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Last Updated: Friday, 22 August, 2003, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Filmmakers struggle with Communism's ghost
Roman Polanski
Polanski won at both the Oscars and Cannes for The Pianist
Nearly 15 years after the end of Communism and the fall of the Iron Curtain, filmmakers in eastern Europe are continuing to struggle against memories of the regime.

Under Soviet influence filmmaking was strictly regulated, with tough guidelines over what could be shot and screened.

For some this proved suffocating. But for others - directors and critics alike - the introduction of artistic freedom has proved to have in itself a number of limitations.

"The irony is that when you live under a totalitarian system, for many people it's very comfortable - it's like living in the zoo," Czech director Milos Forman told BBC World Service's The World Today programme.

Forman, who has won Oscars for two of his Hollywood-made films, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus, added that he found working under communist restrictions could actually stimulate his creativity.

"It's an irony - I was more or less free to do my films in Czechoslovakia the way I wanted," he said.

"We were dodging a little bit - there was something in the script that we would shoot a different way - but the system was wonderful.

"The censorship was wonderful - they tell you exactly what you should make a film about, then you are free to say anything.

"Very often you don't know what to say, but you know what's forbidden - then you know what to say."

Little to say

Critics in eastern Europe have gone further - expressing their concerns that, having spent so long under Communism, veteran directors are unable to adapt to the modern world.

Milos Forman
Forman established himself in Czechoslovakia before moving to Hollywood
Fighting artistic restrictions in Poland produced the likes of Roman Polanski - who won the best director Oscar earlier this year for The Pianist - the late Kristof Kieslowski, and Andre Wajda.

But critic Monika Braid said there were now very few exciting projects coming from the country's film industry - at least from its established figures.

"Many people, including Kieslowski, said they had a framework which they had to bounce off, because they had a censorship that would work at script level," she pointed out.

"You could do with the picture whatever you wanted to, and you had to be creative.

"Now you're allowed to do anything, and maybe for the older masters there's no tension - so they tend to do boring things.

Kristof Kieslowski
Kieslowski was the most revered of all Polish directors
"The subjects they explore have nothing to do with the contemporary world."

But these subjects - however much they look to the past - are the recent popular successes for Polish cinema.

Sometimes called Heritage Blockbusters, they have big budgets of up to $20m, and are often literary historical adaptations, such as Kawalerovitz's Quo Vadis, Wajda's Pan Tadeusz and the hugely successful With Fire and Sword, by veteran Jerzy Hoffman.

Return to Europe

With Fire And Sword - set in the 17th Century and featuring big battles, beautiful heroines and blond moustached heroes - centres on a nationalist Polish struggle against the Ukrainians.

This was not a subject allowed before 1989, but one that has now become very profitable.

"After 1989 it is obviously very important for all these nations to rejoin Europe - this has been the main rhetorical figure for politicians," explained Bulgarian critic Dina Iordanova.

"Part of this project of return to Europe is obviously the reconstitution of a glorious historical past, the importance of national consciousness, and the remembrance of great moments of Polish history.

"There is no wonder that films like this usually revisit some well-known glorious moments of history."

But not all of Polish filmmaking is struggling in the shadows of past, Ms Braid added.

Poles celebrate the country's acceptance into the EU
Young Poles are rushing to embrace Europe
A younger generation of filmmakers are beginning to spend their modest, often TV funded, budgets engaging with the post-Communist social upheaval, including American-style gangster films, gritty social realism, and digital experiments.

Ms Braid contended that what they all had in common was an examination of Poland's current problems.

"They base the films on the lives of real people - that's what they want to do," she said.

"They feel free theme-wise, but they are very restricted by funds.

"They do see a lot of problems in everyday life, basically - the life of young people in a young country, with the new problems that appear after 1989."

With the variety of work being done by young directors like Urbanski, Barcheck, Kuzinski and Dabitski, it looks very much as if a Polish tradition will after all continue - following in the footsteps of Kieslowski's 10 Comandments, Wajda's Iron Man and Polanski's The Pianist.


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