Ewa Ciszewska, Konrad Klejsa (eds.): Kultura filmowa współczesnej Łodzi

Ewa Ciszewska, Konrad Klejsa (eds.): Kultura filmowa współczesnej Łodzi

Łódź: Wydawnictwo Biblioteki Państwowej Wyższej Szkoły Filmowej, Telewizyjnej i Teatralnej, 2015, ISBN 978-83-87870-50-8. 300 pp.

Karol Jóźwiak
Łódź Film School; Opus Film; Feature Film Studio WFF; Educational Film Studio WFO; Short Film Studio Se-ma-for; Łódź; Polish cinematography

A group of Polish scholars has undertaken an important project – comparing the dominant cinematic myth of the city of Łódź with contemporary reality. This in-depth research covers the last 25 years (1989-2014) and examines different aspects of film and TV production, cinema musealisation, education and academic research, and finally the local specificity of the cinema circuit and practices of movie-going. The editors divide the book’s chapters over flourishing disciplines such as so-called city studies, urban-space studies, cinematic city research, and production studies. The editors recognise the advances made in several European countries, such as England, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic in the study of the relationship between city space, practices of movie-going and film exhibition. Concurrently, they note that similar research occasionally takes place in Poland, but mostly refers to the period before World War II, or even to the beginning of cinema; only a few books and articles are devoted to the present situation. Recently, interest in locality and cinematic tradition has led to the publication of several city guides of cinematic Łódź, the launch of social projects relating to the past local film industry, and other nostalgic-marketing initiatives. In such projects the myth of cinematic Łódź, which passed away with the post-1989 changes, reappears.

For a long time the city was the capital of Polish film industry. Since the late 1940s, the main cinematographic institutions were installed here: the famous Łódź Film School (1948), Feature Film Studio WFF (1949), Educational Film Studio WFO (1949), and Se-ma-for Film Studio (1960). The only polish film museum (Muzeum Kinematografii) was established in Łódź in 1986. However, with the post-1989 changes and the shift from a centrally planned to a free-market system, the situation changed significantly: cinematic Łódź became increasingly marginalised and, though only about a hundred kilometres from the capital, the city became more peripheral compared to Warsaw. Łódź is now regaining its erstwhile position in the cinema, with prominent film studios, a prestigious film school, and new institutions, such as the recently run National Center for Film Culture (Narodowe Centrum Kultury Filmowej), due to open in 2019. This period of immense change, 1989-2014, seems to be a perfect sample for such research, as some phenomena declined, others flourished, many institutions and companies closed down, but at the same time some of them succeeded on the world stage. The editors and authors were fortunately perceptive enough to notice that the fate of cinematic Łódź hangs in the balance right now, and summed up a number of different phenomena contributing to this.

An important part of the book comprises articles describing the most important film studios and their difficult situation after the post-1989 political and economical changes. “Why does WFF [Feature Film Studio], once one of the biggest European centres of film production, not exist anymore?” asks Jarosław Grzechowiak (Ciszewska and Klejsa 2015: 15), before using both written and oral historical sources to describe the studio’s decay in the early nineties.Through interviews with the author, WFF’s story is narrated mainly by its protagonists, actors who assisted the studio in its “slow agony” (ibid.).1 A similarly pessimistic story is analysed in Ewa Ciszewska’s article on the collapse of the animation studio Se-ma-for. After liquidation in 1999, the studio was transformed into a private limited company and continued its production, having even some apparent success: in 2007 the film Piotruś i wilk / Peter and the Wolf (Suzie Templeton, 2006, Poland, United Kingdom, Norway, Mexico) won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. However, it is already a different history - that of a private company with foreign capital. Ciszewska notes that the collapse of Se-ma-for National Film Studio shows the industry’s problems and dilemmas during the time of transformations. The third local studio - Educational Film Studio WFO (Wytwórnia Filmów Oświatowych) – “is the only studio in Łódź to have existed continuously since 1946, and which still produces films”, states Michał Dondzik (ibid.: 85). Although the financial and institutional situation is far from perfect, the studio has managed to overcome the crisis and is hopefully on the path to combining film production with educational activity, and to preserving priceless archival resources. Another glimpse of hope sparkles in the history of the last film studio, Opus Film, which was established during the transformation period and which continues to flourish. Working since 1991, the company was recognised with last year’s Oscar for Ida (Paweł Pawlikowski, 2013, Poland). Such a situation requires a specific approach of film historians, as Marcin Adamczak claims at the beginning of his article, which follows the company’s production culture. Opus Film, established in a very dynamic and unstable situation in the early nineties, began with humble aspirations of advertising productions and co-productions with National Polish Television (Telewizja Polska TVP S.A.), but suddenly had a big success in 2002 (the film Edi directed by the then young and unknown Piotr Trzaskalski, Poland 2002), before stepping into international production with Ida.

Unfortunately, this optimism is not shared by the next promising story. In 2012 Łódź appears as the only Polish city on the New York Times list of 45 places worth visiting, under the heading “The Hollywood of Poland reclaims its industrial past”. It describes the city as follows: “the movie-making headquarters of the country (with a film school that started the careers of Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda)” where David Lynch “has a deal to establish a major film studio in a former 19th-century power plant in the city” (Doyle 2002). The deal never bore fruit and eventually appeared as a waste of public and private money. In his article, Konrad Klejsa surveys that unlucky deal, showing how the attempt to blend cinematic myths, big names and splendid ideas led to a series of understatements, confusions, blackmail, and finally to a destructive conflict, costing millions of euros.

Another great and unique institutional potential lies obscured in the Muzeum Kinematografii. In his article, Michał Pabiś-Orzeszyna contrasts its great resources, institutional identity, features, and uniqueness with its actual strategy. He juxtaposes two different visions – one discernible from the exhibition programme, centred on few big names such as Wajda and Kieślowski, which transforms the museum into something like a mausoleum, based on a repetitive canon and positioned on a centralistic cinema history. The other vision, postulated by the author, would be based on local specificity and exceptions, such as the archeology of film media, the sociological and production context rather than the canon, and peripheral histories rather than the reiterated centralistic film history. Pabiś-Orzeszyna notes the uniqueness of the museum collection and its cinema devices, films props, posters and documents. When applied to the repetition of the film history, these play only a secondary role, but in the alternative strategy they acquire the potential to problematise general notions of cinema, film production, film history, etc. In this strategy, the museum’s peripheral location acquires a subversive potential. The situation of the Muzeum Kinematografii becomes paradigmatic of Łódź in general: both are struggling with their peripheral status and past cinematic splendour, both are searching for a way to deal with the present situation while preparing for the future.

A marketing potential lying in the city itself, in the mythologised Łódź, is analysed in the next article, where Maciej Kronenberg points at the cinematic city as a brand and a tourist site used in different marketing strategies. Another section comprises articles devoted to the practices of movie-going in Łódź: Paweł Rutkiewicz surveys the current economic and social problems facing Łódź’s cinemas; Aleksandra Krupa-Ławrynowicz examines Halloween and Valentine’s day celebrations in cinemas, and Maciej Kryński investigates the pornography market. Krzysztof Jajko analyzes the local television production with a particular attention to its both political and technological background. Finally, two articles are dedicated to the academic aspects: Maja Durlik and Kuba Mikurda carries out a detailed survey of the Film School’s graduates, and Marcin Chojncki and Dominika Staszenko traces the institutional history of the Film Studies Department at the University of Łódź.

The book responds perfectly to current needs and trends in film studies. It is an important contribution to the discussions on the identity of Łódź, the shape of local culture, the dynamics of city strategies and possibilities in relation to different phenomena in film. The wide variety of issues addressed is an asset, however there are some omissions, for instance the many film festivals and previews that take place in the city.

Hopefully, rather than a definitive answer, the book will be a starting point for further research and projects. It sets clues for further elaboration in sociologically and city oriented film studies. On a more general note, the book resets Łódź in the context of Polish and European cinematography and film production. Łódź is a perfect example to examine a range of questions typical of this geopolitical region after the fall of communism, and, having recognised that, the volume has priceless historical value. With time, it will serve as a coherent and precise record of the status quo and a set of the key problems and issues facing cinematic Łódź today.

Karol Jóźwiak

University of Łódź




Doyle, Rachel B. 2012. “The Hollywood of Poland reclaims its industrial past”. Anon. The 45 Places to Go in 2012. The New York Times, January 6. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/travel/45-places-to-go-in-2012.html.


Pawlikowski, Pawel. 2013. Ida. Solopan.

Trzaskalski, Piotr. 2002. Edi. Opus Film.

Templeton, Suzie. 2006. Piotruś i wilk / Peter and the Wolf. BreakThru Films. Se-ma-for

Suggested Citation

Jóźwiak, Karol. 2016. Review: “Ewa Ciszewska, Konrad Klejsa (eds.). Kultura filmowa współczesnej Łodzi.” Ghetto Films and their Afterlife (ed. by Natascha Drubek). Special Double Issue of Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 2-3. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2016.0003.50

URL: http://www.apparatusjournal.net/

Copyright: The text of this article has been published under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ This license does not apply to the media referenced in the article, which are subject to the individual rights owner's terms.


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