With a new production incentive, rising local box office, an infusion from Netflix and internationally acclaimed auteurs, "Polish cinema is on the rise."
To be clear: The Polish film industry doesn't need Hollywood.
While neighboring nations in Eastern Europe have clamored to introduce tax breaks and production incentives to attract international shoots, Poland, with its long and proud national cinematic tradition, has been happy to go it alone.
Polish box office receipts have soared in recent years, largely because of the success of homegrown titles, which account for around one-third of total ticket sales. A sign of the industry's maturity is how successful sequels and franchises have become. Three of this year's top titles were follow-ups: the romantic comedies Miszmasz czyli Kogel Mogel 3 and Planet Single 3 — which have grossed more than $10 million and $7.7 million, respectively — and Patryk Vega's Women of Mafia 2, the latest in his hit crime action franchise, which earned some $6 million at local theaters.
Internationally, Poland is enjoying the art house spotlight thanks to the success of such features as Pawel Pawlikowski's Oscar-nominated Cold War, Agnieszka Holland's biographical thriller Mr. Jones starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard and titles from the phenomenally productive Malgorzata Szumowska — who followed up her 2018 Berlin Jury Grand Prix winner Mug with the English-language horror title The Other Lamb, which premiered in Toronto, and has one Polish feature, All Inclusive, in postproduction while she is in the midst of shooting another the local-language comedy-drama Masazysta.
Poland's contender for the 2020 international film Oscar — Jan Komasa's Corpus Christi — manages to unite the Polish industry's commercial and art house strains. The drama, about an ex-con who experiences a spiritual transformation while in a youth detention center and, after leaving prison, poses as a priest in a small-town parish — has won critical acclaim since its festival screenings in Venice and Toronto and has become a box office hit back home, earning more than $1 million in its first week of release.
But while Polish film insiders don't need Hollywood's business, they're happy to have it. This year, Poland introduced a new filming incentive — a 30 percent cash rebate on local spend — aimed at boosting local as well as visiting productions. The Polish Film Institute is administrating the rebate, which has an annual budget of $54 million and is open to everything from feature films and animation to documentaries and TV series, with a maximum rebate of $3.7 million per project and $5.4 million per applicant in a calendar year. Applications need to have 75 percent of their financing already in place and pass a cultural test to meet certain criteria, including the participation of Polish cast and crew or the telling of stories with a particular cultural relevance to the country.
"Polish cinema is on the rise," says Radoslaw Smigulski, general director of the Polish Film Institute, who makes it clear he sees the new initiative as a means for Polish talent to collaborate with the world, not as a handout to international producers. "We have a pool of amazing, unquestionable talents who, on one hand, draw from the rich history of Polish films but also leave an individual imprint on modern storytelling. Polish filmmakers have stories to share and have an immense appetite to communicate with the world audience."
In addition to the rebate, the PFI is negotiating for the development of new production facilities to meet the increasing demand — both local and international — to shoot in the region.
Jaroslaw Sawko, president of Platigo Image, a local VFX firm whose credits include Lars von Trier's Melancholia, Andrzej Wajda's Katyn and Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing, notes that Poland "has been waiting a long time for a cash rebate system" akin to those in nearby Hungary and the Czech Republic. "But even without it, the production and postproduction services grew rapidly here." He points to his company's animation work on Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow's Another Day of Life, which premiered in Cannes last year and won best animated feature at the 2018 European Film Awards. "We also work with Netflix," he notes.
The global streamer has recently discovered the weh of talent between Wroclaw and Gdansk. Netflix tapped four of the country's most prominent directors — Holland, Kasia Adamik, Olga Chajdas and Agnieszka Smoczynska — to helm 1983, the streamer's first Polish original series. The fast-paced conspiracy thriller is set in a dystopian world in which the Iron Curtain never fell and Poland, still living under a repressive police state, is ripe for the revolution it was denied decades earlier.
Netflix's upcoming series The Witcher, starring Henry Cavill, also has Polish roots. The adaptation of the fantasy series by Polish writer Andrezej Sapkowski, which was turned into a hit video game franchise, shot mainly in Hungary and on the Spanish island La Palma, but a few key scenes were reportedly done in Poland — at the Ogrodzieniec Castle in the Silesia region along the German-Czech border.
Poland's location in the heart of the continent — every European capital is a maximum two- or three-hour flight away, and there are direct flights from Warsaw to Los Angeles, New York and Toronto — gives it a practical appeal for international producers. So does the country's varied landscape and diverse history, reflected in its architecture — which includes lavish Renaissance or Baroque palaces, thick-walled medieval castles, cobbled streets and squares as well modern urban landscapes. In recent productions, Poland has played Berlin, the Netherlands and Paris but, surprisingly, it's landscape has also successfully stood in for Manchuria.
Poland's strongest appeal, perhaps, lies in the combination of local talent — built by its strong, independent industry — and financial incentives that make the country competitive with its East European neighbors. In recent years, several new production companies have emerged — Madants, Film Polska Productions, No Sugar Films, Lava Films, Aurum Films and Opus Film,among them — that specialize in international co-productions.
"Perhaps the most impressive part was the competence of the crews and the clocklike organization," says Michael Trinklein, a producer on the 2017 PBS series Martin Luther: Return to Grace, which shot in Poland as a coproduction with No Sugar Films. "I have worked in Hollywood and New York, and I can say local Polish teams were more dedicated and professional than any I have encountered. In Krakow, we received an enormous value and lost noting in quality. Now I must come up with new ideas to shoot in Poland!"
Adds No Sugar Films producer Marta Habior: "I could speak for hours on why international companies should come to Poland, but let me quote the U.S., Australian and European partners I worked with — 'amazing production value for money!' I've shot all over the world and I can honestly say, from my point of view, the combination of extraordinary talent, top-notch crews and the range of locations we have in Poland makes me extremely happy and lucky to be working in the industry here."
Poland By the Numbers
Cash rebate on local spend, a program operated by the Polish Film Institute and budgeted at up to $53.17 million per year.
Production budget per year at Polish Film Institute
Number of regional film funds operating in the country, with a joint budget per year at $2.23M.
Annual budget in production subsidies for Polish-German co-productions. Polish productions and co-productions can also access Eurimages and Creative Europe funding.
Number of Polish bilateral co-production agreements, with France, Israel, India, Canada and New Zealand. For bilateral co-productions, the Polish contribution must be at least 10 percent of the total budget, and for multilateral co-productions, the Polish contribution must be at least 5 percent of the total budget Council of Europe Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production ratified.
As long as there are an infinite number of holidays, there will always be holiday ensemble comedies. But Friendsgiving one might be one that we can give thanks for. Produced by Ben Stiller and starring an all-star cast of comedians that includes Malin Akerman, Kat Dennings, Chelsea Peretti, Christine Taylor, Jane Seymour, and more, Friendsgiving has just been picked up by Saban Films with a planned theatrical release for long after Thanksgiving. But hey, being thankful is a year-round experience.
Saban Films announced that it has acquired the U.S. rights to Friendsgiving, an ensemble comedy directed by Funny People and The Big Gay Sketch Show actress Nicol Paone in her directorial debut. The film is set to star Malin Akerman, Kat Dennings, Chelsea Peretti, Christine Taylor, Jane Seymour, Aisha Tyler, Deon Cole, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, and Fortune Feimster in a comedy that follows a “motley crew of close friends” during the new Thanksgiving tradition celebrated by friend groups across the country and inspired partly by the popularity of the Friends episodes set during the holiday.
Here is the synopsis for Friendsgiving:
Friendsgiving follows Molly Akerman, a glamorous, newly divorced actor, and Abby Dennings, her recently-dumped lesbian best friend. Together, along with their motley crew of close friends and strange acquaintances, they host a dysfunctional, comical and chaotic Thanksgiving dinner.
Saban Films, which is behind such independent films as Lizzie, Night Hunter, and the upcoming Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, plans to release the film in 2020, presumably during Thanksgiving.
“We are thrilled to be championing Friendsgiving along with Red Hour and Endeavor Content,” said Saban Films’ Bill Bromiley. “This is a witty and relatable story, along with an outstanding and endearing ensemble cast that our audiences will be enjoying next holiday season.”
But unlike other cheesy holiday-themed ensemble movies that sprung up in the wake of Love, Actually like Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, etc., the holiday in Friendsgiving doesn’t seem as central to the plot of the movie. With Ben Stiller producing alongside Nicholas Weinstock and Haroon Saleem for Red Hour Films, it seems more like a straight-up comedy than a holiday-themed studio cash grab. Akerman is also producing while Tara L. Craig is executive producing.
Altitude Films, the Brit producer of 'Horrible Histories' join forces with Jason Lust's Soluble Fish production company to develop family-friendly films and TV projects.
British production and sales house Altitude Film Entertainment, fresh off their success with Horrible Histories, has signed a production partnership with Jason Lust's L.A.-based Soluble Fish to develop high-end family films and television projects.
Lust was a producer on the animated Peter Rabbit franchise, as well as Disney's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Guillermo del Toro's upcoming Pinocchio film for Netflix.
The deal, announced at the American Film Market on Thursday, marks Altitude's first venture into the U.S. market. The Brit company, led by Will Clarke and Andy Mayson, has produced such features as Samuel L. Jackson actioner Big Game, Kevin Macdonald's music doc Whitney and Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman's Ghost Stories.
Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans, an adaptation of the popular British kids' TV series, was a sleeper success in U.K. cinemas, grossing close to $4 million.
Altitude Film Sales, the company's sales arm, is handling world sales at AFM on such titles as Daniel Radcliffe-starrer Guns Akimbo and Ivan Kavanagh's horror film Son starting Andi Matichak and Emile Hirsch.
Lust said the two companies planned to create “family-friendly movies and television for global audiences” with a focus on hybrid and animation projects with an established brand “many of which will have a musical focus.”
“We've been huge admirers of Jason for some time and this is the perfect opportunity to launch our first operation in the U.S.,” said Altitude's Will Clarke. “ This partnership gives us the ability to produce and sell high-quality family films which we look forward to bringing to the marketplace.”
Billy McMillin looks at high-school football players continuing a decades-old rivalry in East L.A..
Taking an unexpected sports rivalry as an excuse to watch a handful of minority teens and coaches try to improve their lives amid anti-immigration rage, Billy McMillin's debut doc The All-Americans introduces us to two football teams in East Los Angeles whose annual showdowns draw an impressive crowd. Roosevelt and Garfield high schools have long faced off in a homecoming event known as The Classic, held almost every year for close to a century. Centering on subjects who are sympathetic but whose stories are much like others we've heard, the doc may not get as much box-office mileage out of its sports theme as it might've if presented in a more straightforward, ESPN-like way. Nevertheless, it will likely find some love in Latino communities.
After setting the scene with talk-radio clips spouting the usual anti-immigrant blather, McMillin gives a very brief history of the game that typically draws more than 20,000 avid fans, and that some in the community think about all year. In fact, we meet the teams nine months before game day — during February of the previous school year, when varsity tryouts are held.
Rather than focusing on the drama of those tryouts, McMillin gets right into introducing the characters who'll matter most in the big event: The coaches of both teams one of whom also holds down a job as a cop, their quarterbacks, and a couple of key players with lots going on off the field.
Joseph, for instance, is a sophomore who already has a daughter, and works as a baker to support her. His own mother isn't in the picture, and his father, a man with a checkered past, doesn't hesitate to admit what he wants to see when he goes to a game: He wants to see Joseph hurt people.
Mario, on the other hand, is a dedicated student and a former altar boy. Fourteen family members share three bedrooms in Mario's home some of them living in fear of immigration officials, and he intends to go to an Ivy League school to raise the family's standard of living. He's already getting letters from Harvard, Princeton and Yale. But even if he's accepted, paying for college will be daunting.
The outsider here is Stevie, a senior who's not a part of this community either racially he's black or geographically he lives in South Central. Stevie's mom didn't want him to go to school in his own neighborhood, and it seems that Garfield's coaches were happy to draw talent from other parts of the city. As opposed to Roosevelt coach Javier Cid, who makes it a point of pride that his players have all grown up together near the school. Some Garfield alums who remain invested in their team's performance resent Stevie's presence — especially those whose own sons compete for spots on the starting lineup.
Though it follows a familiar format, devoting its middle third to the games leading to Homecoming and the final act to the game itself, All-Americans doesn't really play like a sports drama; football is mostly an excuse to pay attention to these kids. But that focus is diluted by the number of people we're spending time with. If, for instance, Mario and Stevie got the lion's share of attention, we might learn enough about these likable young men to be more invested in the arc of their year.
As things stand here, we're certainly curious to see where each student winds up and, to a lesser extent, who wins the game. But we've hardly had an experience we can't get from a reasonably deep newspaper profile.
Production company: Delirio Films Distributor: Abramorama Director-Screenwriter: Billy McMillin Producers: Rafael Marmor, Christopher Leggett, Billy McMillin, Timm Oberwelland Executive producer: Becky G Director of photography: Ann Rosencrans Editors: Billy McMillin, Philip Thangsombat Composer: John Piscitello
Disney is launching its first-ever standalone streaming platform Disney+ next week, and with it will eventually come the first-ever TV series deeply connected to its big screen Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios is producing series such as “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and Winter Soldier,” ‘Loki,’ and “Hawkeye” for Disney+, all of which will bring superheroes from the MCU films to television for the first time. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has been adamant about the Disney+ series playing a crucial role in the ongoing narrative of the larger MCU, and he told Bloomberg magazine that MCU fans will need Disney+ in order for the continuity of the movies to make sense.
As Bloomberg reporter Devin Leonard writes, “If you want to understand everything in future Marvel movies, [Feige] says, you'll probably need a Disney+ subscription, because events from the new shows will factor into forthcoming films such as ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.’ The Scarlet Witch will be a key character in that movie, and Feige points out that the ‘Loki’ series will tie in, too.”
Feige added, “I'm not sure we've actually acknowledged that before. But it does.”
While Disney and Marvel had already announced the upcoming “Doctor Strange” sequel, which will star Benedict Cumberbatch and be directed by Scott Derrickson, Feige’s Bloomberg quote is the first time it has been confirmed the “Loki” series will tie into the movie. Feige is serious when he says the MCU film franchises and television series will be integrated. It appears in some cases projects originally envisioned as movies could be redeveloped into television series. Such is the case with “Hawkeye.”
Feige said he pitched television series ideas to Tom Hiddleston Loki, Elizabeth Olsen Scarlet Witch, and Paul Bettany Vision during the “Avengers: Infinity War” premiere. The producer said the actors were excited by the chance to bring their storylines and superheroes to television. Pitching Jeremy Renner for a “Hawkeye” series was more nerve-wracking because a deal was in place for Renner to lead a standalone Hawkeye movie.
Bloomberg reports, “Feige was more nervous about his pitch to Jeremy Renner… Marvel had a deal for Renner to star in a movie based on the character, but Feige wanted to turn the project into a Disney+ series. Renner turned out to be fine with the change. ‘He totally got it and said, “Let's do it,” ’ Feige recalls.”
No release dates for any Disney+ MCU series has been revealed. IndieWire has reached out to Disney for further comment on the “Hawkeye” switch. The platform is launching November 12 with “Avengers: Endgame” and other MCU movies available to stream. The next Marvel movie opening in theaters is the “Black Widow” prequel film May 1.
'Parasite' may be getting the awards-season love, but a vibrant new generation of filmmakers is ready to emerge from the shadow of established masters like Bong Joon Ho and Park Chan-wook.
After a Palme d'Or triumph and growing Oscar buzz for Bong Joon Ho's acclaimed thriller Parasite, South Korean cinema is having the kind of breakthrough year with the mainstream U.S. moviegoer that it hasn't seen since Park Chan-wook's now classic thriller Old Boy burst onto the scene in 2003.
Parasite's success — and the overdue official recognition from the West it has brought home to Seoul — has been doubly meaningful to the Korean industry, as 2019 also marks the 100-year anniversary of the country's first feature film, Kim Do-san's 1919 kino-drama The Righteous Revenge.
"No one could have planned it this way," Bong recently told THR in Seoul. "I don't think anyone on the jury at Cannes was even aware of the anniversary," he added. "But it has taken on this new special meaning for us."
It's likely that Parasite's success — in addition to its critical honors, the film recently raced past the $100 million mark at the worldwide box office — will eventually come to be viewed as the culmination of the Korean New Wave, the renaissance of the country's cinema associated with the remarkable crop of directors who came to prominence in the late 1990s and early 2000s: Bong, Park, Lee Chang-dong, Kim Jeewoon, Hong Sang-soo and others.
But Bong insists the Korean industry already has an urgent new task at hand: To overcome his own generation's success. "I wouldn't call it a misconception, but directors like Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon already have quite a big fan base with film lovers in the U.S. I believe if you delve deeper, you will be excited to discover that there are so many more great films in Korea — especially from young talents working in our indie cinema."
He adds: "Of course, it'shomework now to figure out how to expose these younger filmmakers to an international audience."
Typically, it's the remit of international film festival programmers to do much of that work. But since South Korea's many master filmmakers remain healthily in their prime and highly productive — Park is 56 and Bong 50 — the blue-chip European festivals have been able to rely on regular output from the established names to satisfy their unofficial quotas for new Korean filmmaking Bong, Park and Lee are all Cannes regulars.
"It's not that the top festivals aren't interested in discovering new talent," says Darcy Paquet, a Seoul-based film scholar and festival programmer. "Of course, they are,” he says. "But it's not like they're going to pass on Parasite either — and that leaves one less spot on the big stage for a new name."
There is one post-New Wave filmmaker, however, who has broken through to present himself as a potential heir apparent: Na Hong-jin, who made his first entry into Cannes' main competition in 2016 with the critically acclaimed psychological-mystery-horror freakout The Wailing. "In my opinion, he's the most naturally talented director to debut in the past 15 years," says Paquet. Na also is the first name Bong mentions, referring to his filmmaking as "very exciting, very intense." Na's first two films — The Chaser and The Yellow Sea — wowed critics with their savage energy and originality. He is now known to be deep in development on his fourth feature, which sources in Seoul tell THR will be his English-language debut.
Other breakthrough talents have found their recognition thanks to the West's abiding appreciation for Asian genre cinema. After writing and directing several critically lauded animated features The King of Pigs, 2011; The Fake, 2013, Yeon Sang-ho, 40, made his live-action debut in 2016 with the inventive zombie action flick Train to Busan, which landed a slot in Cannes' midnight screening section. It earned a massive $81 million at home and later was widely seen overseas, taking $6.1 million in other markets. But Yeon's follow-up, Psychokinesis 2018 — an original and playful take on the superhero genre — disappointed commercially, earning just $7 million. He is currently in production on a big-budget comeback: a sequel to Train to Busan, titled Peninsular.
Other Korean action thrillers have gotten a boost from top festival programmers, including Byun Sung-hyun's The Merciless, Jung Byung-gil's The Villainess, Yoon Jong-bin's The Spy Gone North and Lee Won-tae's The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil. All landed deserved, but narrowly circumscribed, midnight screening spots at Cannes.
"An action thriller with an original twist is something Korea's commercial industry, of course, does very well," says Paquet. "There are exciting directors working in other modes where Korea also excels— sophisticated art house drama or mellow drama, but with big emotions, for example — and international distributors are showing themselves to be somewhat less adventurous in supporting these kinds of voices."
5 South Korean Filmmakers to Watch
Kim Bora, 35, graduated from Columbia with an MFA in film directing and made her feature debut in 2018 with House of Hummingbird, which THR praised as a "warm, complex and hopeful slice of teen life." The film, which follows an isolated, lonely 14-year-old Korean girl through early 1990s Seoul, was made on a shoestring, but that didn't prevent it from winning more than 20 awards at festivals and awards shows around the world, including best international narrative feature at Tribeca, which described the film as “an assured debut” that “cements Kim's place as an upcoming auteur to follow.”
Lee Jong-eon, 44, worked as an assistant director for Lee Chang-dong on his acclaimed art house features Secret Sunshine and Poetry. In April, she released Birthday, her first film as a director. Based on Lee's own volunteer work, the film depicts the ongoing agony experienced by parents and families of the school-age victims of South Korea's 2014 Sewol ferry disaster. The film made its international premiere at the pioneering Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, where it won rave reviews for its "deliberate and carefully considered drama."
An Old Lady, the arresting future debut from Lim Sun-are, 41, was the most buzzed-about title at this year's Busan International Film Festival. The film centers on an elderly woman who accuses a young male hospital worker of rape. He claims it was consensual, and the film's troubling interrogations of ageism, sexism and unthinking assumptions start spinning from there. THR summed up the feature as "a quietly affecting feminist statement from a filmmaker to watch."
Lee Kyoung-mi, 45, previously worked as an assistant director for Park Chan-wook, who later produced her directorial debut, the wildly irreverent yet underappreciated feminist comedy Crush & Blush 2008. Her accomplished 2016 political thriller The Truth Beneath this one co-written by Park also went criminally overlooked on the international festival circuit. Such oversight of Lee's work appears set to change thanks to a deal she recently signed with Netflix to direct the Korean drama series The School Nurse Files, based on a best-selling Korean novel.
The surprise twist in Chung-Hyun Lee's 2015 short film Bargain won him so many admirers that South Korean studio Yong Film bankrolled the 29-year-old director to write and helm his debut feature starring Jong-seo Jun, the breakout lead actress of Lee Chang-dong's Burning 2018. The mystery thriller Call centers on two women living in different time periods who are mysteriously connected by a phone. Early buzz emerging from the production about Jun's performance has made it one of the most anticipated titles of early 2020 in Korean industry circles.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter 's Nov. 7 daily issue at the American Film Market.