Austin Polish Film Festival Goes Hybrid for 2020

The extended festival takes a virtual look at Warsaw

Every fall, Austin Polish Society hosts the annual Austin Polish Film Festival – showcasing the best new work from filmmakers across Poland, sourced mainly from the winners of that year's esteemed Gdynia Film Festival. Like many festivals this year, APS was unable to follow through on their initial vision for the event, a music-themed extravaganza complete with live concerts and an art exhibit from famous Polish artist Andrzej Pagowski.


So while the festival is following others online, it's also doing something unique. While most local festivals have leaned toward a more traditional one-weekend to one-week period, APFF's screenings will be running throughout the entirety of November and December. They are also presenting titles via a hybrid model: Instead of moving fully online, films are available to watch both virtually via streaming and, for a handful of titles, via in-person safe and socially distant private watch parties at the Galaxy Theatre (plus, in a connection to their original plans, Pagowski designed this year's poster). "I think the important thing with this new hybrid festival is we can still be visible," Festival Manager Angelika Firlej explained. "We are still existing. We are still here."

Firlej called the extended duration an attempt to increase both viewership and accessibility for their audiences. "We know people are tired of sitting in front of the TV, so we tried to make [three to four] films available per week, with different subjects." As for the hybrid online/in-person schedule, she said, "Of course it's not 50/50. It's 90 percent virtual." However, she added, "We tried to give people a little theatre experience. Some people, they like to come and have that experience."

This year the festival is screening 10 feature films (including the highly acclaimed funeral comedy I Never Cry, gangland action flick Code Name: Challenge, orphanage drama All for My Mother, techno-thriller I Am Ren, and rap drama Proceder) and eight documentaries. The films cover topics varying from famous Polish bridge designer Ralph Modjeski to the Polish independence movement, a sci-fi female android, a low-income Polish rapper, and an animated family film about two children investigating an art robbery. The festival is also screening nine short films from the Warsaw Film School and Munk Studio – two Polish film schools that the festival collaborates with annually to help bridge the gap between budding American and Polish creatives.

A portion of the festival's profits each year also go to supporting UT-Austin's CREEES (Center of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies) department, specifically toward their scholarship fund, which helps UT students studying abroad in Poland and other Eastern European countries. This is intertwined with Austin Polish Society's larger mission – to spread awareness of Polish culture and history. Firlej herself is a Polish immigrant, having moved to Texas with her family in 1992. An active volunteer since 2013, she said that Austin Polish Society provides a vital space for Polish immigrants in Austin to connect and "keep our Polish heritage and culture visible."

As for the film festival, Firlej said it shares the diversity of Polish daily modern life, especially post-Communist rule, by pushing against stereotypical ideas people might have about what Poland is like. "I think because we bring different kinds of films, we can also show that we are not so different. We're all kind of the same, we're all connected, and we can see that through the films."


Austin Polish Film Festival 2020 runs through Dec. 20. Passes, tickets, and info at www.austinpolishfilm.com.

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