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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » March 5, 2008
The world of movies
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Polish-British Co-production Wins Oscar
March 5, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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A new animated version of Peter and the Wolf, the classic musical tale by Sergei Prokofiev, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film Feb. 24. It was made by the Polish Se-ma-for studio and British company Breakthru Films.

Peter and the Wolf was the largest co-production in Polish animation for many years, with a budget totaling $5 million, $1.2 million of which was spent in Poland. Shooting took place in Poland over eight months from February to September 2006 and was subsidized by the Polish Film Institute.

The movie had its world premiere in September 2006 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The grand Polish premiere took place in April 2007 at the ŁódĽ Philharmonic. Last year, it received the Grand Prix and the Audience Award at the prestigious Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France.

The half-hour film was shot using the traditional puppet animation technique. Enormous sets were mounted in the hall of the ŁódĽ Film Center and at the Se-ma-for studio. The sets and puppets were made in Poland, where some of the post-production also took place. The movie was made using the stop-motion (frame-by-frame) method. The film-making team consisted of over 200 people from Poland and across Europe.

Suzie Templeton, the British director and co-writer, has over 30 international awards under her belt, including the prestigious British Animation Award and a BAFTA award.

Zbigniew Żmudzki, head of the Se-ma-for studio, said the Oscar for Peter and the Wolf was the crowning achievement of his career. Żmudzki attended the Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles with the chief animator, Adam Wyrwas. Żmudzki said he had been confident the film would win. He promised that even though the statuette went to England after the ceremony, he would try to borrow it from the British producers to show it in ŁódĽ.

"I am happy, I sobbed and screamed for joy like a small boy," said Wyrwas. "There are no words to describe this, it's fantastic." Wyrwas added that the movie differs from other recent productions by DreamWorks or Disney because Peter and the Wolf is enchanted with a fantasy atmosphere. "This film has a special air of a true fairy tale. Music played the main role. This is no commercial movie. It is just a very well-made fairy tale in its purest form."

"I am very, very happy we made it," said Marek Skrobecki, the set designer. "I believe this opens up new opportunities for the future too. I think we will get new proposals now so we can become a studio with a considerable contribution to international productions." Designing the sets in Peter and the Wolf was a gigantic project, Skrobecki added. The ideas had never been used in animation before. The movie is set on the edge of a beautiful forest and in a miserable and depressing little town. The sets were very realistic, using natural materials, and were on a comparable scale to those built for feature films. The animators built a 22-by-16-meter forest, 1,700 trees, thousands of bushes, grass and stones, complete with a sky above.

Peter and the Wolf's award was the second Oscar for an animated film made at the Se-ma-for studio, 25 years after Tango, directed by Zbigniew Rybczyński, picked up the first. In 2003, Tomasz Bagiński's The Cathedral was nominated in the same category. According to Bagiński, the Oscar victory for Peter and the Wolf is a great chance for Se-ma-for to return to its glory days.

"This is a huge success for Se-ma-for and an enormous success for Polish people," Bagiński said. "I wish Suzie Templeton had said something about the Polish involvement in the production when she accepted the Oscar. But it happens-after all, Poland was 'only' a co-producer. Perhaps this success will get the Se-ma-for studio out of the financial trouble it faced throughout last year. This gives hope to Se-ma-for, especially because the studio is doing fine with promotion on Western markets."

Peter and the Wolf is a totally different kind of animation to the technique used in The Cathedral, added Bagiński. "Stop-motion is a very old technique which has been going through a revival lately. It is a very laborious technique where you move objects in front of the camera frame by frame, which requires painstaking work and precision."

The victory demonstrates the high standing of Polish animation in today's global movie industry. One of the other candidates for the award was Madame Tutli Putli, directed by Chris Lavis and Maciej Szczerbowski. The movie is a Polish-Canadian co-production based on a work by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (also known as Witkacy), a Polish poet, playwright and painter.

Poland has welcomed the success of Peter and the Wolf as a consolation prize after Andrzej Wajda's Katyń, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, lost out to Austrian movie The Counterfeiters. Although he must have been disappointed by the defeat, Wajda said he had nevertheless accomplished the goal he had set for himself while making the most important and personal movie of his entire career. He wanted to show to the world the tragedy of the 22,000 Poles who were murdered near the Russian town of Katyn on the orders of Joseph Stalin in 1940.
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