Documentary films

   Documentary films always played a vital role in Poland. At the beginning of the twentieth century, they performed important educational and nation-building functions for Polish audiences. In the absence of the Polish state, these films portrayed images of other Polish cities and covered important national events such as mass gatherings at the funerals of great Polish artists. These films also recorded the celebration of important national moments in history, such as the 1910 Kraków commemorations of the 1410 victorious battle against the Order of the Teutonic Knights. In Polish film histories, usually Kazimierz Prószyński and Bolesław Matuszewski are credited as the makers of first Polish documentaries. After 1918 the government sponsored films dealing with current political issues and propagandist-patriotic works. At the beginning of the 1930s, documentary films were produced by the state-owned Polish Telegraphic Agency (Polska Agencja Telegraficzna, PAT) and several small private studios employing filmmakers such as Jan Skarbek-Malczewski,Wacław Kaźmierczak, Marian Fuks, and Wiktor Biegański. However, despite high hopes concerning the creation of the Association for the Production of Short Films (Związek Producentów Filmów Krótkometrażowych) in 1933, documentary films did not venture beyond propagandist depictions, picturesquely portrayed folklore, and political reports. The majority of these films were lost during World War II.
   The beginning of World War II was captured by several mostly Warsaw-based filmmakers including Roman Banach, Jerzy Gabryel-ski, and Jerzy Zarzycki. Later, films were made almost exclusively abroad, by filmmakers affiliated with Polish troops fighting alongside the Allies. In England, Eugeniusz Cękalski directed two major films, The White Eagle (1941), narrated by Leslie Howard, and Unfinished Journey, narrated by John Gielgud. Other filmmakers also documented the battles of Polish soldiers, for example Michał Waszyński in Monte Cassino (1944). The path of Polish soldiers fighting at the side of the Red Army was documented by the unit Czołówka. The majority of documentary materials shot in Poland during the war and, in particular, during the Warsaw Uprising, perished without trace.
   Documentary films after 1945 have been made primarily at the Documentary Film Studio in Warsaw, and also by the Czołówka Film Studio and the Educational Film Studio. The Polish Newsreel (Polska Kronika Filmowa) performed the role of a chief documentarist of Polish life. Early films dealt with the effects of war: human and material losses, devastation, rebuilding, and the hardship of life. Some of them gained prominence, for example, films by Tadeusz Makarczyński and Jerzy Bossak. After the forceful implementation of socialist realism in 1949 (see SOCIALIST REALIST CINEMA), documentary cinema was required to promote the Communist ideology.
   During the Polish School period, a number of documentary films portrayed the negative aspects of everyday life, breaking the silence imposed by the poetics of socialist realism. The so-called black series of documentary films dealt with juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, and hooliganism (see BLACK REALISM). Among them were films made by Kazimierz Karabasz, Władysław Ślesicki, and Jerzy Hoffman, such as Karabasz and Slesicki's Where the Devil Says Good Night (1957) and People from Nowhere (1957). However, the best-known examples of documentary cinema made at the beginning of the 1960s in Poland dealt with World War II. An Ordinary Day of Szmidt, the Gestapo Man (Powszedni dzień gestapowca Szmidta, 1963) by Jerzy Ziarnik and Requiem for 500,000 (1963) by Jerzy Bossak and Wacław Kaźmierczak are included in the canon of Polish documentary film.
   Starting in 1958, Polish movie theaters were obliged to screen short films (animated, documentary, or educational) before the main feature, a factor of great consequence for the makers of short films (this practice lasted until the 1980s). Documentary films also featured prominently on (and were produced by) Polish Television, for example Karabasz's The Year of Franek W. (1967) or Marek Piwowski's Hair (1971). The importance of documentary cinema in Poland is also evidenced by the annual Kraków Film Festival, inaugurated in 1961. Karabasz's celebrated documentary Sunday Musicians (1960) became its first winner.
   Films by Bossak and Karabasz influenced a number of future filmmakers, including Krzysztof Kieślowski, Andrzej Titkow, Krzysztof Wojciechowski, and Tomasz Zygadło. In the 1970s, they became interested in documenting the reality neglected by other filmmakers. Together with Grzegorz Królikiewicz, Marcel Łoziński, and Piwowski, to name just a few, these new film directors appeared at the Documentary Filmmakers' Forum in 1971. A peculiar brand of Polish documentary cinema, labeled by Polish critics "creative documentary" (dokument kreacyjny), was also developed by filmmakers such as Królikiewicz and Wojciech Wiszniewski, who started to incorporate techniques of fictional cinema into their documentary works. During the Cinema of Distrust period in the late 1970s, the filmmakers not only portrayed the "unrepresented reality" (negative aspects of life) but also documented the state of mind leading to the Solidarity movement. Some of the finest examples of documentaries made at that time include Zygadło's Microphone for Everybody (1976), Piotr Szulkin's Working Women (1978), Łoziński'sMicrophone Test (1980), and Irena Kamienska's Female Workers (Robot-nice, 1980). A full-length documentary describing the Gdańsk negotiations between striking workers and the Communist authorities, Workers 1980 (Robotnicy 80), directed by Andrzej Chodakowski and Andrzej Zajączkowski, remains perhaps the crowning achievement of this period.
   The short-lived liberalization in 1981 enabled the screening of several documentary films that had been produced earlier but were shelved by the authorities. The political situation after the introduction of martial law in December 1981 proved difficult for the makers of uncompromising documentary cinema. During the early 1980s, several graduates of the new Katowice Film and Television School made their first films. After the transition to democracy in 1989, documentary films, earlier shown as supplements to the main program in cinema theaters, became the domain of television. This fact hugely increased the number of films produced but ended one quality Polish documentaries were known for, that is, metaphorical, poetic depictions of reality. The most prominent trend in contemporary films has to do with coming to terms with the Communist past and uncovering historical moments buried or distorted by the Communists. Łoziński's Polish People's Republic, 1945-1989 (1990) and The Katyń Forest (1991) serve as good examples here. Apart from films by Łoziński, any list of recent eminent Polish documentaries should include Andrzej Fidyk's The Parade (Defilada, 1989), Jacek Bławut's Developmentally Challenged (Nienormalni, 1990)—the only documentary made in the 1990s with a regular distribution in Poland—and Maciej Drygas's Listen to My Cry (Usłyszcie mój krzyk, 1991). These filmmakers, together with Ewa Borzęcka, Paweł Łoziński (Marcel's son), Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, Andrzej Tit-kow, and several others, continue to shape contemporary Polish documentary film.
   Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema by Marek Haltof

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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