In 2016, the Polish Film Institute launched a new expert committee and allocated a separate budget for films for young and family audiences.

Growing interest in new scheme among Polish filmmakers

In 2016, the Polish Film Institute supported production of three feature-length live action films and two feature animated films, in addition to funding development of ten film projects. Over the course of three sessions, a total of 53 applications was submitted.

“In 2016, the Polish Film Institute introduced a special committee to evaluate projects of films for young and family audiences. Introducing this change in the Polish Film Institute’s operational programmes was one of the first executive decisions by new general director of the Polish Film Institute, Magdalena Sroka. The first year of the new committee’s operation proved that the idea of a dedicated envelope for films for young audiences was a success; the scheme attracted many film producers and the number of submitted applications rose in each session,” said Izabela Kiszka-Hoflik, head of the Polish Film Institute’s Film Production and Film Project Development department at the Ale Kino! Industry Pro event in Poznań.

Members of the committee include representatives of the film industry who have long been working in children’s films: Maciej Wojtyszko, Leszek Gałysz, Maciej Jakubczyk, Grzegorz Kędzierski and Joanna Olech.

“I think that creating a separate category for ‘family films’ was a great idea, and the results of the first year are promising,” says committee leader Maciej Wojtyszko. “We had a significant number of submissions at various stages of production. It is painful to now that of the 50 submissions we could only support a few, whilst there were at least a few others that deserved to be noticed.”

Maciej Jakubczyk, committee expert and director of the Children’s Film Festival of the New Horizons Association agrees: “Creating a special envelope for children’s films at the Polish Film Institute is the best move we could have made in Poland at this moment. Experts no longer need to struggle with the dilemma of whether ‘adult’ subjects are superior to children’s, and vice versa. I was eager to see new treatments and screenplays. I think there were many more quality projects than we were able to support. In case of a few films, I’m truly sorry we weren’t able to fund them. But many projects received support for project development. I am curious to see what these filmmakers will bring back next year.”

Addressing the needs of producers and audiences

The new scheme has been enthusiastically received by producers.

“I think this committee will be a milestone in the development of Polish films for family audiences,” says producer Anja Sosic of Human Ark, who is currently working on a feature-length animation called Podróż smokiem Diplodokiem. “The industry lacked this type of support, and the positive effects of the committee’s first year are already visible — never before have we had this many children’s films in development and in production in Poland.”

“Launching this committee is a great help for producers, especially producers of animated films for whom most of their projects are aimed at family audiences,” says Zofia Jaroszuk of Animoon, who is currently working on a feature-length animation entitled Gwiazdka Muminków.

Thanks to the special allocation of funds for developing films for young audiences, Iwona Harris, producer at Lillipop Films, is able to develop her project Julka. “Creating a special scheme and a separate committee for evaluating films for young and family audiences was a move eagerly awaited by producers; many saw this sector of the market as their chance for development by filling a niche in the Polish market,” she adds, noting that parents, teachers and educators also often pointed out a lack of domestic films for our youngest viewers.

The idea of creating a new committee is appreciated not only by producers, but also by screenwriters. Kasia Sienkiewicz-Kosik, co-writer of Julka, says: “A special committee for family films is an excellent solution.” Iwona Harris notes that “before creating this separate committee, children’s film projects were evaluated by experts together with arthouse films or historic films. When judged against the serious ‘adult’ topics, children’s films were at a disadvantage. Starting this year, children’s films compete for funding only against other projects for the same target audience, which allows for an easier selection of the most interesting projects. The current system is better designed to serve the development of children’s cinema in Poland. However, growing competition does not make it any easier for producers to receive funding. There are many projects and not enough funding, although this new scheme at the Polish Film Institute certainly allows for the market for children’s films to grow. I hope that among the many submitted projects of good quality, support will go to the most interesting films and films that are diverse in subject matter and aesthetics.”

Easier to find partners thanks to the new scheme

Producers agree that the separate scheme for children’s films at the Polish Film Institute has made it easier for producers to find potential partners for their projects.

“Thanks to the new scheme, the chances for children’s films being made in Poland have increased. Without institutional support, it is difficult to find business partners in Poland. Although children’s films are by definition made for large audiences, paradoxically they are difficult to finance,” says producer Agnieszka Dziedzic of Koi Studio, who is currently producing Tarapaty. Producer Anja Sosic agrees: “For Human Ark, currently producing an animated family film called Podróż smokiem Diplodokiem, the new scheme marks new opportunities; thanks to their support, it is easier for us to talk to new partners and raise more funding.”

Producers opinion of the committee members

It is an important fact that the experts who evaluated the submitted projects are respected by producers and filmmakers.

“For us producers, the fact that submitted projects are evaluated by experts in the field of children’s films is important, because the feedback we receive helps us better prepare our projects for the needs of the market,” says producer Zofia Jaroszuk of Animoon.

“A positive aspect of the committee is the fact that its members are experts in the field of children’s films. In our case, feedback from the committee regarding changes to the script was very valuable and we took this feedback on board,” says Kasia Sienkiewicz-Kosik, co-writer of Julka.

Director of the Ale Kino! Festival of Films for Young Audiences discusses changes in the market for children’s films in Poland

“I think that after years of terrible drought, we are starting to see better times for Polish children’s and family films. The “Polish Films in Development” discussion, organised in December during the Ale Kino! film festival in Poznań, marked a presentation of eight projects that are to be released over the next three years. Most of these have received financial support from the Polish Film Institute, and it is beyond doubt that the involvement of the Institute is an important factor for many producers. They have long noticed that there is enormous potential for these types of films among Polish audiences, but they were also aware that they would rarely have a chance to break through without public funding. Today, these two forces come together: the determination of filmmakers and producers, supported by various initiatives such as Ale Kino’s first edition of Ale Kino! Industry Pro or the New Horizons Association’s film education project called Kino Dzieci.Pro, with direct financing by the Polish Film Institute. This year, we were happy to welcome the success of Mariusz Palej’s film Za niebieskimi drzwiami (Behind the Blue Door), and I look forward to seeing more films that will successfully (of which I am sure) compete with productions from around the world at our festival,” says Jerzy Moszkowicz, director of the Ale Kino! International Film Festival.

Support from the Polish Film Institute at every stage of production and promotion

The Polish Film Institute is actively involved not only in supporting projects at the development and production stage, but also tries to assist filmmakers in promoting Polish cinema.

“I am glad that the Polish Film Institute not only supported us at the production stage, but is also actively collaborating with us in planning the film’s promotional campaign. I believe that this is an equally important stage, and even the best film would have little chance of success without a well thought-out marketing plan. Together with our distributor Next Film, we decided to release the film in September 2017. This gives us enough time to prepare a long-term promotional campaign and festival strategy,” says Agnieszka Dziedzic of Koi Studio. The company’s film Tarapaty was the first feature-length project to receive financing for production within the framework of the new scheme.

“Working on a children’s film was a challenge, but also brought us a lot of joy. We feel that there is a great demand for these films in Poland, and nostalgia for the adventure films of our childhood. We have brought on board several wonderful Polish actors: Joanna Szczepkowska, Roma Gąsiorowska, Piotr Głowacki, Krzysztof Stroiński, Maria Maj, and Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak. I am glad that we will be able to showcase their talents to our youngest audiences,” says Agnieszka Dziedzic.

Increasing admissions to Polish films for young audiences

The rising number of admissions to Polish films for young audiences serves as best proof of the potential and demand for this type of films. Last year, Tomasz Szafrański’s Klub włóczykijów marked a total of 131,000 admissions in cinemas. This year marked the release of Za niebieskimi drzwiami (Behind the Blue Door) by Mariusz Palej, an adaptation of a popular book by Marcin Szczygielski. The film marked over 224,000 admissions by December 31. Next year’s releases include Tarapaty and Gwiazdka Muminków.

“When four years ago we were preparing the Kino Dzieci.Pro development programme (known back then as Films For Kids.Pro), our tutors fro Denmark, Norway and Germany couldn’t believe that in present-day Europe, a country with a population of almost 40 million has almost no films for children being made. They said that from a production perspective in their respective countries, children’s films are the most stable genre in terms of securing admissions, right after comedies. We felt that Poland was ripe for a change when we received over 50 applications for projects in development,” says Maciej Jakubczyk. “I am happy to see the fantastic admission results of these recent releases. Klub włóczykijów and Za niebieskimi drzwiami (Behind the Blue Door) are blazing the trails for distributors and audiences — not just as Polish productions, but also as live-action films for young audiences.”

“For us producers, the more films we have, the better. I hope for the best results for every children’s film being made in Poland,” says Agnieszka Dziedzic of Koi Studio.

“I believe that this will help Polish films for young audiences flourish, and soon we will have the opportunity to admire beautiful stories being told on the big screen,” says Anja Sosic of Human Ark.

Children’s films mark new opportunities for young filmmakers

“These changes give us hope that soon there will be more interesting films, and more young audiences will want to purchase tickets for films by Polish filmmakers, which will impact the business aspect of our film endeavours. Today, experienced filmmakers are reluctant to make children’s films; this is thus an opportunity for first-time directors. I believe that this segment of the market will continue to grow, and as a result so will the interest of filmmakers in coming on board such projects,” says Iwona Harris of Lollipop Films.

Maciej Jakubczyk also notes the rising interest in children’s films, not only among young filmmakers: “From the perspective of our Kino Dzieci.Pro programme, an initiative supported by the Polish Film Institute that has launched its second edition this year, we have received more submissions from more experienced producers compared to the first edition. We are happy to see that one of the ‘graduates’ of the first edition of the programme, Tarapaty (the feature debut by Marta Karwowska and Koi Studio), was the first project that received funding within the new scheme at the Polish Film Institute, and a little over six months later the film is almost ready. Another one of our graduates, Julka, is currently in development.”

According to Maciej Wojtyszko, the next step in developing the segment of children’s films in Poland could be organising script competitions and cooperating with individuals who work in children’s culture. “It would be beneficial to broaden the scope of a search for good screenplays, i.e. by organising script competitions and inviting a wide range of participants. This type of competition, organised regularly, has brought great results in the field of Polish theatre drama for children. It might be interesting to take advantage of the experience of Poznań-based Centrum Sztuki Dziecka (Centre for Children’s Art), because transparency of criteria and clear project cycles are two crucial elements in the field of culture development.”

The 2017 Operational Programmes of the Polish Film Institute — Objective VI: Production of films for young and family audiences

Projects eligible for financing within this scheme include live action feature films, feature-length animations, minority co-productions with a Polish director on board, as well as development of live action feature films and feature-length animations for young and family audiences.

The budget allocated for this scheme in 2017 is 10.5 million PLN, with at least 1 million PLN reserved for project development.

Magda Wylężałek

Translated by Karolina Kołtun