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The Warsaw Voice » World of Movies » October 1, 2010
Rediscovering America
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Rediscovering America
October 1, 2010   
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Roman Gutek, president of the Nowe Horyzonty (New Horizons) Association and organizer of the first American Film Festival in Wroc³aw, southwest Poland, talks to Witold ¯ygulski.

What’s the story behind the American Film Festival?
Eleven years ago, I revisited the idea of organizing a film festival or, more accurately, of resuming this role. After all, I was one of the “fathers” of the Warsaw Film Festival. I debated whether to organize an independent film festival featuring American pictures only or films from around the world. I went for the latter and thus the Era Nowe Horyzonty film festival was born. But I never stopped pondering about a festival dedicated to American art-house cinema. We are now firmly established in Wroc³aw, we have a large audience here and the city is very supportive of our work. The Nowe Horyzonty Association organizes our festival in Wroc³aw. We work on the festival all year and before Era Nowe Horyzonty began this year, we already knew what would be happening at the festival next year and even in 2012.

If you want to bring in the best and most interesting movies, you have to work non-stop and that, in turn, takes the right organizational structure. A team to take care of it all was formed and it works really well. I came to the conclusion the same team could organize a second festival. The city authorities welcomed the idea of another big film event in Wroc³aw. Mayor Rafa³ Dutkiewicz has for years been an active supporter of what we do and so he was particularly enthusiastic about the planned festival.

Are you aiming to make it a new fixture on the cultural scene in Wroc³aw?
The American Film Festival will be a much more low-key event than the Era Nowe Horyzonty festival. It will last five days, from Oct. 20 to Oct. 24. There will be around 200 screenings, around a third of the number of screenings at our other festival. In total, we will show around 90 films this year, 50 of which have never been shown in Poland before. A dozen or so movies will have their European premieres in Wroc³aw.

A major difference between the festivals is that Era Nowe Horyzonty is held in summer when students and other people go on vacations. Consequently, the target audience is tourists rather than Wroc³aw residents. This time, I would really like the locals to be in the majority. I want a festival which takes place during the academic year to draw large groups of students from universities and academies in Wroc³aw.

Polish viewers are already highly familiar with American cinema. What will the festival contribute that’s new?
What mainly prompted me to organize a festival dedicated to American cinema is that even though most movies shown in Polish theaters are American productions, Polish audiences do not really know all sides of the American film industry. What is shown Poland are mostly big-budget and star-studded mainstream productions from major studios. As a result, Polish viewers are up to date with only a fraction of what is shot in the States, the most commercial pictures distributed and promoted worldwide. Lots of films made in the United States never make it to Europe, never mind Poland. And in my opinion, it is those films that say much more about contemporary America, they provide food for thought, something that blockbusters seldom do.

What are the most interesting movies in the first American Film Festival?
We want to show the whole diversity of American cinema and challenge the myth that the United States only produces commercial, “popcorn” blockbusters, while art-house cinema is European. I am curious to see if the event succeeds and becomes and annual celebration of American cinema in Wroc³aw, which is what we would like it to become. If we grab the public’s attention, and I trust we will, the American Film Festival will evolve in the coming years and last, for example, nine days. Everything depends, of course, on funding. We have been applying for grants from the city authorities and all kinds of sponsors. Unlike with Era Nowe Horyzonty, we do not want to focus only on independent movies. We will even seek to have the festival host Polish showings of the most famous pictures, with one gala screening per day. We are proud the festival will be the only place in Poland to screen Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, an adaptation of the legendary Scott Pilgrim comic book series, and the latest movie from Michael Winterbottom, Killer Inside Me. We will also show famous films made in recent years that Polish audiences are not familiar with, including the controversial Capitalism—A Love Story by Michael Moore and Synecdoche, New York, written and directed by Charlie Kaufman. There will also be some gems and new talents discovered at film festivals, such as Two Gates of Sleep by Alistair Banks Griffin. Griffin and a dozen other film makers will be special guests at our festival.

Along with new trends in American cinema, our festival will aim to present American classics which you can watch on DVD and specialty TV channels such as TMT. It is really hard to see such movies in a theater and so we want to make that possible. We will take the opportunity to feature film makers who are not very big in Poland, such as Samuel Fuller and Nicholas Ray. I would like classic pictures to account for around half of all movies shown at our festival. This year’s American Film Festival will feature Poland’s first full retrospective of movies by John Cassavetes and in the coming years, we want to show other classic directors. We will also hold retrospectives of actors, overviews of individual genres like westerns, sci-fi and horror, and special sections dealing with, for example, the American Dream, counter-culture films and so on.

As we show the many faces of the United States, we’re making sure we include documentaries. The festival will feature a section entitled American Docs for which we have selected documentaries where contemporary America takes a look at itself. Along with film makers, we will invite reporters who cover the United States, experts in American studies, cultural anthropologists and everyone who’s an expert on contemporary America and can relate what they know in an interesting way to our viewers.
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