Kino Polska film series returns to BAM with comedies, drama, and Polish-Ukrainian solidarity

still from kino polska film series at BAM
The Kino Polska film series returns to BAM on Feb. 24, featuring films like “The Hamlet Syndrome,” a documentary following Ukrainian theater-makers as they worked on a new show at the beginning of the Russian invasion.
Photo courtesy “The Hamlet Syndrome”/BAM

Foreign film lovers can head to the Brooklyn Academy of Music starting on Feb. 24 for the Kino Polska film series, which will feature over a dozen Polish films created over the last two years.

This year’s festival marks the return of the beloved event for the first time in four years, which began dazzling the big screen with boundary-pushing artwork about a decade ago. The festival rolls through BAM every other year, bringing with it a new crop of films and visiting filmmakers. It started, in part, to connect with the large Polish community in nearby Greenpoint. 

“One thing BAM loves to do is to serve the multiple audiences that exist in Brooklyn,” said BAM Film Program Director Jesse Trussell. “So to be able to bring Polish cinema into a borough that also has an amazing Polish diaspora community was a really great opportunity. We’ve always had great audience responses both from the Polish community … and from the broader film fan community in Brooklyn.” 

Trussell and Tomek Smolarski, of the Polish Cultural Institute — BAM’s partner in creating the series — have spent the last few months curating the festival, watching and re-watching dozens of films.

The duo even traveled to Poland to attend the annual Gdynia Film Festival there, and have brought the best-of-the-best back to the shores of Brooklyn.

“We’re trying to find something that hits on the broad themes that we think Polish filmmakers have been engaging with over the last couple of years, and a good representation of the variety of different films coming out of Poland,” Trussell said.

kino polska "EO" still
The series features the Oscar-nominated “EO,” the story of a small gray donkey exploring Europe. Photo courtesy “EO”/BAM

They settled on a collection of 14 movies, including the Oscar-nominated “EO” and “The Silent Twins,” starring “Black Panther” actress Letitia Wright. 

Cinephilias will also get a chance to check out “Back Then,” a family comedy centered on the director’s own life experiences in Poland in the 80s, and “Woman on the Roof,” based on the true story of a woman in her 60’s who robbed a bank at knifepoint. 

Anna Jadowska, the director of “Woman on the Roof,” told Brooklyn Paper the story of the older woman robbing a bank has been sitting in the back of her head since she first read an article on the incident a few years ago. She decided the film would focus on the woman’s emotional state, her thought process, rather than the theft itself. 

“I didn’t meet the real person, I just imagined what it could be, and what kind of person she was,” Jadowska said. “Of course, it was a lot of layers, because then I had an actress and during this process, we found out physically what kind of person she is, and what was her goal, and what was her dream.” 

Jadowska screened “Woman on the Roof” at the Tribeca Film Festival last summer, and it marks the first time she has shown a move in the Big Apple in about 20 years. 

She was thrilled when Kino Polska reached out to her, and for the opportunity to take over the silver screen in New York. 

“It’s like, the best place in the world, New York, to show your movies,” she said. 

She’s excited to see the audience’s reactions — in part because she hopes some older filmgoers will come to check it out. Not many films feature a woman in her 60s, she added. 

“My message was, ‘It’s never too late to change,’” Jadowska said. “I believe that movies could give you a first step to imagine that change is possible.”

still from "the woman on the roof" at kino polska
In “Woman on the Roof,” director Anna Jadowska wanted to say “It’s never too late to change,” she said.

This year, Trussell and Smolarski also wanted to focus on the longstanding partnership between Ukraine and Poland, and the strength of that connection in the face of the ongoing war in Ukraine — the festival starts on the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion. 

They chose two films: “Rhino,” the story of a young man seeking redemption in a country reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union; and “The Hamlet Syndrome,” a documentary following five theater-makers attempting to create a new version of “Hamlet” in Ukraine just as the war began. 

“The films we selected this year are particularly interesting, especially the film ‘Hamlet Syndrome,’ which kind of touches on the long nature of conflict between Ukraine and Russia,  where it feels like it’s commenting on what’s happening last now, but it’s actually commenting on the history of the last ten years as well,” Trussell said. 

At least 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have settled in Poland since the war began. Hundreds of Polish volunteers have stepped up to provide food, housing, and other resources, even when support from the Polish government wavered. 

Kino Polska is the last of BAM’s “tentpole” events to return in-person, Trussell said, and he’s excited to welcome audiences back in-person with this lineup. 

“Especially this year, it’s so exciting with ‘EO’ being nominated for the Best International Feature [award,]” he said. “It’s a nice moment to highlight these different kinds of films … there’s just a bunch of really fascinating cinema being made in Poland right now.” 

Several directors — including Jadowska, the directors of “Hamlet Syndrome,” and the star and director of the film “The Roving Woman,” will join audiences for live Q&A sessions after their screenings. 

woman waving ukrainian flag
Brooklynites parked the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine in Asser Levy Park on Thursday afternoon. The anniversary of the Russian invasion coincides with the first day of the festival — so curators were sure to highlight the long relationship between Ukraine and Poland in the films they chose. Dean Moses

There is a “huge difference” between Polish and American cinema, Jadowska said. She likes American movies, but not the mainstream ones — one of her favorite movies is “Nomadland,” a quiet 2020 film based on a nonfiction book that follows an older woman living in an RV, traveling across the country for work. 

“Emotionally, we are quite the same,” Jadowska said. 

The issues facing contemporary Poland right now — a large-scale economic crisis, a right-wing government, are “common everywhere,” she said. 

“American [cinema] is more optimistic regarding the future, I believe,” she said. “We are quite pessimistic. This may be the difference in how we are telling our stories. We are more realistic, maybe.” 

Kino Polska runs from Feb. 24-March 2, 2023, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Downtown Brooklyn.