HollyŁódź: Poland's UNESCO City of Film

more than a year ago
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. The city's film credentials were given a top class nod in 2017 with Łódź being added to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Film.


The story starts in 1948, with the foundation of the National Film School. With Warsaw lying in ruins, the capital's major opera, theatre, and other miscellaneous artist groups found themselves decamping to the nearest large city: Łódź. Suddenly home to Poland’s principal actors, performers and directors, the decision to base the country's first film school here may seem odd today, but at the time was completely natural.
All the magic happens at the Łódź Film School. Photo: filmschool.lodz.pl

From its early beginnings the school had two distinct departments: film direction 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 honorary Oscar in 2000 for his career achievements in 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 communist 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, hot-wire 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 Expo 58 (The 1958 Brussels World's Fair) 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.

Though the school itself isn't open to tourists, visiting film buffs have two primary points of interest: firstly the Łódź Film Museum, 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.

Famous Alumni

Kieślowski - found in the top 10 of every
cinematography geek's list of best directors!

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 Warsaws famed Powązki Cemetery.

Roman Polański

You've no doubt heard of 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 Kraków 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.


Wajda received an honorary Oscar in 2000 for his contribution to film.

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 lifetime achievement 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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