In recent years, Polish documentaries have experienced overwhelming success like never before, triumphing at awards ceremonies and capturing the minds of critics and audiences at major world festivals.

 

But perhaps most impressive is how they manage to stay true to reality, capturing the changes occurring not simply in Poland but all around the world. That they do so while forging their own aesthetic trail forward is a testament to the brilliance of their makers.

Director Piotr Stasik is one outsize figure in the imaginations of fans of contemporary Polish documentary. In 2016, his film portrait 21 x New York earned him the award for Best Documentary at the European Film Awards. Whether it's his portrait of an American metropolis or a documentary look at his homeland in his next film, Opera about Poland, Stasik always manages to point out current societal problems and depict the identities of people living in these places with surprising accuracy and grace.

The films Call Me Tony by Klaudiusz Chrostowski and First Pole on Mars by Agnieszka Elbanowska testify to the fact that the dreams we have for our own lives know no bounds. The former follows the personal journey of an 18-year-old bodybuilder name Konrad, who makes it his life ambition to steadily become more like his role models Al Pacino and Robert de Niro. Meanwhile, First Pole on Mars introduces us to 68-year-old Kazimierz, who does everything he can to prepare himself for a trip to the Red Planet. Both of these short films by gifted Polish directors enjoyed significant success and acclaim at international film festivals, and Chrostowski even took home the award for Best Student Film at the prestigious IDFA Festival.

As Poland itself grows increasingly illiberal in its politics, inviting the alarm of many inside and outside the country, its cinema only grows fiercer in its ability to provide a counterpoint to this. While the situation is not addressed directly in this program, it is an implicit response: the power of these artistic visions point to a country different from that of the popular imagination. In some small way, films and representations like this chip away at the dominant view of the country and its people, creating far richer and more complex portraits in the process.

Selected Films

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