The Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, organised by the Polish Cultural Institute and supported by the Polish Film Institute, will return to cinema screens for its 21st edition from 9 March to 27 April 2023, presenting an exciting line-up that spans over 60 years of Polish cinema. Showcasing a finely curated selection of extraordinary new features, many of them premieres for the UK, the festival simultaneously explores the depth of Polish cinema’s past with exceptionally presented screenings of classic films from some of the country’s most renowned filmmakers, including Jerzy Skolimowski who will be in attendance for a season dedicated to his filmography at BFI Southbank. Skolimowski’s latest sensation EO (2022) has been nominated for Best International Feature at the 2023 Academy Awards, and this season encompasses the career of a Polish master who is still at the top of his game after over 60 years behind the camera. With its diverse programme of compelling and challenging cinema, Kinoteka continues to explore the innovative filmic output Poland has to offer through screening events, special presentations, guest-led intros, Q&As, workshops and more.
Kinoteka 2023 begins on 9 March at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts: ICA with an Opening Gala screening of the brilliant debut from Damian Kocur, Bread and Salt (Chleb i sól, 2022, UK Premiere). Packing a deep emotional punch, the film takes us on the journey of two brothers (played by real-life siblings Tymoteusz Bies and Jacek Bies), in a small Polish town during one hot summer. The brothers are both pianists, except one studies at the Warsaw Academy and the other chooses to spend time with friends, drinking in the local, Arab-run kebab shop. However, prejudices are soon ignited in this brutal and searing exploration of youth in a small town which asks the question, ‘when does violence begin?’ Inspired by real events and cast with non-professional actors, Bread and Salt has won multiple festival awards including the Horizons Special Jury Prize at Venice Film Festival as well as the journalists and youth juries award at the Gdynia Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Damian Kocur.
The Closing Gala will take place on 27 April, and is a screening of Feliks Falk’s classic Top Dog (Wodzirej, 1977) at Cine Lumiere alongside an immersive dinner themed to the film. Causing much debate in Poland on its original release, Top Dog follows the story of small-town entertainer Danielak, who will stop at nothing to achieve his aim of hosting the town’s 500th anniversary celebrations. Danielak is a man with an overt lack of morals, driven to come out on top and the role is played to perfection by Polish acting legend Jerzy Stuhr. Director Feliks Falk worked alongside Agnieszka Holland and Krzysztof Kieślowski in Andrzej Wajda’s X Film Unit, at the forefront of the emerging ‘Cinema of Moral Anxiety’, and Top Dog exposed the consequences of weak moral codes, offering a reading of corruption that extended beyond show business. After the screening, there will be an afterparty inspired by the film at Ognisko Polskie – The Polish Hearth, led by Margot Przymierska with a buffet, drinks, dancing and live entertainment.
NEW POLISH CINEMA
Comprising some of the finest and most thought-provoking cinema of the past year, the New Polish Cinema strand highlights the voices of both established filmmakers and debut directors across large and small budget productions, presenting a powerful snapshot of the country’s contemporary film scene. Making their way to the UK for the first time, many of the titles have already received recognition and awards at international film festivals. This year’s titles reflect on the value of relationships, both personal and those found in in the wider community, starting with director and co-writer Anna Maliszewska’s Dad (Tata, 2022, UK Premiere), a free-spirited road movie which follows a father, Michal (Eryk Lubos) who heads out on the road with his daughter after the sudden death of the Ukrainian neighbour who looked after the girl during his frequent long works trips. Now on a cross-border mission to return the body home, Michał is forced to confront his parenting responsibilities while figuring out what’s important in life. Directed and co-written by award-winning filmmaker Anna Kazejak, Fucking Bornholm (2022, UK Premiere) is a biting drama which exposes the frayed edges of family dynamics through a neglected wife and mother as she experiences the psychological torment of a family vacation on an idyllic island. Starring Maciej Stuhr (Aftermath, 2012) and Agnieszka Grochowska (Strange Heaven, 2015), Fucking Bornholm was nominated for Best Film at Trieste, Krakow and Karlovy Vary International Film Festivals, and won the Europa Cinema Label Award for Best European Film at Karlovy Vary 2022. Centered on a powerhouse performance from Agata Buzek (High Life, 2018, The Innocents, 2016) and set amid the eerie beaches and city-scapes of Poland’s Baltic coast, director Marta Minorowicz (Zud, 2016) charts the agonising tension placed on a couple as they attempt to track down their missing daughter, with the pressure mounting as the ineffectual police prepare to close the file on the case in searing psychological drama Illusion (Iluzja, 2022). The screening of Illusion will be followed by a Q&A with Marta Minorowicz. Having already impressed at home, winning a Special Jury Award at Warsaw 2022 as well as Discovery of the Festival and Best Debut Director at Gdynia, Shreds (Strzępy, 2022) sees established documentary filmmaker Beata Dzianowska turn her keen observational eye to the story of a family patriarch struggling with the onset of Alzheimer’s and the family faced with the impossible decisions which result. Woman on the Roof (Kobieta na dachu, 2022, UK Premiere) from writer-director Anna Jadowska, also focuses its attention on an elderly protagonist, as Dorota Pomykała’s portrayal of a desperate and detached woman who attempts to rob a bank. A critique on a society which sidelines older women, Woman on the Roof offers an absorbing character study and is based on a true story. Pomykała won a Best Performance award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival for her role.
As part of the festival’s commitment to showcasing the latest groundbreaking new work of Polish documentary cinema, this year’s Documentary stand comprises two very different films that seek to find humanity, both within individual, everyday struggles and in times of extreme hardship. An international festival favourite which premiered at CPH:DOX, Pawnshop (Lombard, dir. Lukasz Kowalski, 2021, UK Premiere) is a bleak but hilarious documentary about an eccentric couple who run Poland’s largest pawnshop, a business which is struggling. Finding the drama in their daily situations, Kowalski’s absorbing film draws us into the precarious world of the couple, their young employees and their vulnerable clientele, and finds humour amid their grapple to keep the shop afloat. Life, theatre and cinema combine in the portrait documentary The Hamlet Syndrome (Syndrom Hamleta, dir. Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosolowski, 2022), which highlights the work of Award-winning theatre director Roza Sarkisianm. Sarkisianm brought together five young Ukrainian actors affected by war in Donbas, to develop a performance based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. With each actor processing trauma and gathering resilience to fight the conservative values they see in society, The Hamlet Syndrome is a moving film that won Best Documentary at Krakow Film Festival and has continued relevance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
OUTSIDERS AND EXILES: THE FILMS OF JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI
In collaboration with the BFI, Kinoteka will also present Outsiders and Exiles: The Films of Jerzy Skolimowski, a month-long retrospective at BFI Southbank and a rare opportunity to see the work of one of the world’s most remarkable filmmakers. Skolimowski’s latest sensation EO (2022), has garnered critical acclaim across the world since its premiere at Cannes, culminating with the film’s recent Academy Award nomination. As part of the season, Skolmowski will be live in conversation with season curator Michael Brooke, where audiences will discover what drives his creative passion and what lies behind his international success. The season will include early Polish features like Identification Marks: None (1964) and Hands Up! (1967/1981), both of which will also be released on BFI Blu-ray on 24 April, British-made classics such as Deep End (1970) and The Shout (1978), and later career highlights including Essential Killing (2011) and 11 Minutes (2015). A number of the films in the season will also be available to watch online on BFI Player.
SENSUAL FABLES: OLGA TOKARCZUK IN THEATRE AND CINEMA
Sensual Fables: Olga Tokarczuk in Theatre and Cinema is a special presentation taking place at the Barbican and featuring a new theatre work from world-renowned touring company Complicité. Directed by Simon McBurney, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is a bold new presentation of Nobel Prize-winning author Olga Tokarczuk’s fiery and controversial novel of the same name. Set in the depths of winter in a small community on a remote Polish mountainside, the story follows an eccentric environmentalist who fights back against the injustices around her when the men of the local hunting club begin dying in mysterious circumstances and she notices the animals of the area are beginning to act strangely. Paired with this exciting new production is award-winning director Agnieszka Holland’s own take on the novel, Spoor (Pokot, 2017), a feminist ecological thriller and modern fable with a clear message against injustice which highlights the value of friendship and of those seeking to make positive change on the margins. The screening will feature a recorded intro by director Agnieszka Holland discussing her Berlin Festival Silver Bear winning work.
The work of Agnieszka Holland is also present at this year’s Family Screening of The Secret Garden (Tajemniczy ogród, 1993), the director’s adaptation of the classic children’s novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. When Mary Lennox is sent from India to live in England with relatives, she discovers an overgrown mysterious garden with her cousin Colin and friend Dickon. Gradually the children begin to uncover the secrets of nature concealed behind the garden walls and the family stories entwined within. Holland’s sumptuous re-telling boasts music by composer Zbigniew Preisner and a memorable performance from Maggie Smith as their severe housekeeper, Mrs Medlock.
As part of its Cinema Classics strand, Kinoteka is proud to screen Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda’s early masterpiece Ashes and Diamonds (Popiół i diament, 1958). On the final day of WWII, a young Polish Resistance fighter is ordered to assassinate a Communist official. With his target being a former comrade-in-arms, this triggers a moral dilemma, calling into question all that was fought for. Defined by an electrifying, iconic performance by Zbigniew Cybulski, this depiction of Poland, poised between the horrors of the recent past and an uncertain future, is arguably Wajda’s greatest achievement, and a landmark of international cinema. Moving to France, Jean Luc-Godard’s Passion (1982) is the second of the festival’s classic cinema screenings. Starring Polish actor Jerzy Radziwiłowicz, who often worked with Andrzej Wajda, Passion tells the story of film director, Jerzy, (played by Radziwiłowicz), who is in France to shoot a project but becomes interested in the unfolding struggle of a young factory worker, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert). Made during Godard’s return to relatively mainstream filmmaking in the 1980s, Passion is a metatextual and self-reflexive film about the making of an ambitious art film with striking performances from its two leads.
MUSIC IN FILM
Delving further into Poland’s cinematic past, Kinoteka presents a special Music in Film screening of Andrzej Żuławski’s controversial masterpiece The Devil (Diabeł, 1972), which was banned by the Communist government between 1972 and 1988. Set in 1793, during the Prussian army’s invasion of Poland, we follow Jakub, a young Polish nobleman, who is rescued from imprisonment by a stranger. Jakub follows his mysterious saviour across war-torn Poland and, traumatised by what he sees, commits several gruesome murders. This screening will be accompanied by a musical tribute from DJ and producer Andy Votel. Ranging from electronic through orchestral to psych rock and experimental, Votel will explore the music composed by Andrzej Korzyński for Żuławski’s most iconic films as well as other Polish musicians of the 1970s.
XROSSSPACE SHOWCASE ‘ON THE OTHER SIDE’
This year, for the first time, Kinoteka presents a new section of the programme – the XRossspace Showcase ‘On the Other Side’ – dedicated to the most innovative and immersive extended reality (XR) works from Poland. Audiences can explore Polish XR inspired by sci-fi literature, non-binary games, cyber performance and the street art of metaspaces, and are invited to walk on “the other side of the screen” and awaken their imagination in this stunning exhibition of interactive and cinematic narratives. This exhibition will take place at BFI Southbank from 30 March to 2 April, and will include Polish VR works that interact with literature, games and street art and performance art.
POLITICS OF BODY: FILMS OF NATALIA LL
Politics of Body: Films of Natalia LL provides a rare opportunity to see the short films of the avant-garde feminist Polish artist, Natalia LL, who died in August 2022. Renowned for her witty critiques of consumer society, investigations of sexuality and gender, and systematic experimentation with the laws of probability, her work investigates the aesthetic and erotic features of the commodified body. This screening is curated and introduced by art critic Agnieszka Rayzacher, and will be followed by a Q&A.
TIK TOK ANIMATION WORKSHOP
For any budding animators and content creators, this year’s festival will run a TikTok Animation Workshop, where participants will create animated videos by experimenting with an animation technique called pixelation. Each participant, equipped with a phone and the appropriate software, will have the opportunity to create their own story and create magical animations of themselves, which can fly, pass through walls, transform into new life forms and perform impossible tricks. The workshop will be run by Tessa Moult-Milewska, a British-Polish writer and animation director, and graduate of the National Film and Television School.
Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2023 takes place 9 March – 27 April across venues in London
Venues: BFI Southbank, Barbican Centre, ICA, Prince Charles Cinema, Riverside Studios, Phoenix Cinema, Cine Lumiere, Whitechapel Gallery, Ognisko Polskie – The Polish Hearth Club