Poland’s American Film Festival readies for its — lucky — 13th edition, unspooling Nov. 8-13 in Wrocław.
The fest, which will open with “Bones and All” and close with Florian Zeller’s “The Son,” will once again combine classics with contemporary titles, for instance pairing Nancy Buirski’s doc “Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy” with John Schlesinger’s Oscar-winner, or introducing retrospectives dedicated to Robert Altman and Nina Menkes.
Menkes — behind “Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power” — will also get AFF’s Indie Star Award. Previous recipients include Todd Solondz, David Gordon Green, Hal Hartley, Whit Stillman, Rosanna Arquette and John Waters, who came to Poland last year.
“It was amazing,” Waters tells Variety, and he was “pleasantly surprised and flattered” by the local audience’s knowledge of his work.
“They really knew who I was! My favorite thing happened during a Q&A, when this man, who looked like an old Communist, talked about seeing ‘Cry Baby.’ He said: ‘When Willem Dafoe slapped Johnny Depp on the ass, I knew I was gay.’ The audience went crazy. I called Willem right away.”
“It was my favorite memory, seeing what films can do to people in foreign lands. It was a very welcoming country. And the city, even though the woman at the airline gate couldn’t even pronounce its name,” he adds.
“There is no more asking: ‘Why are you guys doing it, in this strange place?’,” agrees festival director Ula Śniegowska, crediting AFF’s sister event New Horizons Film Festival, now in its 23rd edition, with raising its international profile.
But although founder Roman Gutek, now president of the New Horizons Assn., originally wanted to draw attention to directors like Jim Jarmusch and Gus Van Sant, she says, the American indie film scene is not the same anymore.
“Todd Solondz told us he doesn’t want to be ‘independent’: he wants to get money for his films. This European idea of what constitutes a real ‘auteur’ doesn’t apply to the U.S. There is no public funding, so ‘new Jarmusches’ often don’t get to develop their own language before accepting offers from the big studios,” she says.
Śniegowska mentions Colin Trevorrow, who won the fest’s Spectrum competition in 2012 with “Safety Not Guaranteed.”
“The award came with $10,000 and he was very happy about it. Few months later it was announced he was going to direct ‘Jurassic World.’ I thought to myself: ‘What do you need these $10,000 for?!’” she laughs.
While discovering new talent before Hollywood — or streamers — come calling has become tricky, the fest, which has welcomed the likes of Tye Sheridan and John Carroll Lynch, has built a tight-knit community of filmmakers, one that features “Saint Frances” duo Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan, now back with “Rounding.”
“We encountered packed houses and opportunities to connect and engage with some of the greatest working filmmakers around the globe. There were no boundaries or distinctions, but a pure love of cinema,” says Thompson. “It’s perhaps the coolest film festival in the world.”
Producer Laura Heberton has been a regular since 2011, when she was a producer on helmer Andrew Semans (AFF screener “Resurrection”) feature “Nancy, Please,” which was part of AFF’s industry event U.S. in Progress, which connects buyers and Polish post-production companies with selected projects in final production stages.
This year, alongside case studies dedicated to Agnieszka Smoczyńska’s “Silent Twins” and Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert’s “Infinite Storm,” it will also spotlight three Polish and four Ukrainian projects.
“I found it intriguing that someone there would want to shine a spotlight on the rapidly evolving American indie scene. Looking back, they really were quite prescient to create what they did,” says Heberton.
“I am grateful to have been a small part of their decade-plus growth. They check in with me all the time; it’s definitely an ongoing relationship,” she adds.
“Personally, I loved seeing my movie with Polish subtitles,” adds U.S. in Progress alumni Pete Ohs, whose “Jethica” was given its first “stamp of approval” in Wrocław. Now, it will compete alongside Marian Mathias’ “Runner,” Alex Lehmann’s “Acidman” and Rob Rice’s “Way Out Ahead of Us.”
“Sometimes, we are the only place in Europe that will show these films,” says Śniegowska, recalling many adventures of the past 13 years, including the time when Whit Stillman went on a tour of nearby castle stables in his white pants.
“Needless to say, they needed a proper wash after that.”
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