Every year since 1997, the Rochester Polish Film Festival has offered local audiences a collection of movie screenings, spotlighting some of the best that contemporary Polish cinema has to offer. Sponsored by the University of Rochester's Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies, this year's festival will begin on Tuesday, November 5, and continue through Sunday, November 10. With eight features being screened, the lineup incorporates an eclectic mix of genres and subjects.
The event starts off with a special screening of the 1917 silent film "The Polish Dancer (Bestia)" on Tuesday, November 5, at 7 p.m. at the George Eastman Museum's Dryden Theatre (900 East Avenue). A tragic love triangle starring Pola Negri, the film will be presented with both pre-recorded music and accompaniment by renowned composer Włodek Pawlik. The Grammy Award-winning musician will participate in a Q&A and discuss the process of composing for silent films. Tickets to the opening night film can be purchased at the Dryden Theatre before the screening. General admission is $8, $6 for members, and $4 for students.
All subsequent films will screen at the Little Theatre (240 East Avenue). Tickets can be purchased at the Little box office during regular theater hours and prior to each screening. Regular admission is $10 and $7 for students.
What follows is a peek at a few of this year's selections, all of which will be screened in Polish with English subtitles.
Director Kinga Dębska's empathetic "Playing Hard (Zabawa Zabawa)" weaves together the stories of three women struggling with alcoholism. Aided by an ensemble of strong performances, Dębska refrains from judging her characters too harshly, telling a story of addiction that's as hopeful as it is painful. (Wednesday, November 6, 7 p.m.)
Based in part on a true story, "Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało)" follows Daniel (a magnetic Bartosz Bielenia),> a violent offender incarcerated in a youth detention center. While behind bars the young man has found a devout, deeply sincere faith and dreams of becoming a priest. Though his criminal record bars him from entering the seminary, when Daniel finds himself in a remote small town upon his release, he impulsively convinces the locals that he's an ordained preacher in from Warsaw. Given a post at the nearby parish, Daniel's secret past puts him in a unique position to truly speak from experience as he offers guidance to others who've lost their way. In so doing, he gives comfort to a town still reeling from tragedy, as the film raises some compelling questions around religion, godliness, and who is truly worthy of redemption. (Thursday, November 7, 7 p.m.)
"A Coach's Daughter (Córka Trenera)" follows Maciej (Jacek Braciak), a tennis coach travelling with his headstrong 17-year-old daughter Wiktoria (Karolina Bruchnicka) around Poland's provincial tennis courts. When they're joined by a handsome young player named Igor (Bartlomiej Kowalski), Wiktoria struggles to decide what she really wants in life. She and Maciej butt heads for the first time in their lives, resulting in a touching exploration of the bonds between father and daughter. (Saturday, November 9, 3 p.m.)
Legendary Polish actor KrystynaJanda (in a performance that won the World Cinema Special Jury Award for Acting at this year's Sundance Film Festival) stars in the politically-charged drama "Dolce Fine Giornata (Słodki Koniec Dnia)." Following a deadly terrorist attack in Rome, a Nobel Prize winning poet (Janda) uses an award acceptance as a platform to speak out against Europe's eroding democracy -- but when her comments inspire a backlash from the public, she's unprepared for the public and personal havoc that ensues. Jacek Borcuch's complex and timely drama wades into the immigration and terrorism debates as it examines the roles of art and empathy in our modern age. (Saturday, November 9, 7 p.m.)
A love triangle leads to a tragedy that shakes a Silesian mining town in "The Iron Bridge (Żelazny Most)." Kacper (Bartłomiej Topa) is having an affair with Magda (Julia Kijowska), the wife of his best friend Oskar (Łukasz Simlat). Kacper just so happens to be Oskar's foreman, which gives him a chance to send his friend off to work so he can enjoy some extra time with the man's wife. But when a powerful explosion traps Oskar underground in the mine, the community rallies together for a desperate search and rescue mission. A potentially melodramatic plot is explored with sensitivity and nuance by writer-director Monika Jordan-Młodzianowska, as the distraught couple find themselves torn between their love for one another and a guilt they can't escape. (Sunday, November 10, 3 p.m.)
Władysław Pasikowski directs the exciting and entertaining WWII spy thriller, "The Messenger (Kurier)," chronicling the real-life story of Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, an operative who became known as "The Messenger from Warsaw." the film follows as Nowak-Jeziorański, Serving as an emissary of the Polish government in exile in London, is tasked with delivering a crucial message to the resistance. Pasikowski gives the story a rough and gritty texture, which helps overcome a bit of thinness in its character development. (Sunday, November 10, 7 p.m.)