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Vol 2, No 17
2 May 2000
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Cultural news from Poland Poland's Week in Culture
Wojtek Kość

More money issues in this week's round-up as we take on mighty royalties organizations in Poland and find out why Polish cinema is in crisis despite recent successes of Jerzy Hoffman and Andrzej Wajda (or because of them?).

In this week's cultural round-up section we have:

Click on the appropiate heading or just scroll down to browse.

Paying Royalties

Imagine this situation: you are having a nice time at a students' ball and the disc jockey is playing all the latest hits from your favourite Polish artists. Suddenly, two men in black enter the ballroom that you and your colleagues rented for the party. Next you are asked whether you paid royalties for the artist whose music is entertaining you. If your answer is no, then you have to sign an agreement and pay them. Otherwise, you will spend the rest of the evening in silence.

Such is the situation on the royalties market in Poland. There are 13 organizations that deal with royalties - they cover the interests of producers, musicians, photographers, actors, filmmakers and everyone whose work may entail profit from royalties. The biggest of those organizations is ZAiKS, which mainly ensures payment of royalties to musicians, although it also deals with choreographers as well.

Its ruthlessness ensures money for the artists but has earned disapproval from TV and radio stations, restaurant owners, night clubs, supermarkets - in other words all those enterprises where using music makes customers feel nice and comfortable (which, in turn, increases the amount of money spent by them).

ZAiKS inspectors follow the rule of enforcing royalties whenever and wherever it is possible. In the years 1989-1994, the heyday of music and video piracy, ZAiKS forced pirate producers to pay royalties to the artist whose work was pirated. Musicians and producers, even though they now praise ZAiKS for looking after their interests, think its activity in that period can only be considered unacceptable.

ZAiKS and other organizations of this type rule the royalties market with an iron hand. It is obviously understandable that royalties are what artists buy their bread and butter with and that supermarkets or radio station should pay them.

But demanding them from a barber or a shoe shop owner who has a radio on while working borders on the ridiculous, although the matter is different if he played CDs or cassettes. It is forcing people to pay more and more money for their routine everyday activities. Like in a Philip K Dick's novel Ubik where to open a door to your own flat would require five cents.

The Polish royalties market is worth USD 300 million.

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Crisis in Polish Cinema

Ogniem i mieczem: Flawed
Last year, I praised Andrzej Wajda and his latest film Pan Tadeusz. And I still support this positive review. However, as brilliant the film was, it remains, a symptom of a deep crisis in Polish filmmaking. A crisis that is marked by good films.

Looking back to last year's successes of Jerzy Hoffman's Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword) and Pan Tadeusz, many reviewers and critics - seeing those crowds in front of the cinemas - hailed a rebirth of Polish cinema after the grim years in the wake of 1989, when people flocked to see latest American productions that suddenly flooded Poland, in the process pushing Polish filmmakers out of the limelight.

But if one takes a closer look at what constituted this so-called rebirth, this optimism appears groundless. Ogniem i mieczem, before it premiered, was massively promoted on an unprecedented scale in Poland. After it conquered Polish cinemas in triumph (it is hard to believe but after its first screening weekend, it was one of the top blockbusters ever, even breaking global records) only a few critics (hats off here to Zygmunt Kałużynski of the weekly Polityka) were brave enough to point out historical inaccuracies and the general mediocrity of the film.

Pan Tadeusz: slightly better
Alas, millions of cinema-goers spoke up for the film, and it was widely held as excellent. Then came Pan Tadeusz - no doubt a better film and another financial success for the producers and the director. Its fame grew even larger after Wajda received an Oscar for lifetime achievement, even though his best films were shot before 1989, during the ancien regime. And now, within the period of just a few months, there has been a sudden outbreak of plans from various directors make for making new, supposedly excellent films.

Let us see: Jerzy Kawalerowicz is to shoot Henryk Sienkiewicz's Nobel Prize-winning novel Quo Vadis?, Jarosław Żamojda and Agnieszka Holland (independently of each other) revealed they will be directing Krzyżacy (Knights of the Cross), based on Sienkiewicz yet again. Władysław Pasikowski is making a cinema version of a 1960s TV series about Hans Kloss, a Polish secret agent dressed in a Wehrmacht outfit who causes headaches for the Germans in occupied Poland headaches.

Stuck in the past

What is worrying is that the success of both Ogniem i mieczem and Pan Tadeusz, as well as (possibly) of the planned productions were, or will be, based on people's long-rooted preferences often dating back to the years when the current generation of adult audiences were at primary school. In this period, it was de rigeur to consider Krzyżacy a great novel (which it is not, in my humble opinion) and Hans Kloss as the ultimate hero.

The new movies may impress with the gusto with which they are made, but they repeat patterns known for years and fail to see that times have changed recently. There are, so far, no rumors about productions concerned with the present Polish reality.

Directors and producers prefer to stick to safe undertakings that guarantee a good return on the initial investment - but the mentally dates back to the 1960s, if not to the 19th century. It seems no one is interested in what Poland has experienced in the 1990s.

Two notable films treating on Polish post-Communist reality - Psy (Dogs) by Pasikowski and Dług (Debt) by Krzysztof Krauze - were not favored by critics and audiences, respectively. Psy was shunned because of its foul language and the demytholgising of Solidarity folklore, while Dług only flashed through Polish cinemas, despite being highly praised.

What is left are either pompous adaptations of classics or mediocre comedies. The crisis in Polish cinema is made evident - paradoxically - by big productions that get much publicity from the media and are dubbed successes. The critical voices that warned against the flood of American movies are now silent. Where are they now, when Polish cinema is not only flooded, but starts to resemble its American counterpart in nature? An Oscar for Wajda will not replace good films.

Other articles of interest:

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Wojtek Kość, 28 April 2000

Moving on:


Jan Čulík
New Czech TV News Chief

Catherine Lovatt
Romanian Local Elections

Sam Vaknin
Yugoslav Myths

Mel Huang
Estonia's Military

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Censorship

Oliver Craske
UK Media Look East

Brian J Požun
Slovene Skinheads

Peter Hames
Finále Film Festival in Plzeň

Elke de Wit
Anne Høegh Krohn's Debut

Elke de Wit
Goethe's Misogyny

Wojtek Kość
Polish Cultural Review

Culture Calendar:

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