An annual event since 2011, the Play Poland festival continues to grow, with this year’s celebration of Polish cinema offering more screenings and exhibitions at a wider range of international venues than ever before. Focusing on those taking place within organising body Polish Art Europe’s home turf of Scotland, Kirsten Waller takes a look at what audiences can expect in 2014.
Many festivals work well because they concentrate on a single, often unique location. Glastonbury, Hay-on-Wye, Sziget – even the Fringe makes much of the hard-to-find venues and subterranean streets of Edinburgh. But there are others that like to cast their net far and wide. And with events across 3 continents and 11 cities, the Play Poland festival is nothing if not broad-minded in its desire to spread the country’s culture far and wide.
Now in its 4th year, this is in fact the first time that screenings have taken place outside of the UK and Canada, with films now also showing in Norway, the USA and Shanghai. The festival has always been extremely collaborative, bringing together film studios from all over Poland. Organised by Polish Art Europe, the festival makes a point of displaying the best and brightest of Poland’s emerging film talent and exposing them to a wider audience.
For Scottish audiences, screenings begin in Edinburgh (programme here) and Glasgow (programme here) on October 9 and continue until November 28. The majority of Edinburgh showings will take place at the Filmhouse, though events are also taking place at Summerhall and the Screen Academy. Up near the start is Floating Skyscrapers (Thu 16 Oct) – a heartbreaking look at love, a tortured mind and homophobia. Focusing on the tale of a swimmer who falls in love with a student, the films examines the discrepancy between familial and personal desire, and the inevitable conflicts. The film also screens in Glasgow on Thursday 6th November.
Papusza (Edinburgh: Thu 23 Oct/Glasgow: Thu 20 Nov) celebrates the life of the Roma-Polish poet of the title, though her Polish name was Bronisława Wajs. An almost unknown figure in Western Europe, Papusza first began to write songs and ballads whilst trapped in an unhappy marriage. She eventually left her nomadic life and settled in the western Polish city of Gorzów Wielkopolski, having been published and lauded by several Polish critics. Epic in scope, the film follows Wajs through World War II, the Soviet era and her eventual excommunication from her Roma community.
A particular treat should be Wojtek: the Bear Who Went to War (Tue 11 Nov). Narrated by Brian Blessed, this documentary tells the story of an abandoned bear cub turned mascot/soldier. In a journey almost as international as the festival itself, Wojtek was found abandoned in Iran in 1942, and was later sold to the Polish army when he became too big for his handlers. Officially listed as a Private, he became incredibly popular with the troops; they taught him to salute, let him carry the ammunition and fed him on honey, marmalade and beer.
Over in Glasgow, most events are scheduled to take place at the Sikorski Polish Club, with the Grosvenor Cinema and the Glasgow Film Theatre also taking part. The club plays host to a number of special screenings, including Short Waves (Fri 31 Oct), a short film festival-within-a-festival featuring a mix of animation, documentary and fiction. The shorts will also play at Edinburgh’s Summerhall on Wednesday 29th October.
There’ll also be a chance to catch O!Pla Across the Borders, a screening of the winners of the 2014 Festival of Polish Animation as voted for by audiences in 44 Polish cities earlier this year (Sikorski, Fri 7 Nov. Also at Meow Photography Studios, Edinburgh, Wed 5 Nov). Subjects include a fairy tale (Spider and Flies), a flying city (Lost Senses) and an unexpected meeting in a bathroom (Pac!). A number of film schools will also be displaying work, including Katowice (Sikorski, Fri 21 Nov, or Screen Academy, Edinburgh, Wed 18 Nov), Lodz (Sikorski, Fri 28 Nov) and the Krakow Film Foundation (Sikorski, Fri 24 Oct, or Summerhall, Edinburgh, Wed 22 Oct).
Play Poland is predominately a film festival; however, there are also various artistic exhibitions to be enjoyed if you’re nursing a numb bum. The Filmhouse’s corridor gallery will display a series of Polish film posters (Sat 25 Oct – Fri 07 Nov) along with a photography exhibit, “Through the Director’s Eye”, which showcases the possibilities of ‘painting with a light’ (Sat 11 Oct – Fri 24 Oct). The Sikorski will host something similar, celebrating the work of Polish poster artists Jerzy Flisak (Fri 24 Oct – Thu 06 Nov) and Andrzej Pągowski (Fri 07 Nov – Thu 20 Nov), but with additional displays of French comedy (Fri 10 Oct – Thu 23 Oct) and Hungarian cinema advertisements (Fri 21 Nov – Sun 30 Nov). There will also be “Reborn Babies” at the Meow Photography Studio. Featuring the work of five Polish artists, it launches alongside the glitzy 7th birthday of Polish Art Europe and will remain open until Thursday 16 October.
Quite enough, then, to be getting on with.