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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » January 30, 2008
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Poland Pins Hopes on Oscars
January 30, 2008   
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Hollywood announced the nominations for this year's Academy Awards Jan. 22. Andrzej Wajda's Katyń has been nominated for best foreign-language film, Janusz Kamiński's work on The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has put him in the running for best cinematography, while two of the animated films, Peter & the Wolf and Madame Tutli Putli, also have Polish connections.

Wajda was awarded a lifetime achievement Academy Award in 2000 although the golden statuette has so far eluded him. His film The Promised Land was nominated in 1976 but was pipped at the post by Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala. The Maids of Wilko lost out to Volker Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum in 1980, and Istvan Szabo's Mefisto beat Man of Iron in 1982.

Katyń shows the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish army officers and other Polish citizens by the NKVD secret police, the forerunner of the KGB, in the Soviet Union in 1940. The victims had been taken prisoner by the Soviet army when it invaded Poland the year before. Katyń takes its name from the Katyn Forest near Smolensk in western Russia where most of the Poles were killed.

The German army advancing into Soviet territory uncovered mass graves there in 1943. Many historians regard the Katyn massacre as genocide perpetrated on prisoners of war. Wajda, whose own father was among the victims, had long wanted to make a film about this tragic episode. Such a project was unthinkable during the communist era when the authorities suppressed any discussion of Katyn. But even after the regime collapsed, it took Wajda almost 20 years to pick up the gauntlet and make what the 82-year-old director calls his masterpiece. Katyń was Poland's most watched film last year.

"Polish filmmakers have a moral obligation to tell the world about this tragedy," Wajda said of his nomination. Katyń will be given its international premiere at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival in February before being screened throughout Europe. Negotiations with North and South American distributors are in progress and a limited Russian release has not been ruled out, despite the subject matter.

Katyń is competing for best foreign-language film title against 12 by Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov, The Counterfeiters by Austria's Stefan Ruzowitzky, Beaufort by Israel's Joseph Cedar, and Mongol by Sergei Bodrov from Kazakhstan.

The second "Polish" Oscar nomination has gone to the makers of Suzie Templeton's animated short Peter & the Wolf. This is a Polish-British co-production partially financed by the Polish Film Institute. Madame Tutli-Putli, a Canadian animation whose creators include Poland's Maciej Szczerbowski, has been nominated in the same category.

Polish-American cinematographer Janusz Kamiński is yet another nominee to have a Polish connection. Kamiński has already notched up two best cinematography Oscars for his work on Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. This time, he is in the running for Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Several Polish feature films have been nominated for Oscars over the past five decades but none has managed to sway the jury. Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water was nominated in 1964 but lost out to Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. Jerzy Kawalerowicz, who died recently, had a strong contender with Pharaoh in 1967, but not strong enough to knock out Claude Lelouch's A Man and a Woman. Jerzy Hoffman's The Deluge nabbed a nomination in 1975, but Fellini's Amarcord took the statuette. Jerzy Antczak's Nights and Days in 1977 was Poland's most recent nomination until now. Jean-Jacques Annaud's Black and White in Color was the winner that year.

Polanski's The Pianist won the 2003 Oscar for best film, making it the best achievement by any filmmaker of Polish origin in Academy Award history. Meanwhile, Poland triumphed in the Short Animated Film category with Zbigniew Rybczyński's Tango in 1983.

Kamiński was not the only Polish Oscar winner from the Schindler's List crew. Ewa Braun won the Oscar for best set decoration and Allan Starski for best art direction. Cameraman Sławomir Idziak was another Polish nominee for his cinematography on Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down.
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