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Polish Days Starts a Conversation

Goat Mountain, dir. Andrzej Jakimowski
The winners of the 11. New Horizons Studio+ announced! Polish Days 2020 Awards

Ten projects that were presented during the Pitching Session brought back some established names from the festival circuit, but there were surprises as well. And satyrs.

Inspired by a strike in a fish factory in 2017, one of the longest in the history of modern-day Norway, Igor Devold’s Norwegian Dream, produced by Bartek Gliński, Maciek Hamela and Håvard Wettland Gossé for Impakt Film and Spaett Film respectively, will evolve into a love story as a Polish worker realizes he has feelings for his colleague, Ivar. But Ivar has secrets as well. It’s a coming-of-age romantic drama about an unusual love story of a young working-class Polish immigrant in Norway, and his first big crush on a local drag queen – explains Devold. The story takes place amidst a Polish strike for workers’ rights, it tells about solidarity (and the lack of it), amongst Polish workers abroad. And the protagonist’s struggle for self-acceptance to make the leap of faith, to stand up for his personal and fellow workers’ rights.

Subuk by Jacek Lusiński – produced by Leszek Bodzak and Aneta Hickinbotham for Aurum Films – will also use reality as a starting point, showing a single mother fighting for her autistic son’s dignity and education. How do we want to show the transition of a woman fighting for a decent future for her son? In an intense, plausible way – sums up the director. I had the opportunity to observe mothers bringing their children to therapy in one of the centres. Usually, they came by themselves. Intrigued, I started talking to them and it turned out that most of the husbands have left them when it turned out that they had children “with problems”. This was the reason I decided to document this topic – he admits. I invited my colleague Szymon Augustyniak to work with me and I started traveling through Poland, meeting with mothers raising children from the autism spectrum. The script is not a record of the life of one specific person, but rather a separate story, in which real events also do happen.

A similar thing could be said for Goat Mountain by Andrzej Jakimowski, the acclaimed director behind Tricks or Squint Your Eyes, produced by Mike Downey, Antonio P. Perez and the helmer himself for Studio Filmowe Jakimowski. Which will go all the way from southern Poland to Lanzarote, as a man inherits a plot of land from an uncle who lost touch with his family. As the land in question turns out to be a barren field of volcanic gravel, he swiftly puts it up for sale. But life, and love, has other plans. The story is based on themes from the life of my friend Jacek Przybyłowski, a Polish artist who settled in Lanzarote – explains Jakimowski. This volcanic island taught him a life lesson. In a way, it forced him to rethink his identity and his destiny – from a distance and in conditions of isolation, but close to nature. I want to recreate this situation in the film – I would like it to be a cheerful meditation on the fate of a man who is looking for his place on earth.

Łukasz Ronduda, whose A Heart of Love has premiered at Berlinale, also gets inspired by a fellow artist: in Fears, produced by Kuba Kosma for Serce, the life of Daniel Rycharski, visual artist and activist, gives way for a story about a man stuck in between two worlds: the Catholic Church and LGBTQ+ community. Growing increasingly tired of such divide and once tragedy strikes, he decides to fight.

Anna Kazejak’s Fucking Bornholm, produced by Marta Lewandowska for Friends With Benefits Studio, will prove once again that even a short getaway with family and friends isn’t always a good idea, as a married couple heads to Bornholm in Denmark with their two sons and a friend, now in a new relationship with a much younger woman. Emotions will run high also in I Wanna Be Yours by Grzegorz Mołda, produced by Iza Igel for Harine Films, showing a tutor in a halfway house, a place where youngsters who have left a young offenders’ institute can stay for a while, learning how to function in the society. Slowly becoming more emotionally involved than she should. But even her struggles will seem normal next to Gentlemen of Zakopane by Maciej Kawalski, produced by Agnieszka Dziedzic for Koi Studio. With Joseph Conrad and other iconic Polish artists waking up after a party in 1914, only to find themselves face to face with a corpse, it’s The Hangover for history lovers, described by its director as a swashbuckling adventure comedy set in the mountain retreat of Zakopane. If there ever was a place where you could party for a week, only to wake up playing poker with the Prime Minister, a Nobel-prize winner and the world’s best pianist, that place would be Zakopane.

Sorry, Poland by Kuba Czekaj, produced by Anna Różalska and Tarik Hachoud for Match&Spark, also promises, as Monty Python would put it, something completely different. Described as a “Dark-Pop-Dramedy” and coming from the director of Baby Boom, it will focus on an aging background dancer in a folk ensemble Mazovia with a midlife crisis and a broken leg, who soon resorts to blackmail. Will it be a film about a rebellion? I would rather say that it’s about searching for oneself – points out Czekaj. Yes, it sounds trivial, yes, it’s a cliché – every other movie is about “searching for yourself”. But times that are coming will make it easy to get lost and even harder to find yourself, and that’s not a cliché anymore. At the core of the film there is this individual that drifts from shore to shore, where everyone wants to talk, everyone is right, but only few want to listen – he emphasizes. Sorry, Poland will portray various attitudes and will arise out of true love for the homeland. Current politics interest me, because I am part of it. I respond to it and participate in my own way. I am not a social activist or political reformer, yet splinters of political rupture are falling on me as well. I agree with some things and with others I don’t, but I am not going to issue a certificate with a grading scale. I will ask the viewers for evaluation.

Finally, experimental film Trackers, directed by Michał and Maciej Mądracki, as well as Gilles Lepore – produced by the directors with Beata Rzeźniczek and Klaudia Śmieja-Rostworowska for Madants and MML Studio – shows old myths meeting new realities in a story inspired by Ikhneutai, a satyr play by Sophocles, yet set in modern-day Poland. Where Apollo’s journey begins after his herd of cattle is lost and he needs to ask spirits of the forest for help. As pointed out in the directors’ summary, our interpretation of the ancient play will result in a black and white, silent film with an original soundtrack. To us, the world of the satyrs belongs to the margins of humanity. It’s a world both comical and disturbing.

Where Trackers is an odyssey, Agnieszka Mania’s Until the Heart Burns is a road movie. Produced by Piotr Galon for Lightcraft, it will see a known psychiatrist who has just moved to Berlin. But during the opening ceremony for his psychiatric and rehab centre, he receives a message. His granddaughter is missing. And she has left a suicide note.

The idea for a road movie comes only from my personal love of night driving – says Agnieszka Mania. And since a large part of my life was focused around the A2 motorway and the Berlin - Poznan - Warsaw route, I felt a need to tell a story strongly rooted in the realities that are close to me. Not to mention tackle one of the biggest taboo in our society. I believe that while we avoid talking about it, the problem of suicide affects us all – she says. More than a dozen Poles are killed every day, and 85% of teenagers declare suicidal thoughts without seeing any solution to their problems. I have no prescription to change this state of affairs. But I know that no problem can be solved without talking about it. I feel the need and I want to talk about suicides, because I can’t accept the fact that more people die each year by their own hand than, say, in car accidents.

Get ready for the conversation.

Marta Bałaga


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