Good times in Polish documentary continue. Its success is measured by hundreds of screenings worldwide and nearly one hundred awards received every year, including no less than two Oscar nominations at this year’s Academy Awards. Starting last year, a new initiative has been put into place aiming to further improve Polish documentary films at concept stage: Doc Lab Poland.

Doc Lab Poland is a consultation programme whose primary and ultimate purpose is to introduce the most interesting Polish documentary projects in production to a wide group of experts. Workshops where selected filmmakers work on their material are followed by Docs to Start and Docs to Go! pitchings held during the Krakow Film Festival. Since the films showcased at Docs to Go! are soon to be released, it’s a great opportunity to take a closer look at what Polish documentary filmmakers will have to offer in the near future. Twelve projects participated in this year’s edition, looking for suitable international premiere locations and distribution channels. Most of the projects are in finals stages of production or will be completed in a few months’ time.

One of the most promising projects is 21 x New York directed by Piotr Stasik. It’s a distinctive and intimate portrayal of a big city told in an unusual way i.e. by observing its residents on the subway. ‘New York is a mythical city, a city where all the world converges, a city that’s courageous, adventurous and open‑minded’ – Stasik says. But it’s also a city of thousands of lonely, isolated people who pass each other every day in the crowd without ever knowing each other. ‘I wanted to learn more about them and, as usual, I used a camera as an excuse for entering into people’s lives and asking questions’ – he adds. Similar in spirit but set in entirely different scenery are

The End of the Valley of Tears by Jarosław Wszędybył and At the Bottom of the Sea by Marcin Sauter. The similarity consists in the focus on observation, but this time the authors’ attention is on worlds that are fading away. The former shows the last leper colony in Romania that shrinks with each death of another villager; the latter tells about a world that is already gone and lives on only in the memory of the residents of Aralsk, a once thriving port city on the banks of a lovely sea that is now nothing more than a dried up puddle.

White Cube directed by a multimedia artist and sculptor Wojciech Pustoła in a way is also a story about fading away. The director shows a group of fellow artists struggling with the emergence of new technologies that supersede traditional creative methods. ‘The subject is close to my heart, but the problems that my protagonists are facing are universal’ – says Pustoła. ‘The result is meant be a slow cinema type of film’. We see similar visual style in Noiselessly, a project about art and cinema in particular co-directed by Maciej Mądracki, Michał Mądracki and Gilles Lepore. It’s a story about a Moroccan town that due to its unusual landscape is often used as scenery in Hollywood blockbusters. The town has no cinema, but most of its residents appear as extras in various films. The authors observe their work, which results in an exceptionally creative and somewhat dreamlike vision of reality.

Land of the Homeless by Marcin Janos Krawczyk also has a collective protagonist, but it is completely different in tone. In his previous films the director tackled some heavy social issues: a relationship of a couple with Down syndrome (Rendez‑vous that premiered at Berlinale), a mother giving her newborn child up for adoption (Six Weeks chosen best short documentary at the IDFA), the lives of inmates, orphans,and people suffering from incurable diseases (Mother 24/7). This time he plunges into the world of the homeless who want to build a ship in order to sail around the world. ‘I’ve been interested in the subject of homelessness for morthan a decade. I’ve kept wondering what makes a person lead such a life; because the truth is that this can happen to anyone. Usually there is one dramatic event when life throws a person overboard.’ Planning the cruise is a form of therapy for the protagonists, helping them to find a path out of homelessness. Krawczyk admires their attitude. ‘I hope to make a thought‑provoking film that gives hope while making you reflect on your own life’ – he says.

We find a completely different ambiance in another project by Jarosław Wszędybył. The Dragon Spring is a humorously told story about an ambitious amateur coach of a third‑league football team who dreams of working with the world’s most famous football stars. The film tells – with a considerable dose of humour – about our dreams and failures that we must face every day.

The co‑directors of Trophy – Marta Wójtowicz‑Wcisło and Mateusz Romaszkan – opted for an interesting found footage project. The authors want to use amateur video footage filmed ‘as a memento’ by Polish tourists on exotic holidays abroad in order to create a telling image of the contemporary consumerist society. ‘We are developing a language that would allow us to communicate with the viewer’ – says Wójtowicz‑Wcisło. ‘We want to achieve a certain moderation and austerity in terms of form that would counterbalance such a rich collection of pictures’.

A documentary Jarocin – the Rise of Freedom about one of the biggest Polish music festivals offers a different kind of social analysis. ‘The Jarocin Festival is a cultural phenomenon, a legend of Polish rock music’ – says the producer Aneta Zagórska. ‘Jarocin used to be an island of freedom in a country ruled by a communist regime’. The authors observe and reflect on what the festival used to be and what it is now for the public and the musicians, but also on its significance for the political and social history of Poland.

Three of the showcased projects focus on an individual protagonist. In Marcin Kopeć’s Walking Spark we have a former gangster who decides to change and start over. As it turns out, the road won’t be easy. ‘Observing the process of crossing from ‘the dark side of the force’ to the good side is intriguing, especially considering that the process is neither easy nor simple’ – says the producer Dawid Janicki. ‘This is a perfect example of a tale about becoming a mature person and the need to settle the past in order to begin a new life. It is an almost mythical journey for the protagonist’ – adds the director. The gangster finds support in a young female artist who decided to make an animated film based on his experience.

A special bond forms between the two. The title protagonist of Hypnotist by Przemysław Kamiński comes to Poland from Ukraine, leaving behind unresolved family issues. He earns a living using his supernatural abilities, even though this goes against his religion. ‘He is an exceptional protagonist with a unique dilemma, an internal conflict, and we decided that his story was worth a closer look’ – says the producer Maciej Kubicki. The film’s director adds: ‘The initial impulse was curiosity; who is this man with such an uncommon talent? As I was learning more about him, I asked more and more questions until I found the most important one: can a talent be a source of suffering? I hoped to transmit this desire to understand the protagonist and to discover his secrets in the film.’

In When You Return by Anna Zamęcka we see a teenager raised in a dysfunctional family, exceedingly mature for her age, who is forced to shoulder the burden of taking care of her autistic brother. Struggling with the difficulties of everyday life, the girl does her best to bring her family together once again. All this happens at the most difficult time in the girl’s life. ‘I wanted to tell a story about growing up and to show the universal quality of human emotion’ – says the film’s director.

Katarzyna Wilk, "Focus on Poland" Magazine 2/2015



White Cube, dir. Wojciech Pustoła, prod. Marta Golba (Endorfina Studio)

21 x New York,dir. Piotr Stasik, prod. Agnieszka Wasiak (Lava Films)

Noislessly, dir. Maciej Mądracki, Michał Mądracki, Gilles Lepore, prod. Anna Wydra (Otter Films)

The end of the valley of tears, dir. Jarosław Wszędybył, prod. Przemysław Miękinia (Before My Eyes)

When you return, dir. Anna Zamęcka, prod. Zuzanna Król (Wajda Studio), Anna Wydra (Otter Films)

Hipnotist, dir. Przemysław Kamiński, prod. Maciej Kubicki (Telemark)

Trophy, dir. Mateusz Romaszkan, Marta Wójtowicz-Wcisło, prod. Kuba Kosma (TAK Film)

At the bottom of the Sea, dir. Marcin Sauter, prod. Barbara Ławska (SF Kronika)

The Dragon Spring, dir. Jarosław Wszędybył, prod. Magdalena Bryk (Moth Films)

Walking Spark, dir. Marcin Kopeć, prod. Dawid Janicki, Joanna Szymańska (Shipsboy)

Jarocin – the rise of freedom, dir. Marek Gajczak, Leszek Gnoiński, prod. Aneta Zagórska, Witold Bereś (Stowarzyszenie Film Kraków)

Land of the homeless, dir. Marcin Janos Krawczyk, prod. Marcin Krawczyk (Janos Film Production)