; producer Marta Golba Marta Golba of ENDORFINA Studio and Michał Marczak discussed the film during a masterclass at the festival’s New Horizons Studio), was shown in Main Competition at the 41st Gdynia Film Festival, and was released theatrically in Poland by Kino Świat (over 23,700 admissions in cinemas before December 1, 2016). Then 2017 was off to another good start for Polish documentary cinema, with a Heterodox Award for Wszystkie nieprzespane noce (All These Sleepless Nights) in the United States.

Mów mi Marianna (Call Me Marianna) in Cinemas

January 29, 2016 marked the theatrical release of Mów mi Marianna (Call Me Marianna), a documentary film directed by Karolina Bielawska and co-financed by the Polish Film Institute. The film screened at the 68th Locarno International Film Festival in 2015, winning the Premio Zonta Club Locarno award for a film that addresses crucial social issues.

Aktorka (The Actress) Wins 2016 Eagle Award

March 2016 marked the ceremony of the Polish Film Awards (Eagles). It was the fourth time in the awards’ 19-year-long history that the award for best documentary film was presented. Nominees included Karski i władcy ludzkości by Sławomir Grünberg, Joanna by Aneta Kopacz, Nadejdą lepsze czasy (Something Better to Come) by Hanna Polak, Piano by Vita Maria Drygas, and the winning film: Aktorka (The Actress) by Kinga Dębska and Maria Konwicka. March 2016 also marked the 20th anniversary of the passing of director Krzysztof Kieślowski; retrospectives of his works were organised around the world, often showcasing his documentary films as well, which to this day continue to inspire Polish and foreign filmmakers alike.

Łowcy miodu (Honey Hunters) Win Green Oscar

April 22, 2016 marked the Polish theatrical release of Łowcy miodu. Na ratunek pszczołom (Honey Hunters), a documentary film directed by Krystian Matysek and co-financed by the Polish Film Institute. On October 13 at the Wildscreen festival in Bristol, the film received the “green Oscar.” According to the jury statement, Łowcy miodu (Honey Hunters) is a wonderfully humane film that derives from a film tradition that differs from most environmental films. The film received the Docs+Science audience award at the 56th Krakow Film Festival.

Bracia (Brothers) in Cinemas

April 8, 2016 marked the Polish theatrical release of Bracia (Brothers), a documentary film directed by Wojciech Staroń and co-financed by the Polish Film Institute. The film received a number of awards, including the award for best film in the Critics Week section of the 68th Locarno IFF, the Golden Dove Grand Prize at the 58th DOK Leipzig film festival, the Grand Prize at the”Listapad” International Film Festival in Minsk, and special mention at the 23rd Camerimage film festival. Distribution is handled by Staron Film, and the film marked over 3,700 admissions in Polish cinemas.

Also in April, Koniec świata (The End of the World), a documentary directed by Monika Pawluczuk and co-financed by the Polish Film Institute, received the grand prize at DocuDays UA, Ukraine’s largest documentary film festival. The DocuDays UA festival jury statement reads: “This is a film full of natural intuition. Emotional, balanced, impeccably constructed, it is a film about loneliness and longing, caring, and love; a film about courage in everyday urban life, while also having a distinct voice on change that’s possible thanks to our humanity and the ability to listen.” Having screened and received awards around the world, this film had its television broadcast premiere on TVP2 in December 2016.

April also marked the first session of the second edition of Doc Lab Poland 2016, attended by 35 documentary film directors and producers. Participants had workshops with leading experts in the European documentary film industry, including Leena Pasanen, director of the DOK Leipzig documentary film festival and Paul Pauwels, general director of the European Documentary Network. The next stage of Doc Lab Poland was a session during the 56th Krakow Film Festival. Doc Lab Poland participants took part in the Docs to Start and Docs to Go pitching sessions, presenting their documentary projects to leading industry experts: producers, sales agents, festival programmers, and broadcaster commissioning officers.

Co-Production Market within DOC LAB POLAND

A key element of Doc Lab Poland was its Co-Production Market: “This is a project that we want to develop; participants include Polish and international film producers and their projects, although they need not participate in the workshop itself. This first edition of the co-production market and workshop marked over 450 one-on-one meetings. This shows the scale of the development of documentary filmmaking in Poland,” says Adam Ślesicki, head of Doc Lab Poland.

Ikona (Icon) Wins at 56th Krakow IFF

At the 56th Krakow Film Festival, Polish documentary filmmaker Marcel Łoziński received the lifetime achievement award. The Golden Hobby-Horse Award in the Polish Competition of the 56th Krakow FF for the director of Best Film went to Wojciech Kasperski for his documentary Ikona (Icon). The film also received the Award of the President of the Polish Filmmakers Association for Best Editing (Tymoteusz Wiskirski), the Maciej Szumowski Award for unique sensibility to social issues, and the award of the Polish Cinematographers Society for best cinematography (Łukasz Żal). Ikona (Icon) was also recognised in the International Documentary Competition, winning the FIPRESCI jury award. The film was released theatrically on December 9. Distribution is handled by the Krakow Film Foundation.

Successful Streak for Nawet nie wiesz, jak bardzo cię kocham (You Have No Idea How Much I Love You)

Paweł Łoziński received the Silver Hobby-Horse award for the director of the Best Documentary Film at the Krakow FF for his documentary Nawet nie wiesz, jak bardzo cię kocham (You Have No Idea How Much I Love You). The film, co-financed by the Polish Film Institute, was released theatrically in Poland on September 23. Distribution is handled by Against Gravity. The film was warmly received by film critics and audiences alike, landing 28th on the Filmweb Top100 list and in various “best of 2016” lists by film critics, including Filmweb editor-in-chief Michał Walkiewicz, who described the film as follows: “Watching the work of acclaimed Krakow-based psychologist Bogdan de Barbaro is more than just a report from a therapist’s couch, usually inaccessible for cameras. It is also a self-reflection about the therapeutic role of cinema.” To date, the film has marked over 19,000 admissions.

Więzi (Close Ties) Enjoy International Success

The Silver Dragon award for Best Documentary Film in the Short Film Competition at the 56th Krakow FF went to Więzi (Close Ties) by Zofia Kowalewska. The film also went on to receive awards at festivals in Koszalin, Wrocław and Amsterdam. In October 2016, the film was shortlisted for the Academy Awards in the Best Documentary — Short Subject category.

In May 2016, Lufthansa joined the Picture Poland project, which promotes Polish cinema among airline passengers. Now Lufthansa, LOT and Turkish Airlines in-flight entertainment systems feature a selection of Polish documentary films, including Joanna by Aneta Kopacz, Mundial. Gra o wszystko by Michał Bielawski, and Deep Love by Jan P. Matuszyński.

Polish Films at the 13th Millennium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival

Another siginificant in May was the 13th edition of the Millenium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival in four cities across Poland: Warsaw, Wrocław, Bydgoszcz, and Gdynia.

The festival’s Main Competition lineup featured Don Juan, the latest film directed by Jerzy Śladkowski and lensed by Wojciech Staroń, which previously received an award at IDFA. The Docs Against Gravity FF lineup also featured several Polish documentaries, including Przy Planty 7/9 by Michał Jaskulski and Lawrence Loewinger, a film about the pogrom in Kielce, Jarocin. Po co wolność by Leszek Gnoiński and Marek Gajczak, and Kiedy ten wiatr ustanie, a short documentary by Aniela Gabryel. The last of these films received the ARRI IDFA Award for Best Film in the Student Competition at Amsterdam’s IDFA in November.

Later months of 2016 brought First Prize in the Polish Short Film Competition at the 16th New Horizons IFF for Nauka, a film by Emi Buchwald. The film also received two awards at the “Łodzią po Wiśle” Lodz Film School Festival: the award for Best Documentary Student Film and the Young Jury Prize. Nauka went on to receive awards in Luxembourg, Poznań, Białystok, and Bucharest.

Komunia (Communion) Wins in Locarno

Polish documentary cinema enjoyed tremendous success at the 69th Locarno International Film Festival in August 2016. This was the third year in a row that a Polish film took top laurels in the festival’s Critics’ Week — this year the winning film was Komunia (Communion), a film by Anna Zamecka. The Critics’ Week competition lineup featured a total of seven films from around the world, including two documentaries co-financed by the Polish Film Institute: Komunia (Communion) by Anna Zamecka and Mnich z morza (Monk from the Sea) by Rafał Skalski.

Komunia (Communion) proved to be one of the top award-winning Polish documentary films of 2016, both in Poland and overseas. At the 32nd Warsaw Film Festival, the film received the Grand Prize in the Documentary Film Competition, in addition to awards in Jihlava, Minsk, Bratislava, and at the 59th DOK.Leipzig festival. Komunia (Communion) was released theatrically in Poland on November 25, with distribution handled by Aurora Films.

9th Polish Film Institute Awards

September 20, 2016 at the 41st Gdynia Film Festival marked the nine annual ceremony of the Polish Film Institute awards. The awards committee gave recognition to those who deal with promoting Polish documentary films; nominees for the award included the 8th “Okiem Młodych” International Documentary Film Festival in Świdnica (National Film Event category) and the Krakow Film Foundation for the international promotion of Polish documentaries (Promotion of Polish Films Abroad category). The awards went to Munk Studio — Polish Filmmakers Association for the promotion of documentary films Obiekt (Object) by Paulina Skibińska and Punkt wyjścia (Starting Point) by Michał Szcześniak (also in the Promotion of Polish Films Abroad category), and to Małgorzata Hendrykowska for her two-part publication on the history of Polish documentary films (Part One focuses on the years 1896 to 1944, Part Two is 1945 to 2014) in the Film Book category.

21 x Nowy Jork (21 x New York) Nominated for an European Film Award

Another notable film of 2016 was 21 x Nowy Jork (21 x New York) by Piotr Stasik, which opened the 56th Krakow Film Festival. In November, the film was nominated for the European Film Awards as Best European Documentary. The film also screened at the 59th DOK.Leipzig festival, nominated for the MDR Film Prize alongside Maciej Adamek’s Dwa światy (Two Worlds). This film was also warmly received at film festivals abroad, bringing home an award for Best Cinematography (Mateusz Skalski) from the 19th UNAFF festival in Palo Alto (USA). Dwa światy (Two Worlds) also received awards at the Harlem International Film Festival and the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

December 20, 2016 marked the announcement of the winners of the “Trzy Korony – Małopolska Nagroda Filmowa” (Three Crowns) film awards. The winner in the Best Documentary Script category was Studium chaosu czyli traktat o Krzysztofie Niemczyku by Magdalena Hueckel-Śliwińska and Tomasz Śliwiński. The project was developed within the framework of Doc Lab Poland, and received the Krakow Film Award at the 56th Krakow Film Festival.

Senses of Cinema on Polish Documentary Filmmaking

Masha Shpolberg wrote a piece about the new generation of filmmakers in Polish documentary cinema for Senses of Cinema magazine. “The ‘new generation’ of Polish documentary seeks […] to normalise the strange. […] Young documentary filmmakers […] import more of the techniques of fiction cinema into their work. Largely centred on a single disabled, marginalised or otherwise isolated protagonist, these films compel the viewer to empathise and thereby to assume a new subject position: to step not outside the system but into another’s shoes.”

“Polish documentary films are taking the world by storm, a good example of this is Zofia Kowalewska’s Więzi (Close Ties). I have the impression that this trend will continue, judging by the quality of projects that have to date been submitted to Doc Lab Poland. Some of the films from our first edition have already been made, but many more are still in production. But we feel like it is a movement that operates on many fronts. It’s not like there is one subject that dominates all else, or one filmmaker. There is a significant number of filmmakers and quite a sizeable group of young producers who, in the past few years, have focused on documentary films, often with great results. I hope that Polish documentary filmmakers will have the courage, hope and persistence necessary to succeed. I hope they will stick to their chosen artistic path and be open to new ideas,” says Adam Ślesicki of Doc Lab Poland.

Marta Sikorska