The Krakow Film Festival rests on reliably curated competitions – for documentary films (this year, it also featured Martin Mareček's Solar Eclipse), short films (the Czech short The Chronicle of Oldrich S. by Rudolf Šmíd received the Student Jury Award), and closely watched Polish new films, both docs and short fiction. This year, Polish filmmakers flocked to Krakow to present 24 documentaries.
Lidia Duda's Entangled, the story of a pedophile and his victim, deserves mentioning as one of the most compelling films in the Polish competition. Steering clear of any stereotypes that might be inherent in the subject matter, Entangled is a complex and ambiguous story of two men who both carry some blame. As a child, the younger man was molested by a pedophile, the other protagonist in the film. Years later, the roles get reversed as the former victim carries out an unsuccessful murder attempt on the pedophile. There are two victims here but which one has the bigger share of blame? In interviews, the protagonists compose a story of guilt and punishment, however, any notion of forgiveness is bypassed and the story remains open-ended. The pedophile points out his inability to resist the pressure of his condition, while the young man talks about the botched murder as a way of helping other children to avoid his fate.
Apart from its strong story, the film has a carefully wrought out structure. Wojciech Staroń behind the camera avoided showing the protagonists' faces, with the occasional glimpse of the back of someone's head or an out-of-focus silhouette. (The young man reveals his face at the end). Although some scenes betray a certain amount of staging, Entangled is a very impressive film that explores the complexities and questions surrounding this case. Not surprisingly, the film received the Golden Hobby Horse Award for Best Film in the Polish competition.
Another film in the Polish competition that has generated a buzz was Malgorzata Imielska's Survive Afghanistan that follows Polish soldiers operating in Afghanistan. Dubbed as “the Polish Armadillo”, the film captures several soldiers and their views before, during and after the deployment. Rather than focusing on the war or military operations, the film emphasizes the individual experience and perceptions of the military mission. Regrettably, some of the protagonists remain underdeveloped, especially the man and the woman who left for Afghanistan as a couple but split up during the mission.
The latest film by Tomasz Wolski was screened out of competition. The Palace is a portrait of the notorious monument of socialist realism, Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science. Wolski puts to work his careful observation to present the building as a living organism, capturing its entrails (hallways, underground), lungs (air conditioning and heating control rooms), senses (swimming pool, theatre, cinema halls) as well as its eyes and brain (the main control room and security surveillance). The opening scenes from period newsreels that document the construction of the Palace contrast the “grand” and imposing past with the somewhat grimy present.
Visually arresting with an arsenal of static shots, large shots and dynamic details, the film is reminiscent of Nikolaus Geyrhalter, especially his award-winning Our Daily Bread and Abendland. Unlike Geyrhalter, Wolski doesn't follow a universal theme but focuses entirely on the subject at hand, in this case, the dissection of a single building. And while Abendland may evoke complete detachment, Wolski's The Palace also focuses on the people who work and live in the place. In this regard, it might have more in common with Bakhmaro by Georgian filmmaker Salome Jashi.
The industry section at the Krakow Film Festival is organized by the Krakow Film Foundation. Meetings with filmmakers, master classes (this year, with Helena Třeštíková who had a large retrospective in the programme) and networking events (e.g., Film PRO Industry Meetings) were complemented by a panel on Italian cinema and a session with festival programmers who discussed the role festivals play in distributing short, animated and documentary films. The Krakow Film Market included all films in competition, other Polish films, and curated selections submitted by various institutions and festivals (e.g., DOK Leipzig, Visions du réel, East Silver Market).
Professionals eagerly waited for the first edition of Docs to Go! that gave exposure to new Polish documentaries that will be completed a few months from now. One of them was Michal Marczak's Fuck for Forest about a group of environmental activists who try to rescue rainforests with money generated by so-called eco-porn. Bartek Konopka and Piotr Rosolowski presented their new project Art of Disappearing, a bizarre story of a Haiti Vodou priest who visited socialist Poland and conducted a Vodou ceremony that would protect Poland from evil spirits.
The Dragon Forum is a stable and indispensable fixture at the festival. Each year the training programme organized by Academy of Document ends in this pitching event in Krakow. 29 projects in different stages of completion had the opportunity to shine before international commissioning editors, distributors, producers, funds and film festivals. The majority of projects were pitched at the one-day forum; the next day was booked for one-on-one meetings. The HBO Development Award sponsored by HBO Poland with 2,500 euros was awarded to the Polish project Hallelujah! And Go for It by director Łucja Piekarska-Duraj and producer Aleksander Duraj. The director follows her father who is set on converting from Christianity to Judaism. His struggle to restore some balance between the two strenuously managed parallel lives – his Catholic family and a new Jewish family – promises an intimate family portrait that narrows in on the collapse of the traditional family model and the absurd struggle of individuals against the inexorably changing face of reality.
There was a number of other projects that are worth mentioning, for instance, See You in Chechnya by Georgian filmmaker Alexander Kvatashidze who will also be attending IDF's 2012 Ex Oriente Film workshop and will likely be presented next year in Prague at the East Doc Platform. After ten years, the filmmaker searched out his friends from the Chechen War to find out in what ways the war conflict continues to affect their lives.
Thanks to its close collaboration with the Krakow Film Foundation that extends beyond the festival to other projects, such as Polish Docs and Polish Shorts, the Krakow Film Festival provides a great platform for (documentary) filmmakers. It is a fast track to finding new film projects and an ideal environment for meeting the filmmakers. Most importantly, anyone with a remote interest in documentary film can testify that keeping a close eye on Polish films always pays off.