Due to the pandemic, the upcoming edition of the New Horizons Film Festival will take place in November, but not Polish Days, oh no – the representatives of the industry, distributors, sales agents and festival programmers will sneak a virtual peek at the new offerings of the Polish cinema already in July.
“Our mission was to revive Polish industry, because at this point people have been dormant for months. It’s a perfect moment – we are all slowly defrosting” – laughs the head of industry Weronika Czołnowska when asked about the decision to go online in the summer. “In autumn, all these canceled and postponed events will be resuscitated, it will get very crowded and maybe foreign guests won’t be so willing to travel? It’s possible, however, that we will still present some new initiatives later on. Time will tell.”
Czołnowska, who has been helming the event – co-organized by the Polish Film Institute – for four editions now, finally has some time to look back at the initiative which originated all the way back in 2012.
“The Polish Days formula had already been invented and developed way before I arrived, and it worked great – the “New Horizons” brand also played its part. Over the last three years, our event has grown in terms of the number of guests and accompanying events – suddenly people are writing to us, saying they would like to participate. They want to know what’s happening in the Polish cinema.”
No wonder – as noted by the artistic director Marcin Pieńkowski, Polish cinema has been on something of a roll for a while now.
“It’s in a completely different place than, say, 10 years ago. The successes of Paweł Pawlikowski, Małgośka Szumowska, Janek Matuszyński or Tomek Wasilewski – it all translates into the fact that internationally, Polish cinema has made quite a comeback. I hope that Polish Days had a part to play in it too because more and more Polish films have sales agents attached, more and more premiere at renowned festivals. I mean, how many international co-productions did we have 10 years ago?”
This might explain the diverse list of Polish Days’ homegrown successes: Jacek Borcuch’s Dolce Fine Giornata, which won the Best Actress award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Berlinale’s Tower. A Bright Day by Jagoda Szelc, Marygoround by Daria Woszek, selected to SXSW prior to its cancellation, Sweat, presented as a project in development in 2017 and now awarded the prestigious “Cannes Label”, Karlovy Vary entry Panic Attack, Filip Syczyński’s The Great Match, awarded the Eurimages Co-Production Development Award at Tallinn’s Baltic Event or finally, Jan Komasa’s surprise smash hit Corpus Christi, lovingly dubbed by The Los Angeles Times as the “Oscar-nominated knockout”. Which makes one wonder if the projects’ international potential is something that’s discussed already during the selection.
“We certainly pay attention to this aspect, even at a fairly early stage. But we also put a lot of faith in people and their potential, we experiment a lot” – says Czołnowska. “There are many factors involved: the project, the director, the company’s potential. Sometimes the project may seem utterly “Polish” and yet the company has an interesting international strategy.”
“We focus on a certain universality. After all, there are many masters of Polish cinema who are almost anonymous abroad” – adds Pieńkowski. “It would be easy to concentrate just on the films by recognized artists, but we want to introduce the sales agents and festivals to completely new names. Sometimes I feel that we can offer much more to a first-timer than an established director. Polish Days is about discovery.”
Still, as the event nears its 2020 edition, there is always room for improvement. And its participants are learning it too – also the hard way.
“Polish producers used to think they know how to present their projects, but this international experience has changed their perspective” – says Czołnowska. “Now, even the most experienced ones participate in our annual training session and that in itself is a huge change. Communication, promotion – these words have gained a whole new meaning. You can see it in their promotional materials as well, which have improved significantly. Earlier, it seemed that everyone was convinced they will always “get by” in English!”
“Polish Days gives the opportunity to meet people who can support a project or decide on its further festival and distribution fate, but it’s also about the need to face a public presentation” – agrees Marcin Malatyński, the producer behind Tower. A Bright Day. “The very form of “pitching” is oppressive for every artist, it’s the first test and the first attempt to interest other people in their project. It requires an extremely precise message, abstracting the most important elements and communicating it in a few minutes. Luckily, it’s not a one-day event – it’s several weeks of preparation, talks between the producer and the director, meetings with a pitching expert and finally a confrontation with the viewer. It helps us understand what is the project’s biggest strength and what can help it succeed in the future.”
As the industry changes, now significantly weakened by the COVID-19, so do the events – trying to offer whatever is needed the most at the moment. Predictably, Polish Days is no exception.
“We are trying to promote co-productions, including minority co-productions, and last year we started focusing on special events regarding co-productions with a specific country, starting with Great Britain. Polish producers are certainly looking for foreign partners right now” – explains Czołnowska.
“The “Polish Days” brand mostly helps with financing of a project and it draws the festival selectors’ attention. Of course, a number of producers and a lot of interesting names come there as well” – admits Mariusz Włodarski of Lava Films, now behind Sweat. “The event changes from year to year and its rank has grown in strength – I have never been ashamed of what is being shown there. The level of presentations doesn’t differ from other industry events in the world, but the atmosphere is much more interesting: it’s more relaxed, we feel the tension lifting. Before, everyone hid their projects somewhere, now it’s all about healthy competition. Ultimately, maybe we need a wider space, going beyond our local “field”. But it’s difficult to have an event called Polish Days and suddenly expand it to other countries.”
“Of course we would prefer to meet in Wrocław this year, as its character and our festival play an important part. But we are certain the online event will create many opportunities for the guests who couldn’t make it in the past, for different reasons” – sums up Czołnowska. “We are all looking forward to the online edition of Polish Days.”
See you there.
This year’s edition of Polish Days will take place online, on July 27-29.