PFI Rebuttal to Sobolewski's Article

Last Friday, Gazeta Wyborcza published an article by Tadeusz Sobolewski entitled “Tak dobrze, że aż źle” (“So good it’s bad”, freely translated), which focuses on the issues of international promotion for Polish films. Unfortunately, the Polish Film Institute, so often referred to in this text, had no opportunity to present its stand on the many comments about us in the article. Nor were we allowed to publish a response in the paper. Which is why today we are publishing our rebuttal.


Why We Are Not in Berlin

Maciej Karpiński, representative of the General Director of the Polish Film Institute for International Issues


It was with a feeling of distress that we read Mr. Sobolewski’s extensive article, dedicated to the very interesting and important issue of promoting Polish films abroad. It fills us with regret to see that Sobolewski, otherwise rightly merited as an insightful film critic, would tackle this issue in a serious daily newspaper without bothering to delve deeper into the discussed subject matter, relying instead on the opinions of somewhat random people like Mae Tan who is seen by the author as “a producer who actively co-operates with the film industry in Central and Eastern Europe, and is well-acquainted with the issues of the Polish film industry” (although there are no facts to support this). One could ask in vain: what exactly has Ms. Mae Tan produced? What is her claim to fame with regards to Polish cinema? But one question seems even more appropriate in this context – why did Sobolewski not try to obtain any information from the Polish Film Institute, an organization so often mentioned in his article? As a result, apart from several poignant arguments, his text contains a number of half-truths and even completely garbled facts. This cannot go unanswered, especially since any reader unacquainted with the subject matter could reach only one conclusion after reading this text: Polish cinema would be doing great internationally, if only the Polish Film Institute bothered to get involved with its promotion or handled it properly, i.e. in the manner that is familiar to Sobolewski’s sources and himself, but for some strange reason still unknown to the Polish Film Institute.


It is interesting that this acclaimed author, so up-to-date with the development of Polish cinema in recent years, recognizes the role of the Polish Film Institute in the field of film production in Poland, yet fails to notice the significant change in methods of presenting Polish films around the world, and the subsequent improvement in the international perception of Polish cinema that has taken place over the same period (i.e. the last four years). While the absence of Polish films from this year’s Berlin Film Festival is, for us too,  a source of disappointment, and requires deeper analysis (to be discussed later in this article), it cannot completely overshadow the fact that in recent years Polish films have been screened (and awarded) at dozens of international film festivals. Detailed information about this is easily accessible, on the Polish Film Institute website to say the least, therefore there is no reason to repeat it here. One might say that screenings at ten less prestigious festivals do not have as much significance as one appearance in Berlin. But if that’s the case, then why overlook the fact that a Polish feature was screened in competition at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, and another was screened out of competition in the official section the year before? It did not just happen on its own; in both cases the Polish Film Institute played an important part in securing a place for these films at the festival (a fact that can easily be verified, much like with many other key festivals that screen Polish films, including Pusan, Moscow, and Karlovy Vary).


Why, then, did the Polish absence from this year’s festival, however regretful, spark such a vigorous reaction? It appears that it was mainly because we (allegedly) were so close to bringing not one, but two films into the Berlinale competition, yet it all ended in nothing and that “is our own fault” (implied: the fault is that of the Polish Film Institute). Here are the facts. The films mentioned by Sobolewski were not accepted into the competition section of the Berlin Film Festival because they did not meet the basic entry requirement, having been previously screened at other film festivals, including the Warsaw Film Festival, to which they had been submitted by their respective producers. Bearing in mind festival submission deadlines, this must have taken place even before the last Polish Film Festival in Gdynia. These decisions (not to mention those of the Warsaw Film Festival) were not agreed, or even consulted, with the Polish Film Institute, as the producers are in no way required to do so. Regardless of received subsidies from the Polish Film Institute, the producer holds all rights to his or her project and is the sole entity entitled to submitting it for international film festivals. Naturally, the Polish Film Institute provides information, inspiration, support, and consultation (not to mention financing for international promotion), but can neither force nor forbid producers from taking any type of action. As a result, co-operation with some producers is excellent, their films are screened at festivals in the appropriate order, all materials are ready in due time etc., while other producers prefer the independent approach – at least when it comes to strategic decisions (since practically none fail to apply for financing). In the case of both films mentioned in the article, the producers made their decisions, and only after the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia did they begin to consult with the Polish Film Institute and thus realized the consequences of those decisions, at which point it was too late to change the programme of the Warsaw Film Festival. In addition, it was at this time that the Warsaw Film Festival was upgraded to the so-called A-list of festivals, which undoubtedly made talks with the Berlin Film Festival more difficult; all these factors combined brought about the well-known results. Sobolewski’s statement that “the Polish Film Institute co-ordinates its actions with Berlinale through Kosslick’s German advisor”, thus having “all decisions depending on his good will, or (more frequently) lack thereof” is not entirely accurate. It is true that the Berlin Film Festival has a representative for Eastern Europe, who issues (or not) an initial recommendation for films from the region. This representative spent a few days in Warsaw, along with another colleague responsible for other festival sections, watching a dozen or so Polish films. Some of these received that initial recommendation, which does not change the fact that in the end they were not approved by the selection committee. Furthermore, producers alone submitted another several features for selection. Is Mr. Sobolewski suggesting that all these efforts should not have been undertaken? It seems somewhat strange that he would suddenly slight this “advisor”, whose attention is clearly sought after by representatives of all countries in the region and by countless producers. But other, more direct contacts (based on successful co-operation in years past) were not overlooked, including those with Mr. Kosslick himself (with appropriate correspondence to prove it). The Berlin Film Festival selection committee watched several Polish films, and the fact that none of them qualified is a topic that requires a separate and detailed analysis. One might wonder why Sobolewski took the following approach in his piece: if a film qualifies for an important international festival, it is thanks to its producers. If it does not, it is because of inadequate activity of the Polish Film Institute. All That I Love (Wszystko co kocham) was screened at Sundance, naturally “thanks to the personal involvement of the director and producer”. Nobody knows more than they do about the key role played in this by the Polish Film Institute – but there is no mention of that. Reverse (Rewers) will be promoted at the Berlin Film Market, with the mysterious Mae Tan as a key player, but not a word was said about the fact that Reverse very nearly missed being at the film market altogether. Why? Ask the producers (and request an honest answer). It was only through action taken by the Polish Film Institute that its presence at the film market was secured. Agata Buzek is our “Shooting Star”, but again, this just happened, it is not in any way a result of the Polish Film Institute’s actions. And so on…


It is not resentment that speaks through us (although the role of the scapegoat is an ungrateful one), nor is it the Polish inferiority complex. It brings us great satisfaction to see excellent co-operation with many Polish producers, and the resulting success of their projects. It brings us joy to hear the opinions about the Polish Film Institute coming from our many foreign partners. At the Polish-Czech conference at the last Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, acclaimed Czech filmmakers said: “If only Czech cinema had the kind of international promotion that Polish cinema enjoys…”, which was received with astonishment by many Poles who believe, much like Sobolewski, that it is quite the opposite. And these are the opinions we hear from foreign filmmakers, producers, and representatives of related film institutes, including those from Scandinavia – so often shown to us as an example to follow. Apparently it must be so. Which does not change the fact that our domestic debate could use a bit more attention to detail and to the current circumstances.


Translated by Karolina Kołtun


All quoted material in this piece is a direct translation of excerpts from:
Tadeusz Sobolewski, “Polskie kino – tak dobrze, że aż źle”, Gazeta Wyborcza, 5.02.2010