In the 1960s, the Polish government significantly increased production, with 120 animated films released in one year. By the new millennium, Poland had developed a large television market. The Polish animation school gained popularity and recognition precisely due to a combination of favorable circumstances as the crisis of cinematography and the fact that Polish movie theaters were obliged to screen short films before the main feature (this practice lasted until the 1980s). However, the tremendous success of the Polish Animation School was not the revenues from distribution but the impact of the philosophical crisis of “little stabilization”. “An animated film is a natural child of press drawing, […] Due to the origin of animation; it was often necessary to compete in the political struggle” (Gizycki 2007). The political context in which viewers placed the films used to test the censorships’ patience. Because of various interpretations, authorities tolerated symbolism (even flashy, such as a death in a garbage can or an inverted crucifix in Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds). But the government was afraid of the word. Thus, journalistic literality was generally avoided in Polish animated films. “Out of the ambiguity of the image, it was possible to create a whole game between politics and historical truth” (Wajda 2006)
Regardless of whether we recognize that the Polish School of Animation was a politically engaged cinema and a reaction to the absurdities of socialism, or just a record of experiences typical of a man living in such and not another culture, we must agree that it served as a mirror of that decade. The dispute is about what it reflected: reality or attitude to reality. Without a cultural context, it is difficult to understand the “poetics of pessimism” of the Polish school of animation. Polish cinema was perceived as pessimistic not only in terms of but also in style. It resulted from a generational strategy, dictated by bitter experiences, “sharp, gloomy and strange” cinema intrigued viewers with its unprecedented approach to tradition. These works attempted to diagnose the worldview of contemporary man (reckoning with history usually played a secondary role), emphasizing the tragic fate of the characters. General stylistic trends that made the group of authors a school include the lack of dialogue and commentary that would make the story easier to understand, reduction of the plot. Polish Animators use music to illustrate, avoid gag situations, replace realism with a metaphor, the critical role of visual art, and subordinate the story to the final punch line. Everything that proves the uniqueness of Polish animation after 1956: the charm of early cinema, modern art, poster discipline, existential content, anti-entertainment style, as well as a radical approach to author’s policy and academic seriousness, results from one strategy called by Lenica “artistic contraband”. The metaphor of contraband should be read in an artistic context because the Polish school consciously acted against the Disney tradition. The best example of a work aimed at the Disney tradition. In this context is Lenica’s Labyrinth, which set new boundaries in the animated film of the 1960s, becoming a showcase of the Polish school.
In Poland, the “art of the absurd,” including cinema, painting, literature, and theater, was a reaction to the period of socialist realist errors and distortions. This circumstance once again triggered the political style of reception. Like the Polish School of Animation, the “Polish school of absurdity” was perceived as “a form of criticism of the communist regime, hidden behind a mask of a grotesque parabola”. In the People’s Republic of Poland, the political and economic system itself was the most absurd. Since its mechanisms could not be exposed directly, universal parables expressed a general reflection on human existential dilemmas. Still, it was enough to start a different reading mode to find allusions to the hardships of life in a totalitarian system under the guise of grotesque events. Animated films had little to do with academic existentialism, much less with the philosophical tradition created by Karl Jaspers, Søren Kierkegaard, Freidrich Nietzsche, or Jean-Paul Sartre. At that time, existentialism became an intellectual fashion in Poland, crossing the walls of universities. This fashion came after the October thaw in France, wherein in the 1940s, an existential model of interpreting human experiences developed. Polish animators are often connected with art, painters, graphic artists, cartoonists, sculptors, musicians. The practice continued until 2001, the lesson of capitalism turned out to be painful for filmmakers. They quickly realized that each of their projects should have marketing value. According to many politicians, the culture of the old type was doomed to extinction because it appeared as an unproductive sector, unnecessarily burdening the state budget, generating only costs and not economic benefits.
The film watched in the 1960s in Poland, reviewed by the approval committee, admired at the Western festival, and watched today, in retrospect – these are works that differ significantly. Thanks to the viewers’ efforts, the films based on the ambiguous metaphor captivated with their philosophical depth and multidimensional analysis of human existence. Allusions to early cinema also appear in contemporary cinema, for example, in the works of Mariusz Wilczyński and Tomasz Bagiński, which testify to the continuity of tradition.
The event would conclude with a conversation with director Mariusz Wilczyński via Zoom.
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Giżycki, M. (2007). Nie Tylko Disney: Rzecz o Filmie Animowanym. WAIF Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe.
Staszczyszyn, B. (2014). A Foreigner’s Guide to Polish Animation: https://culture.pl/en/article/a-foreigners-guide-to-polish-animation. Accessed: 14.11.2021
Sitkiewicz, P. (2011). Polska Szkoła Animacji. słowo/obraz terytoria.
Wright, J. A. (2005). Animation Writing and Development From Script Development to Pitch. Routledge
Red and Black is not only visually beautiful but considered a rare gem in Polish animation. Filled with extraordinarily light and glitteringly unforced humour. Based on Stendhal’s “Red and Black” novel, Witold Giersz used his famous painting technique directly on film (without any contour), to create a spectacular visual journey.
A love story with unusual characters asks difficult questions and avoids unambiguous answers in a seemingly simple love triangle story, which explores the feelings of love, betrayal, and loneliness. As in a fairy tale, reality, and fantasy with laughter and bitter reflection.
Zbigniew Rybczynski drew and painted about 16,000 cell mattes, and made thousands of exposures on an optical printer. In a sparsely furnished room, over 20 characters at different stages of life appear to the rhythm of tango. Obsessed with performing the same activities over and over again, constantly crossing paths, but ending up never meeting each other. Tangowas awarded an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1983
This film represents the philosophical and reflective strand of Polish animation, and its humour, and surrealist ideas. The surreal cutout animation, realized in the Studio Miniatur Filmowych in Warsaw, is stylized as Max Ernst’s collages and inspired by the myth about Icarus and Daedalus. This film can be read as a metaphorical story about the hero’s life in an absurd totalitarian state. Lenica was a significant influence on Roman Polański and Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python cut-out animations. The labyrinth tells the story of a man who flies to a seemingly perfect metropolis on wings he has made himself. The metropolis slowly becomes a frightening maze with no exit.
The film tells the story of a pilgrim visiting a mysterious, gigantic structure evoking associations with the skeleton of a medieval cathedral. Together with the main character, we walk the corridors and look at the motifs on the walls. All while suspecting that this building isn’t ordinary. The mystery is revealed when the sunrise illuminates the cathedral. The Cathedralis a seven-minute animated film based on a story by Jacek Dukaj. The monumental scenery can be associated with the apocalyptic paintings of Zdzisław Beksiński, the gloom of gothic and medieval cathedrals, and the modern aesthetics of an ambitious comic book.
The films will all have closed caption subtitles in English.
Some of the following films contain flashy images. Viewer discretion is advised. It is required for all guests to wear face coverings or masks when attending the event.
Sofija Geide Jusiute
Mariusz Wilczyński was born on April 29, 1960, in Łódź. He graduated from the Faculty of Painting and Graphics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź (1986). He is a self-taught artist and exhibits Wilczyński’s work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (May 7, 2007) and the first Polish animator whose film was shown at The National Gallery in London (November 24, 2007). In 2020 his first feature animation, “Kill it and leave this town,” after 14 years of work, had a premiere at the Berlinale and was awarded at the Annecy festival.
Witold Giersz was born on February 26, 1927, he studied economics in Katowice. He started animating in 1950 when he applied for an advertisement for the Drawing Film Cooperative in Bielsko-Biała. He is the founder of the Drawing Film Studio in Warsaw. He made his debut in 1956 with the film “The Secret of the Old Castle.” He did not graduate from film studies until 1974, graduating from the Extramural Study of the Directing Department of the Łódź Film School.
Zbigniew Rybczyński was born on January 27, 1949, he is an experimental film director, cinematographer for documentaries, educational and fictional films. He is a graduate of the Cinematography Department of the National Film School in Łódź. He was one of the members of the avant-garde group Warsztat Film Form Workshop. Professionally associated with the Se-Ma-For Studio, he realized his most critical original achievements, which he crowned with “Tango.” In 1983 he went to the USA, where he took up the production of short films and video clips to the music of world-famous musicians. In 1987, he opened his own studio, which was closed in 1992.
Jan Lenica was born on January 4, 1928. He studied music and architecture. In 1945 he published satirical drawings in Szpilki magazine. From 1952, he distinguished himself as the creator of cinema, theater, and opera posters. In 1957 he collaborated with W. Borowczyk, making short animated films. Lenica represents the eclectic style with the dominant poetics of surrealism and the theater of the absurd.
Tomasz Bagiński was born on January 10, 1976. He is a self-taught animator. He abandoned his architectural studies to make films. His short debut “The Cathedral” received an Oscar nomination in the category of short animated film. In 2004 he made his second short film entitled Falling Art. In 2005, he won the Jury Prize at the SIGGRAPH festival, becoming the first artist in the history of the festival to receive both main awards. The success of both productions is confirmed by the awards and participation of films and authors at several dozen international festivals. In the breaks between the implementation of his original projects, he works on special effects and animation for the needs of advertising and cinema productions.