In 2011, I had the opportunity to visit the Polish National Film School in Łódź, Poland, at the invitation of the great director, Andrzej Wajda.
It was a trip I had wanted to make for years as I had long been drawn to the school and to Polish cinema from the time I was a film student at NYU, studying under my teacher and mentor, Haig Manoogian. It was at NYU – a school modelled after the legendary film program at Łódź – that I learned not just how films are made, but why.
The school nurtured in me an unshakable belief in artistic expression grounded in Italian Neo-realism, the French New Wave, the surreptitious poetry of the old Hollywood masters, and Polish cinema: the great, sweeping, humanistic, intimate and profound movies that were an integral part of what, looking back, seems more and more like a golden age of international cinema.
That’s why it is such a great honour and thrill to be able to bring to audiences the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, a series of 24 films made during this creatively fertile time in Poland by directors such as Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Wojciech Jerzy Has, Aleksander Ford, Krzysztof Kieślowski and others. This is a cinema of personal vision, social commitment and poetic responsibility from which we’ve all learned and which sets a high standard that, as a filmmaker, I strive to achieve with every film, every time out.
Each of the films in this special series embodies what Wajda called ‘the impertinent freedom of creativity in the cinema’. These are films that have great emotional and visual power – they’re ‘serious’ films that, with their depth, stand up to repeated viewings. The subtext of great conflict and cultural identity is universal; even if you don’t know the history of Poland, the themes in these films will resonate, as they did profoundly for me.
When I first saw Ashes and Diamonds, one of the many highlights in this series and arguably one of the greatest films ever made – Polish or otherwise – I was overwhelmed by the film: the masterful direction, the powerful story, the striking visual imagery, and the shocking performance by Zbigniew Cybulski, considered the Polish James Dean for his electrifying presence. I was so struck by the film, it affected me so deeply, that I paid small homage by giving Charlie a pair of similar sunglasses in Mean Streets.
There are many revelations in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series and whether you’re familiar with some of these films or not, it’s an incredible opportunity to discover for yourself the great power of Polish cinema, on the big screen in brilliantly restored digital masters.
I hope you will enjoy these great films as much I do.