In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Polish Cinema

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Genre and Popular Cinema
  • Documentary
  • Experimental and Avant-Garde Cinema
  • Gender
  • Jewish Cinema in Poland
  • Holocaust Films
  • Film Theory and Criticism

Cinema and Media Studies Polish Cinema
Elzbieta Ostrowska
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 October 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0011


Poland’s turbulent history in the 20th century has been the most significant factor affecting the development of vernacular cinema. Until 1918, when Poland regained its independence after 123 years of partitions, Polish cinema did not exist as a separate national entity and thus one can only talk about cinematic practices occurring in Polish territories. Between 1918 and 1939 Polish cinema primarily developed popular forms, ranging from nationalistic melodramas to Yiddish musicals. The outbreak of World War II and the following occupation of Poland meant a cessation of Polish national cinema for six years. In 1945 a new model of state-supported and state-controlled cinema emerged. Responding to constantly changing political circumstances, Polish postwar cinema negotiated the potential of the space between utter ideological complicity and the desire to subvert the communist regime. Limited by political censorship, it often communicated with its audience in Aesopian language. Simultaneously, the authorities of the state-funded film industry occasionally supported certain cinematic experiments mainly to demonstrate the superiority of communist art over the bourgeois. They also enabled a popular cinema as long as it conveyed an ideological message supportive of the political system. The most significant achievements of Polish postwar cinema are, according to most film criticism, in a politically engaged art cinema represented at its best by Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Munk, Agnieszka Holland, and Krzysztof Kieślowski. In consequence, other cinematic phenomena more closely linked with cinematic modernism as, for example, films by Wojciech Has, Grzegorz Królikiewicz, Tadeusz Konwicki, Jerzy Skolimowski, and Walerian Borowczyk, have been significantly marginalized within critical discourses both in Poland and abroad. The collapse of communism in 1989 caused a radical change in the whole system of film production, distribution, and exhibition. Instead of political censorship, filmmakers have since been subjected to the demands of the domestic film market now entirely open to Hollywood production. They responded to these changes in a twofold manner: the younger generation attempted to establish a vernacular model of popular cinema, whereas the elder wanted to use their newfound political freedom to address the previously repressed parts of national memory. As well as its historical and aesthetic specificity Polish cinema can also be located within the broader conceptual frameworks of central eastern European cinema or now postcommunist cinema.

General Overviews

General overviews of Polish cinema approach it either as a part of East Central European cinema or as an autonomous national cinema. Iordanova 2003 develops a solid argument for a regional perspective. The overviews of Polish cinema as a specific national cinema are most often chronological surveys of its historical development. Bren 1986 and Ford and Hammond 2005 are general examinations addressed to a broad readership. Michałek and Turaj 1988 offers also an introductory presentation of Polish cinema, yet it is executed with a critical sharpness and insightfulness. Haltof 2002 is another chronological survey of the history of Polish cinema addressing its distinctive features in various historical periods. The most comprehensive and detailed examination of the history of Polish cinema is Lubelski 2009 which locates cinematic texts within broad historical, political, and cultural contexts. Coates 2005 addresses Polish postwar cinema in relation to its constant renegotiations of Polishness in different historical periods. The book is perhaps the most significant discussion of Polish cinema as a national cinema. Nurczyńska-Fidelska and Batko 1995, an anthology of essays devoted to the most significant Polish filmmakers, is a useful survey of auteur cinema in Poland.

  • Bren, Frank. World Cinema 1: Poland. London: Flicks, 1986.

    A concise examination of Polish cinema since its beginning until the mid-1980s. Easy to navigate through due to the material division into brief sections on specific films, directors, topics, etc. It includes interviews with Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Zanussi.

  • Coates, Paul. The Red and The White: The Cinema of People’s Poland. London and New York: Wallflower, 2005.

    An original account of Polish postwar cinema until the collapse of communism. The book examines how films made in various historical periods constantly negotiate notions of national identity. An analysis of the state-regulated system of censorship based on the archive research is a special asset of the book.

  • Ford, Charles, and Robert Hammond. Polish Film: A Twentieth Century History. Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland, 2005.

    A useful introductory survey of Polish cinema since its beginning until the era of post-communism. Written for a non-Polish reader, it offers a basic historical chronology of Poland which serves as a useful background for the presentation of the main cinematic movements and directors. With additional material by Grazyna Kudy.

  • Haltof, Marek. Polish National Cinema. New York and Oxford: Berghahn, 2002.

    A general and comprehensive survey of Polish cinema since its beginnings; discusses its main historical periods and the primary thematic preoccupations. Includes a selected filmography and bibliography.

  • Iordanova, Dina. Cinema of the Other Europe: The Industry and Artistry of East Central European Film. London and New York: Wallflower, 2003.

    A book advocating approaching the cinemas of East Central Europe from a regional perspective instead of the national. Large sections are devoted to the Polish film industry, important cinematic movements, and certain thematic and stylistic preferences.

  • Lubelski, Tadeusz. Historia kina polskiego: Twórcy, filmy, konteksty. Katowice, Poland: Videograf II, 2009.

    The author offers a solid historical outline of Polish cinema since its beginning until 2007 seeing it as an indispensable part of national culture. In providing interpretations of films and outlining larger cinematic movements, he seeks to reconstruct their negotiation of ideas of Polishness. In Polish

  • Michałek, Bolesław, and Frank Turaj. Modern Cinema of Poland. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988.

    Perhaps the best introduction to Polish postwar cinema and its cultural, social, and political contexts up to the late 1980s. It presents basic information concerning the organization of the film industry, a survey of the most important cinematic movements, as well as separate essays discussing the most important filmmakers.

  • Nurczyńska-Fidelska, Ewelina, and Zbigniew Batko, eds. Polish Cinema in Ten Takes. Lodz, Poland: Łódzkie Towarzystwo Naukowe, 1995.

    A collection of essays authored by Polish film historians and critics on ten leading Polish filmmakers, among others Andrzej Wajda, Andrzej Munk, and Krzysztof Kieślowski. The authors employ an auteurist perspective identifying the thematic concerns and stylistic preferences of the filmmakers.

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