Hollyłódź

HollyłódźMuseum of Cinematography, photo: Archiwum UMŁ
It may seem unlikely but Łódź is Poland’s answer to Tinseltown. Stop sniggering at the back: having produced directors like Wajda, Polański and Kieślowski the Polish Hollywood has made an undeniable impact on world cinema.

History


The story starts in 1948, with the foundation of the National Film School. With Warsaw lying in ruins the major theatres, opera and theatre groups, and other miscellaneous artistes found themselves decamping to the nearest major city: Łódź. With Poland’s principal actors, performers and directors attracted to the city it was only natural to base the film school in this town.

From its early beginnings the school had two distinct departments: film directing and cinematography. Initially the curriculum was limited to simple group productions, but soon films directed by individuals started to become the norm, all filmed using 35mm industry standard cameras. Among the first batch of students were Andrzej Munk and Andrzej Wajda, the latter scooping an Oscar in 2000 for his contribution to film. In an era dominated by Big Brother is Watching-style paranoia the school became a haven for the avant-garde and the small screening rooms would regularly pack out not just with students, but the rank and file proles looking to enjoy the latest European cinema. It was in this liberal climate that the school also proved to be the first place in Poland to host jazz jam sessions, officially outlawed by the authorities.

The Wajda generation would go on to shape Polish film, with a series of edgy films taking a heavy influence from the Italian neo-realists. The films produced in the late 1950s were in direct opposition to official guidelines, and films like Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds used screen talents like Zbyszek Cybulski, a charismatic, hotwire actor often labelled the Polish James Dean. Roman Polański entered the school in 1954, and four years later propelled the school to international fame when he won an award at Brussels’ Expo ’58 for his film Two Men and a Cupboard. Alas the golden years soon proved to be numbered.

The late 1960s saw several anti-zionist actions launched by the government, and as a result the school lost several of its rising stars in the Jewish exodus that followed – including rector Jerzy Toeplitz, who would later become the co-founder of Australia’s first film school. The film school soon regained its balance however, and has since produced luminaries such as Krzysztof Kieślowski, cameraman Slawomir Idziak and Krzysztof Zanussi.

Established in 1993 the Camerimage Festival - honouring the art of cinematography - further cemented the school's place in filmlore, with gold, silver and bronze frogs awarded for feature films, and tadpoles to students. In the past the festival has attracted household names such as Oliver Stone, Peter Weir and Val Kilmer, and it was during a visit to this festival that David Lynch discovered a passion for the city. However, and STOP PRESS on this bombshell, after years of international success the city has announced that it has lost the festival to the itsy town of Bydgoszcz, not so much a bitter blow as an axe to the face. Still, even so, film buffs have two points of interest: firstly the Museum of Cinematography and secondly the Łódź Walk of Fame; a collection of star shaped plaques right outside the Grand Hotel on Piotrkowska honouring the greatest talents in Polish cinema.

The Famous Graduates of the Łódź Film School


Krzysztof Kieślowski

Rejected twice by the Łódź Film School, Krzysztof Kieślowski finally landed a spot on his third attempt and spent his tenure from 1964-1968 focused on documentary filmmaking. Much of his work tended to focus on everyday life in Poland and the lives of average citizens, including Workers ’71, which featured workers talking about the mass strikes of 1970. Yet fictional filmmaking, which he transitioned to in the mid-1970s, is what made his name. Personnel, his first feature film, earned him a top prize at the Mannheim Film Festival, and he followed up with movies like The Scar, Camera Buff, Blind Chance and The Decalogue. However, his biggest success came with the Three Colours Trilogy, a series of French/Polish films released in 1993 and 1994 that Kieślowski directed and co-wrote. The trilogy netted Kieslowski heaps of recognition, including multiple Academy Award nominations and a Palme d’Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival. Kieślowski died in 1996 and is buried in Warsaw’s famed Powązki Cemetery.

Roman Polański

Many people know director Roman Polański more for his personal life – including a marriage to Manson Family victim Sharon Tate and his evasion of charges in the United States for unlawful sex with a minor – than for his body of work. But Polański has consistently churned out successful movies following his stint at the Łódź Film School, and his first feature film, Knife in the Water, was nominated for an Academy Award. Polański followed up with box-office successes like Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, the latter of which received 11 Academy Award nominations. Polański’s most personal work came in 2002 with The Pianist, which told the story of Polish Jew Władyslaw Szpilman, whose escape from the Warsaw ghetto closely paralleled Polański’s own experience surviving the Krakow ghetto. The film, which premiered in Warsaw, was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and earned Polański a nod as Best Director and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Andrzej Wajda

Director Andrzej Wajda, 85, has a length filmography to match his age. Four of his films – The Promised Land, The Maids of Wilko, Man of Iron and Katyń – were nominated for Academy Awards, and Wajda himself received an honorary Oscar in 2000. Many of his films focus on war, which makes sense considering Wajda’s background: his father, a Polish cavalry officer, was murdered by the Soviets in 1940 during the Katyń massacre. Wajda tackled the painful topic in his 2007 film Katyń, which tells the story of the massacre through the eyes of the mothers, daughters and wives of the executed soldiers.


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