Austin Polish Film Festival Breaks New Ground and Keeps Up With Tradition

The 14th fest focuses on the media's responsibility and the perspectives of women

A Minor Genocide, screening at Austin Polish Film Festival

Now in its 14th year, the Austin Polish Film Festival remains one of the under-the-radar gems of this town's annual film festival rotation. Go figure. Let's just say that 13 intelligently curated programs of stellar Polish cinema have given Austin audiences much to think about between festivals. This year will be no different with 15 feature-length films, plus shorts screened over two weekends, all emcee'd by Polish film critic and journalist Mariola Wiktor. Also, for the first time there's a festival theme – two actually: women's perspective in Polish film and the media's responsibility in shaping reality.

The big news and the centerpiece of the festival is that Polish director Agnieszka Holland is bringing her new film, Mr. Jones, to kick off the festival. The film, which premiered and contended for the top prize in Berlin and went on to snag top honors at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival, is a true story about a Welsh journalist who, in 1933, discovered the Soviet cover-up of the Holodomor, a Stalin-manufactured famine in Ukraine which killed millions. Though some of her films are known for their notes of unexpected moral ambiguity, festival director Joanna Gutt-Lehr, who spent a year finessing the director's Austin visit, said that Mr. Jones could not be more timely, perfectly representing both of this year's festival themes.

Of course, there's the venerable Polish movie poster exhibit, a unique appendage to the film festival. The signature tradition began with a selection from Richard Linklater's personal collection, "some of which are hanging at the AFS Cinema at the Marchesa," said Gutt-Lehr. This year's exhibit of 44 posters was curated by Polish collector Michal Poniz from his own collection of 10,000 pieces, while the festival's own poster was designed by acclaimed artist Leszek Zebrowski. Movie posters became a lively and well-known art form during the Communist era when there was no commercial advertising of films. Many Polish posters for American films were completely different from the way the same film was advertised in the U.S. Gutt-Lehr explained, "People talked about the posters sometimes as much as about the films they advertised."

Here are a few additional program highlights:

A Minor Genocide

D: Natalia Koryncka-Gruz
A documentary/animation and personal confession of how a family passes down the trauma of war from generation to generation. Says Wiktor, "While the film's point of departure is the forceful pacification of the Sochy village in 1943 and the mass murder of civilians, for me, its focal point is that of inherited trauma. It's about vicarious memories, stemming from stories passed down by word of mouth, about fear bred in the bone." Sat., Nov. 2, 2pm

53 Wars

D: Ewa Bukowska
Based upon the autobiographical novel by Grazyna Jagielska, the wife of famous Polish war correspondent Wojciech Jagielski, who developed a form of PTSD after a life of anxiously bracing for bad news about him. Sat., Nov. 2, 4pm

Another Day of Life

D: Damian Nenow and Raúl de la Fuente
Poland's 2020 Oscar entry for Best Animated Feature Film. An animation/documentary hybrid based upon the book by Polish war-reporter-turned-writer Ryszard Kapuscinski, chronicling his experience of the bloody 1975 civil war in Angola. Sat., Nov. 2, 6pm


D: Olga Chajdas (in attendance)
An infertile couple's search for a surrogate mother results in the wife falling for the surrogate. Wiktor describes the film "as a look at queer identity in a Polish context. Nina, as the self-assured woman who, following her own instincts, needs, and desires, discovers her own sexuality, and then, unafraid to be herself, becomes the antithesis of the stereotypical Polish Catholic self-sacrificing, exemplary wife and mother." Sun., Nov. 3, 4:15pm

Dolce Fine Giornata (Sweet End of the Day)

D: Jacek Borcuch
A Nobel Prize winner walks into controversy in a film that scored Borcuch and star Krystyna Janda a 2019 Sundance nomination and award, respectively. Fri., Nov. 8, 7:30pm

Corpus Christi

D: Jan Komasa
Poland's 2020 Oscar entry in the International Feature Film category. A young man with a questionable past convinces the villagers of a small Polish parish that he's a visiting priest and helps them deal with a dark event. Komasa told Variety his film was "less about God and faith, but more about the craving for some sense in the world. I wanted to use my camera and film the moment in someone's life when faith is necessary." Sat., Nov. 9, 7pm

The Messenger

D: Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Historical drama about World War II Polish emissary Jan Nowak-Jezioranski – dubbed "the courier from Warsaw" for his work shuttling between the commanders of the Home Army and the Polish government-in-exile in London. Gutt-Lehr recalled that Nowak-Jezioranski "stood at the helm of the Polish section of Radio Free Europe and later as a security advisor to Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. I remember from my childhood a huge radio box with a green 'eye' and my parents hunched over it, trying to discern the news broadcast by the Radio Free Europe to the Soviet bloc countries. It was routinely jammed by the Soviets, but we tried every night at 11pm." Sun., Nov. 10, 5pm

Austin Polish Film Festival

Nov. 1-3, 8-10 @AFS Cinema. Tickets, passes and info at

The Polish Poster Art: From City Streets to Gallery Walls collection will be exhibited on the sixth floor of Austin Central Library through December.

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Austin Polish Film Festival, Joanna Gutt-Lehr, Agnieszka Holland, Mariola Wiktor, Michal Poniz, Mr. Jones, 53 Wars, Nina, Another Day in the Life, A Minor Genocide, Dolce Fine, Sweet End of the Day, The Messenger

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