The festival hub is in an imposing building in the center of Warsaw, next to the train station, beside a big shopping mall (with more cinemas), next also to the hotel where the festival guests are accommodated. It's a building which reflects the spirit of the 50s: the "Palace of Culture and Science".
If you ask young people, they seem to like it because it is original, because it differs from the glittering 21st century architecture around (which recalls Berlin's Potsdamer Platz architecture), because it is distinctive and unique. Only, it is not unique. It's a gift from comrade Stalin, shaped after the original Moscow buildings (in particular the State University). A younger generation is probably unaware of this connection to the country's Communist history.
For an older generation, the "Palace of Culture and Science in the name of Joseph Stalin" has been a symbol of Soviet Power.
Astonishingly, it changed its symbolic meaning and now seems to be, for the same older generation, a symbol of the end of Soviet power and presence in Poland, a symbol that the Russians are no longer there.
Yes, it is still one and the same building.
Regarding this history, it seems logical for the Film Festival to focus on Eastern European cinemas – without ignoring the "rest of the world". The Warsaw Film Festival is a good place to catch up with Polish films - recent releases and classics, to which a special series is dedicated (this year composed of films which had won the FIPRESCI Prize at a variety of festivals, an homage to FIPRESCI's 90th anniversary). Also the "Warsaw Screenings" in the "CentEast Market" (which introduces new projects) offer a good opportunity to get updated with the national cinema.
Films from smaller eastern countries, such as Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Macedonia and Bulgaria, which enter the major events only occasionally, are welcome in Warsaw, in the main competitive program or in one of the other competitive sections (including documentaries and shorts) – which are enriched by a knowledgeable selection of world cinema, including films from Latin America and Asia.
Niki Karimi's wonderful "Night Shift", for example, was screened late in the evening in a sizeable cinema – which was packed. This is a welcome proof that festival head Stefan Laudyn's strategy works: to focus on interesting films and to avoid red-carpet pomp. He has managed to cultivate, over the years, a young public who seem to be interested in films rather than events.
A workshop for young critics, run by the festival and FIPRESCI, is dedicated to young critics from Eastern countries: the "FIPRESCI Warsaw Critics Project". Our colleagues Michael Pattison and Carmen Gray edited some of the texts written by our young colleagues, which we'll publish here. (Klaus Eder)
Warsaw Film Festival: www.wff.pl