April 20-26, 2001
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Wojciech Roszkowski
Matt Kelly
Wojciech Roszkowski

This might be the week to read a good film

By Matt Kelly

Wojciech Roszkowski, the Kosciuszko Chair of Polish Studies at the University’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, will present the film "Sexmission,” Julius Machulski’s 1983 political satire about two cryogenically frozen men thawed out in the future, in a world without men.

The film, in Polish with English subtitles, will be screened on the second floor of the University Bookstore on Thursday, April 26, at 4 p.m. It’s part of a series of films Roszkowski is showing from a cache of about 246 Polish movies circa 1920 to the 1980s, donated recently to the Miller Center.

Roszkowski, a professor of Polish history, politics and democratic transformation, laughed when he said presenting movies is not his “basic dedication,” but said someone writing a history of Polish cinema would find the center’s collection contains about two-thirds of Poland’s pertinent films.

Jarek Zaremba, president of Polart.com in Sarasota, Fla., donated the collection to support the Kosciuszko chair, according to Wistar Morris, executive director of the Miller Center Foundation.

Roszkowski said the movies would interest film students, artists and historians.
While Poland is not known for its films, Polish cinema has developed its own traits and characteristics. Because of communism’s isolation, Hollywood did not heavily influence Polish filmmaking, Roszkowski said. Polish films developed a style that relied less on gunplay and explosions, focusing more on a slower pace and storytelling within the strictures of state censorship.

The film industry in Poland was an extension of the regime, with the directors receiving salaries and production monies from the state. Roszkowski said this was a mixed blessing, since the directors’ work was controlled and censored, but they were also insulated from marketplace pressures. And since the state handled film distribution no competition existed for screen space.

“There was no problem selling taste,” he said. “It may have been different if they had had to listen to the public. This way, some of the directors could just focus on what they had to say.”

Roszkowski said the censorship may have had some benefits for the movie industry in Poland. While some of the filmmakers toed the party line, willingly embracing state restrictions, others became skilled and crafty storytellers to get their messages past the censors.

The films Roszkowski is showing have universal appeal. He said if the viewer knows Polish history or of the times and conditions under which the film was made, he or she might enjoy it more, but the films still can be entertaining to those without that historical background.

Roszkowski said the cinemas of other Iron Curtain countries exerted little influence in Poland. He said East German and Soviet films were seldom shown in Poland because their censorship was so rigid that the films themselves were not very good and Polish audiences ridiculed them. He said films from Hungary and Czechoslovakia, however, were screened.

The collapse of communism threw the Polish film industry into disarray. While content restrictions were lifted, filmmakers now had to accommodate the marketplace and secure funding for their projects. They also had to compete with Western movies, which were now available.

Some Polish films have been both box office and critical successes, Roszkowski said, specifically citing “By Fire and Sword” by Jerzy Hoffman and Andrzej Wajda’s “Pan Tadeusz.” He also pointed to Christopher Kieslowski’s triology “Red,” “White” and “Blue,” made as a joint venture with a French film concern.

Some films are drawn from Polish literature, but Roszkowski said there is a separation between novelists and screenwriters.

“Literature played a different role,” he said, referring to the years of communist control. “Censorship made it hard to translate some things to the screen. And both [literature and film] were under strict controls.”

Roszkowski said if this screening sparks enough interest in Polish films, he may show another one in early May. He said people interested in borrowing films can contact him directly at wr3s@virginia.edu.

Roszkowski is also working on a conference on May 3-5 at the Miller Center on the transformation of Poland following the fall of communism. Roszkowski said there will be three visiting scholars from Poland as well as U.Va. professors making presentations.


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