Prolific Polish Industry Keeps Cameras Rolling Amid Pandemic Woes

Christopher Vourlias
·4-min read

When the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Poland earlier this year, producer Jakub Razowski, of Watchout Studio (“The Coldest Game”), was already prepping a summer shoot for “Prime Time,” a thriller starring Bartosz Bielenia, fresh off his breakout role in Jan Komasa’s Oscar-nominated “Corpus Christi.”

Razowski and first-time director Jakub Piątek had cast from a deep pool of veteran stage actors, whose availability was limited to the summer months when Polish theaters traditionally go dark. If the production didn’t move forward, Razowski says, “we knew that the next possibility to book our cast would be the summer of 2021.” The cameras rolled, with cast and crew using a rigorous set of coronavirus protocols introduced by the Polish Film Institute.

“The COVID situation made everything a bit more expensive — tests, masks, liters of sanitizers, extra time for temperature checkups, consequences of working in social-distancing regime — but those costs were nothing compared to moving our shoot to 2021,” Razowski says.

Principal photography wrapped in August, with the producer expecting to deliver by February.

The Polish industry has been quick to learn the hard lessons of the pandemic on the fly.

“Any break costs money, and any break causes a domino effect if you stop one production,” says Oscar-winning producer Ewa Puszczyńska (“Ida”), who had to postpone production on “The Zone of Interest,” Jonathan Glazer’s Holocaust drama. Principal shooting on the film, which is being co-produced and distributed in the U.S. by A24, has been pushed back until next year.

In the meantime, Puszczyńska is wrapping post-production on “Fools,” the latest film from arthouse favorite Tomasz Wasilewski (“United States of Love”), while prepping “Night Butterflies,” a psychological drama from director Marta Prus (“Over the Limit”), one of Variety’s 10 Europeans to Watch in 2018.

“You can’t stop living,” Puszczyńska says. “Nobody’s going to give us back this year. I think that we have to be very careful, but still go on working within the limits … and all the difficulties that’s been imposed on us.” The industry is soldiering on. Principal photography recently wrapped on “Lipstick on the Glass,” the English-language debut of acclaimed director Kuba Czekaj (“Baby Bump”), which depicts a dystopian vision of reality in which a woman is induced to abandon her gangster husband to join a feminist sect. The film’s producer, Centrala Film, is also prepping “The Root Crown,” the feature debut of director Katarzyna Gondek, whose two previous short films premiered at Sundance.

Opus Film, which won a foreign-language Oscar in 2015 for Paweł Pawlikowski’s “Ida,” is prepping “Anatomia,” a female-centered film that marks the directorial debut of Ola Jankowska. The Poland-France co-production tells the story of a woman who returns to her home country to visit her estranged father. While in the hospital he has forgotten the past 20 years of his life, sending her on an emotional journey into the past.

Principal photography is meanwhile under way on “The Peasants,” the latest feature from BreakThru Films, the animation studio behind the Oscar-nominated “Loving Vincent.” The film is directed by Academy Award nominee Dorota Kobiela and will be produced with the same hand-painted technique that brought the canvases of Vincent van Gogh to life in “Loving Vincent,” the film she co-directed with Hugh Welchman. Jan Naszewski’s Warsaw-based New Europe Film Sales will handle international sales during AFM.

Polish broadcaster TVN Discovery, meanwhile, will launch international sales on Jan Holoubek’s “25 Years of Innocence,” a pulled-from-the-headlines drama about a man who served 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The film has been a breakaway hit in Poland, where it’s racked up more than 650,000 admissions in the midst of the pandemic.

Producer Anna Waśniewska-Gill says despite the harsh subject matter, “25 Years” has struck a chord with Polish audiences because “the final outcome does bring hope,” especially in these challenging times.

“After watching the film the viewer feels that despite the severe brutality in the main character’s life, righteousness has won,” she says.

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