Gdynia Film Festival 2015: Festival Review + '10 Years of Emotions'

The 40th Gdynia Film Festival, rich in inspiring and original cinema yet marred by an unexpected tragedy, felt like experiencing "ten years of emotions" in six days.

Certain incidents you just don't see coming, and they make our everyday anxieties and worries look trivial, indeed. The news of the death of the director Marcin Wrona at Gdynia, occurring on the Saturday morning of the closing gala of the Festival's 40th anniversary, shocked and deeply saddened everyone in attendance and, of course, in the wider Polish film community and beyond. Relaying the awful news to a critic friend at TIFF, I learned that he had, just days before, met and interviewed Wrona in Toronto, where the director had presented his new film, Demon, before bringing it to Gdynia, where the movie received further acclaim and was judged by some to be the best film of the Festival.

The organisers nonetheless took the difficult decision not to cancel any of Saturday’s screenings, and a shortened and subdued version of the closing ceremony took place in the evening. The event was handled with the utmost tact and sensitivity. Opening with a touching and understated musical performance by Stanisława Celińska that paid tribute to the 42-year-old director, the following ceremony had a warm and loving tone. Some poignant statements were made, as when producer Marcin Malatyński, collecting the “Visions Apart” “Golden Claw” prize for The Singing Napkin, referred to the importance of thinking of film beyond market and industry value, and rather to consider fellow filmmakers as a community "of family, of friends”.

The full list of winners can be read here, and my own personal Top 10 of films screened at the Festival appears at the end of this article. Instead of analysing the awards as I did last year , however, I would like to close my coverage of Gdynia 2015 with some remarks about the last movie I saw at the Festival: 10 Years of Emotions (10 Lat Emocji). This documentary, directed by Jerzy Sładkowski, focuses on the Polish Film Institute (PISF), which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, the same year in which Gdynia Festival celebrates its 40th.

10 Years of Emotions (10 Lat Emocji)

Combining interviews, film clips and behind-the-scenes production footage, Sładkowski's charming film offered an insightful and affectionate portrait of the PISF, tracing the Institute from its relatively humble beginnings to its now central role in Polish cinematography. It soon became clear that, as outgoing PISF General Director Agnieszka Odorowicz notes, the Institute has “changed the face of Polish cinema”, supporting the production of more than 230 features, over 350 documentaries and 120 animation films, and generally working diligently to “protect and promote Polish film”. Among the filmmakers featured was Pawel Pawlikowski, who testified that, without PISF funding, Ida would never have been made.

What also became clear was the importance of artistic freedom, an issue that Polish filmmakers aren’t likely to take lightly following so many years of Communist control and censorship. Incisive interviews with Agnieszka Holland and Andrzej Wajda returned frequently to this topic, with Holland emphasising the importance of “the artist’s right to freedom, to expression, to not be driven by conformism.” “Perhaps some kind of authoritarian ghost stalks these corridors,” Holland said. “We need to exorcise it to ensure that censorship doesn’t occur again.” The PISF’s importance in such an “exorcism” was made evident in this film, as was the Institute’s commitment to individual voices and “to keeping the politicians out of it.” As one commentator succinctly put it, “The idea of the Institute is to fight for art cinema.”

The documentary’s tone was warm and celebratory without succumbing to either self-congratulation or complacency. At just fifty minutes (and with some awkward integration of clips), several aspects of the Institute were only briefly sketched. Still, if the film is more overview than detailed examination ultimately, it does a good job of summing up the accomplishments of Polish cinema in the last decade and in suggesting the challenges ahead. Perhaps the most touching comment came from Wajda who noted: “It started with all of us loving cinema and we felt, if we loved cinema, that we could do something good in life.”

The film's title, which alludes to the PISF’s slogan for its anniversary, could scarcely have been more appropriate. In its combination of the joy of inspirational cinema and the grief and shock of unexpected death, the 40th Gdynia Film Festival felt very much like experiencing "ten years of emotions" telescoped into six days. One left the Festival at once saddened and elated, reassured as to the vibrant condition of contemporary Polish cinema, and also reminded of one of the primary resources that we have in finding healing, solidarity and connection after a shocking event: namely, film itself.

My Gdynia Film Festival 2015 Top 10

1. 11 Minutes (11 Minut)

2. Body/Ciało

3. These Daughters of Mine (Moje córki krowy)

4. Baby Bump

5. Damaged (Panie Dulskie)

6. The Lure (Córki Dancingu)

7. Strange Heaven (Obce niebo)

8. 10 Years of Emotions (10 Lat Emocji)

9. The Here After (Intruz)

10. New World (Nowy Świat)





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.