Saturday, May 10, 2014

This Weekend's New York Polish Film Festival Brings Powerful Polish Cinema to New York City.

This weekend brings to town the 10th Anniversary New York Polish Film Festival, with film screenings of Polish cinema through Sunday evening. Governor Cuomo has rightly recognized that this festival "showcase[s] movies that explore the full depth of human emotion ... [and] introduces new audiences to Polish life and culture through the powerful medium of cinematic storytelling," so I'm not sure why the theater was only half-full when I arrived for tonight's screening of Papusza. This particular film chronicled the sad and shocking life of "Roma," or "Gypsy" poet, Bronislawa Wajs, more commonly known as "Papusza".

Still photo from Papusza.
Used with permission.
When my friend first encouraged me to join her on a Friday night to watch a movie about the life of a poet I had never heard of, I must admit I was slightly reluctant. However, I could not now be more appreciative of having been introduced to Papusza. Written and directed by Joanna and Krzysztof Krauze, Papusza is a powerful, moving film that will break your heart, even as it simultaneously causes you to fall in love. You will learn about a little girl, a "doll," who never got to become a little girl as she grew up in harsh times traveling with her family's caravan around Poland in the early 1900s. Resilient as could be, she learned to read and write in secret, as formal education was not encouraged by Romani culture at the time. The more lighthearted moments of the movie are full of traditional Romani music playing, accompanied by the laughter of innocent children, often around a fire where the caravan had set up camp.

There was always something a little different about Papusza, and, according to the movie, when poet Jerzy Ficowski first encountered her and learned that she could create beautiful, poignant poetry, he encouraged her talent to flourish. Although it eventually earned her notoriety, her connection to Ficowski and the publication of her poems began a spiral downfall for Papusza, and led to her being ostracized by her fellow Gypsies.

This was all set against the backdrop of several tragic events that affected Poland in the 1900s, including World War II and Gypsy pogroms. Papusza passed away in 1987, but her legacy lives on in her work and now also through this touching film. Read more about her life and read some of the poems that changed it here.

There are eleven films in total at the NY Polish Film Festival this year, all feature-length, and it's not too late to buy tickets for the remaining Saturday and Sunday shows. See the full schedule here and follow the event on facebook. The Festival is sponsored by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in New York and Zywiec Polish Beer.

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