Warsaw

Poland in Cinema: Polish Locations used in Film and TV

21 Jan 2021
As a nation with a history as diverse as all of it's wonderful geography, Poland has alot of points to draw upon for inspiring the visual arts and has also served as a frequent calling card for location scouts in the film industry. Throw in the power of the Euro/USD that gets Hollywood more bang-for-buck (or perhaps we should say 'zing-for-złoty') and there's certainly business to be done here. In plenty of other instances, however, Poland's supporting role in world history means that film productions will purposefully seek out real-life locations to do justice to their works of non-fiction. Most notably, Poland was the scene of some of WWII's worst atrocities, which inspired many of the films listed below, as well as the country's period under Communism, the architectural legacy of which has been used by Hollywood several times to recreate scenes of the Cold War in the 21st century! In this list, we'll be looking at various films and TV productions, from Poland and abroad, and the locations across the nation that were used as their set pieces.
On the set of the 2013 film Wałęsa: Man Of Hope, which was filmed almost exclusively in the Gdańsk Shipyards.
 

SCHINDLER'S LIST (Kraków)

In many ways, Spielberg's 1993 cinematic masterpiece about the Nazi holocaust of World War Two is what put Kraków on the map for prospective tourists in the west. It was logical choice, as the true story of Oskar Schindler and the thousands of Jews he saved took place in various districts around the city - his factory is in Podgórze as was the Płaszów concentration camp, where many of his workers were transferred from. However, the most recognisable landmarks in the film are snapped in the once-thriving Jewish district of Kazimierz as well as Auschwitz, which is located about 2 hours from Kraków.


THE PIANIST (Warsaw)

Another holocaust film, but no less powerful, The Pianist was shot in the Praga district of Warsaw over 4 months in 2001. At the time, the area was still incredibly run down and was perfect for recreating the Warsaw Ghetto. In fact, most of the buildings matched the period, so all the art department had to do was add a few posters and do some set dressing! In addition, the Umschlagplatz scene where Szpilman, his family, and hundreds of other Jews wait to be taken to the extermination camps was filmed at the National Defence University of Warsaw.


Netflix's THE WITCHER (Southern Poland)

While most of this series, inspired by the books of Polish Author Andrzej Sapkowski, was shot in Hungary and Austria, there are two notable locations in Southern Poland that had people jumping out of their chairs saying "Hey! I know that place!" In Season 1, Episode 3 of the Netflix series, Geralt is summoned to Vizmina to deal with a monster that has been knocking-off workers in the mine. Sitting well above the mine and appearing in several introductory shots is Vizmina castle, where the story develops further. This is Niedzica Castle in the very south of Poland, about 2.5 hours from Kraków, and barely 2km from the Czech boarder. Playing an even bigger part in the first season is the Battle of Sodden, which was shot in and around the ruins of Ogrodzieniec Castle in Silesia, about 50km from Katowice. Fortunately, the pyrotechnics, arrows and fake blood did not do any damage to the site! Read our article: The Witcher and Poland: Real Places That Inspired The Witcher Franchise


WAŁĘSA: MAN OF HOPE (Gdańsk)

The Solidarity Movement is one of the most important parts of Polish history as well as a landmark event in the decline of the communist system in Eastern Europe, and it all started in Gdańsk! Naturally, director Andrzej Wajda made good use of the Stocznia district of the city in his 2013 film biographing Solidarity's iconic leader, Lech Wałęsa. Once again, the task of the set designers were made easier by the fact that a great deal of the shipyard area, including the cranes, are protected under the European Heritage Label. Read our Article: The Story of Solidarity in Gdańsk


OGNIEM I MIECZEM (Biskupin)

Poland has a number of super-patriotic literary works that are set during the glory days of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The most melodramatic of these is Ogniem i Mieczem (ENG: With Fire And Sword), written by Henryk Sienkiewicz in 1884, and it was inevitable that this lengthy novel would be made into a film. That happened in 1999, with western audiences recognizing one-time Bond-Girl Izabella Scorupco in the main cast, along with alot of questionable portrayals of Ukranians, Tatars and a bunch of anti-semitic references to boot! Locations for the shoot, include the popular Bronze Age fort reconstruction at Biskupin, which took on the role of the Kurcewiczow family compound at Rozłogi, as well as the Museum of the Mazovian Countryside in Sierpc and Biedrusko near Poznań.


Zero Dark Thirty (Gdańsk)

While the controversial 2012 film about the manhunt for Osama Bin-Laden was mainly shot in India in order to closely resemble the operation in Pakistan, there is one very random Polish reference that pops up. The title 'CIA BLACK SITE, Gdańsk, Poland' with vision of the shipyards in the background shows up halfway through the film before proceeding to a torture sequence. Whether such a location ever existed in the city, the local authorities were certainly angered about the allegations. Poland's involvement in CIA-led torture operations has only been linked to Warmian-Masurian town of Stare Kiejkuty, which been a functioning CIA site since at least 2005. 
Screenshot taken from the film Zero Dark Thirty depicting an alledged CIA Black Site in Gdańsk. SOURCE: trojmiasto.wyborcza.pl


BRIDGE OF SPIES (Wrocław)

Spielberg's 2015 Cold War Thriller, inspired by a true story like most good films, made good use of the city of Wrocław in recreating a 1950s Berlin, more specifically the grungey hipster neighbourhood of Nadodrze. More specifically, Kurkowa and Ptasia streets have been identified in a number of scenes. 'Checkpoint Charlie' was recreated at Mennicza street, closer to Wrocław Old Town. Parts of the prisoner exchange scene on the Glienicke bridge on the Haweli river, which functioned as a border between West Berlin and East Germany during the Cold War, was apparently shot on Tumski Bridge.


BARAKA (Oświęcim, Sztutowo, Bytom)

A landmark of the documentary genre, the 1992 film Baraka is told exclusively through visuals from all corners the world accompanied by a stirring soundtrack and absolutely no dialogue whatsoever. Exploring different themes revolving around natural events, evolution, spirituality and the impact of war and technology, the movie was filmed in 152 locations in 24 different countries. Poland was featured, specifically concentration camps of Auschwitz (Oświęcim), Stutthoff (Sztutowo) and Bytom.

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