The cinematic productions of the Polish people have always been held in high international acclaim. From the early European super-hits starring Pola Negri in the first half of the last century, to the high strung, anxiety-ridden epics of Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Zanussi in the later half, Poland can boast a strong cinematic tradition that is as old as film itself.
It's widely agreed that the birth of the Polish film tradition came with the premier of Antoś pierwszy raz w Warszawie (Antoś' First Time in Warsaw), starring Anton Fertner, a popular contemporary theatre actor set to become one of the country's first major film stars. At the time, Fertner was involved with Warsaw's only established theatre-cum-cinema, the Oaza, and successfully popularised farce as a comic cinematic tradition in the pre-war period.
But in the early days of Polish cinema, it wasn't just comedy that flourished here. Before the War, when Poland was under the yoke of Tsarist Russia, many 'state of Poland' films were produced. These can be identified by strong nationalistic themes and patriotic characterisations of the 'evil' and invading ‘other’ that was the Russian Empire. One early example of this tradition can be found in Ochrana Warszawska i jej tajemnice (The Secrets of the Warsaw Police) by Wiktor Begianski, which played heavily on the theme Russian oppression in the Polish capital.
In many ways, the advent of the World Wars in Europe signalled a watershed moment for the Polish film industry. From 1919 to 1939 more than half of Poland's independent studios went bankrupt after their first release. The effect was a centralisation of Polish talent, and a select few studios were able to secure a stable foothold in European cinema. Most notable were the Warsaw based studios of Aleksander Hertz, which were to be the starting points of many of Poland's early female film icons (including the heart-throb of German silent cinema, Pola Negri).
After the war, in 1918, Poland was behind in terms of cinematic development (with less cinemas per citizen than all of its neighbouring eastern bloc countries). The already-established genre of patriotic films continued to thrive in this period, characterised by the reinvigorated zeal of a nation newly emerged from Russian control, and films like Nie damy ziemi skąd nasz ród (We Will Not Give Up Our Land) that commentated on the German dispute occurring in Upper Silesia.
One institution of particular note in the history of Polish cinema is the Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Filmowa, Telewizyjna i Teatralna (the Leon Schiller National Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre). Perhaps its most notable gift to the craft of film making was the Oscar winning director, Roman Polański, whose film The Pianist is a modern revival of the 'state of Poland' films, a chronicle of survival in second world war Warsaw.
The school at Łόdź was also where a number of other very famous directors studied cinema. Other than Polański, two other Oscar winning movie makers studied there, Zbigniew Rybczyński and Andrzej Wajda. The latter's most recent production, Katyń (which details the history of the Russian massacre in the woods of the same name), is another example of a Polish historical movie chronicling the harrowing and dark past of the nation, while Zbigniew Rybczyński, has won academy awards for his successes in cinematography.
Today Poland hosts international film festivals on a regular basis, a testimony to the country's place as one of the ‘big hitters’ in international cinema. From the influence of the early Polish comic silent films on European cinema, to the prolific productions of directors like Roman Polański, Poland has a strong tradition of success in the craft worldwide.