Streaming era transforms Poland into a production paradise with deep pockets – The Hollywood Reporter


365 days was probably not the film that Poland hoped to be its global calling card. After decades of arthouse acclaim from Andrzej Wajda (Iron Man), Agnieszka Holland (In the dark), Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida, Cold War), Jan Komasa (corpus Christi) and Malgorzata Szumowska (Never snow again), the first Polish film that truly erupted into a global and mainstream success was a soft-core erotic thriller.

Blame it on the pandemic. Blame Netflix. Directed by Barbara Bialowas and Tomasz Mandes, based on the Fifty Shades of GreY-style trilogy by Polish writer Blanka Lipinska, 365 days was produced primarily for the local market. He delivered. Released in early 2020, before the COVID pandemic hit most of Europe, the film, starring Michele Morrone and Anna-Maria Sieklucka, grossed $ 9 million at the Polish box office. He grossed an additional $ 500,000 in the UK, performing primarily to an ethnic Polish audience. Then came COVID-19.

Netflix, which had acquired the worldwide rights to 365 days, dropped the film on its service in June 2020. Overnight, it became the guilty pleasure of the world. The film was one of Netflix’s three most-watched releases in the US, UK, and most of Europe, as well as India, Canada, and New Zealand. In some ways, this was the most watched non-English film of 2020 (sorry, Parasite!).

Whatever the reason – some think the blockades just made the world incredibly excited – 365 days became the poster child for Polish cinema. The world has not seen the end of 365 days. Netflix has ordered two consecutive sequels, which it produces with the Polish Ekipa and Open Mind One. But when it comes to Polish content, Netflix isn’t just betting on bad sex.

The streamer’s first Polish original was the acclaimed alternative historical drama 1983, created by Holland (Charltan, Mr. Jones). Woods, the first of two Polish-language adaptations of best-selling American author Harlan Coben’s detective novels, hit Netflix last year. The second, Hold on tight, who just launched local stars Magdalena Boczarska and lead Leszek Lichota, is set to begin production this year for delivery in 2022.

The Polish production heavyweight ATM Group – the creative force behind HBO Europe’s Polish original The Pack – is the producer of the two Coben series. The booming online market in the region – Digital TV Research analysts predict 8.7 million paid SVOD subscribers in Poland by 2025 – is pushing global platforms to invest in local content.

Joanna Szymanska, producer at Warsaw-based ShipsBoy, who produces Netflix’s Polish crime series Hiacynt, says the impact of streamers is already visible in the market. “It is already very difficult to recruit talent and key teams, as the volume of productions funded by Netflix increases. Budgets will therefore probably also increase and competition between producers will be even more severe, ”says Szymanska. “But I think it’s for the best. [One] The positive side of platforms is that they impose changes in the quality of work: privacy coordinators, code of ethics, etc. It is still a novelty on the Polish sets.

Alicja Grawon-Jaksik, chair of the board of directors of the Alliance of Polish Producers, notes that the investment of the streamers has helped Polish producers stay afloat during the pandemic year by “closing funding gaps and allowing production companies and distributors to more easily plan their activities for 2020/2021. But she fears that local producers will become too reliant on cash flow and says Poland needs to maintain and strengthen its public financing system to create a “sustainable business model” in which independent producers can retain certain rights over their labor and be able to do “good business with streamers”.

Radoslaw Smigulski, Managing Director of the Polish Film Institute (PFI), notes with some pride that the PFI “remains the main funding body for the local industry”, highlighting a new tax on SVOD services – introduced on July 1, 2020 – which requires platforms to over-demand that they pay 1.5% of their local income to a fund that will support local productions. “This is something that industry representatives have been waiting for a long time,” he says.

With its well-funded and generous support system – which includes a 30% cash back program for local shoots – the Polish industry has retained its independence, as evidenced by the variety of productions on offer at Cannes this year. Productions like Silent twins, the debut in English of The lure director Agnieszka Smoczynska, who directs Small Ax stars Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance in an adaptation of Marjorie Wallace’s novel about twin sisters in Wales who are silent to everyone but themselves. Focus Features obtained worldwide rights to Silent twins from Protagonist Pictures, with Focus set to release it in the United States and Universal Pictures International rolling it out to the rest of the world.

Then there is Kill him and leave this town, the first feature film by Polish animator Mariusz Wilczynski, who won a special jury prize at the Annecy Animation Festival 2020. Elsewhere, the five feature films selected for the Polish Days Goes to Cannes showcase at New Horizons on July 9 include Olga Chajdas political drama Imago, the comedy of Anna Kazejak Fucking Bornholm and Kuba Czekaj Lipstick on the glass, who follows a woman who is tempted to leave her gangster husband and join a female sect.

PFI funding and the Polish tax break have also encouraged international co-productions, with recent successes including Apples, the acclaimed feature debut by Greek director Christos Nikou, co-produced by Polish company Lava Films with funding from PFI, and Oscar-nominated war drama Jasmila Zbanic Quo vadis, Aïda?, which tells the true story of the Srebrenica massacre, and which was co-produced by Polish company Extreme Emotions. The premiere in the Un Certain Regard program of Cannes is lamb, an Icelandic horror film from director Valdimar Jóhannsson, starring Noomi Rapace and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, who, as Silent twins, was co-produced with Warsaw-based Mandats.

Another upcoming Warrants co-production is Brady Corbet’s immigrant drama The brutalist, starring Joel Edgerton, Marion Cotillard, Mark Rylance, Sebastian Stan and Vanessa Kirby, which Protagonist and CAA Media Finance first introduced to buyers in Toronto last year.

After pointing the finger at the talented pool of “creative, enthusiastic and hardworking teams” of “actors, directors, vfx creators, animators and filmmakers” and superb natural sites – “massive lakes, densely wooded areas, various architectural styles ”- which Poland offers to international producers, Smigulski adds that visiting productions“ can always count on the support of PFI. Our main objective now is to attract producers willing to cooperate with Polish partners.

365 days might not be the movie Poland wanted as a calling card. But if international filmmakers are interested in working in Poland, maybe all that bad sex was worth it.

Pole Position: three upcoming productions

Recent Polish productions show the diversity and breadth of the ambitions of the country’s filmmakers.

A disturbing journey into the twisted and dystopian psyche of Polish animator Mariusz Wilczynski, this predominantly black-and-white feature debut lasted 11 years and wowed critics at the 2020 Annecy Animation Festival, where it won an award. special jury.

An LGBTQ crime drama by Polish newcomer Kuba Czekaj (Prince Erl), Lipstick on the glass follows a woman who is made to leave her abusive gangster husband and join an all-female cult. Polish actress Agnieszka Podsiadlik (Assault) plays alongside the German Lena Lauzemis. The film will be part of the Poland Days showcase at the Cannes Film Market on Friday July 9.

Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Smoczynska, whose Fuga was at Cannes Critics’ Week 2018, debuted in English with this adaptation of Marjorie Wallace’s novel about twin sisters in Wales who speak only to each other. Letitia Wright and Tamara Lawrance star in the feature film, which Protagonist Pictures sold just before Cannes to Focus Features.

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