Rich traditions, future plans
Letter From Europa (published in the British Cinematographer magazine)
Polish cinema – the fame of which peaked during the “Polish Film School” period of the 1950s and 60s – has always relied on the unique collaboration between the director and the director of photography. This collaboration characterised many of the award-winning Polish films on the international festival circuit in those days. Some of the most successful filmmaking duos included Wajda and Lipman, Munk and Wojcik, Wajda and Wojcik, Konwicki and Laskowski, Has and Jahoda, Kawalerowicz and Wojcik, Konwicki and Weber, Polanski and Lipman, Skolimowski and Sobocinski as well as Wajda and Sobocinski. This collaborative tradition has been handed down from one generation of DPs to another and has continued to result in many outstanding films. Because of this, the position of DP in Polish cinema has traditionally been strong and DPs have been viewed as co-authors of the final film. In the Polish film business, the wide use of the term “the creative three,” which includes the director, the DP and the line producer, testifies to this relationship.
Given this history, imagine the surprise among DPs, when, in 1994, the Polish Parliament passed the Artists Authorship Rights Law, which completely bypassed DPs as co-authors of the audiovisual work, leaving them feeling outraged and overlooked. Since DPs viewed the Polish Filmmakers’ Association as having failed to protect their interests, they decided to leave the Association and founded their own professional organisation, giving rise to the creation of the Polish Society of Cinematographers (PSC) in 1994.
The creation of the Society marked the beginning of a prolonged battle by its members to regain their former professional status. The battle was not only for honour and prestige, but also for the right to participate in the royalty fees received from the audiovisual entities that broadcast their work. The lack of legal protection made such participation impossible.
Initially, the PSC tried to reach a comprise agreement, but to no avail. Only decisive and prolonged lobbying at both the governmental and parliamentary levels brought satisfactory results. All of the Society’s members contributed to the ultimate success, but it is worth noting the significant contribution of PSC members such as Andrzej Jaroszewicz, Witold Sobocinski, Jerzy Wojcik, Grzegorz Kedzierski and Mieczyslaw Lewandowski. The Society also received inestimable support from other filmmakers, including, last but not least, Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Kazimierz Kutz, Krzysztof Zanussi and Jerzy Hoffman.
Finally in 2000, the Polish Sejm and the Senate passed an amendment guaranteeing the DPs co-authour status in the creation of audiovisual works along with all the privileges that this entailed. Since then, DPs have had the right to participate in royalty fees that are also divided among the director, screenwriter, set designer, costume designer and sound designer. Depending on the type of audiovisual product, as well as on the exploitation channel, the DPs’ royalty share is determined in the following way: between 3.5% and 15% for a film broadcast on state television; 9% for a theatre play broadcast on television; 17% for a film screened in a cinema (approximate data for 2010).
However, the recent appointment of the new supervisory board at ZAPA (the Union of the Audiovisual Authors and Producers), the body which oversees the payment process, raises the question of whether the interests of DPs are truly well secured, as the board does not include a PSC member. Significantly, DPs work on a contract-by-contract basis and, as a result, are not provided with, nor obliged to provide for, their health or pension plans. On the one hand, this boosts their income in the short term, but, on the other, it deprives them of health benefits as well as a retirement plan.
The strong position of professional film societies such as the PSC has hindered the parallel creation of unions. Today, however, it appears that the creation of a professional union would be a good idea. Given the increasing power of producers, the lobbying leverage of DPs continues to diminish. Because DPs lack the support of a strong union, it is usually the producers who prevail in any conflicts, the number of which has been on the rise. There have been cases of producers not paying for overtime and not sticking to the contracted workloads. Increasingly, film crews work on Saturdays and Sundays for the weekday rates. The producers argue that they can rent a given location only on the weekend or that it is simply cheaper to do so. The DPs recognise that there is truth to these claims and they understand the economic considerations, but working on weekends for less should not become the norm.
At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that, in general, the working conditions for DPs on feature films have continued to improve, and their professional position remains very strong. The long-lived tradition of the close collaboration between the director and the DP continues to be passed down from one generation to another. Usually, the DP is the director’s most important collaborator.
Even so, the increasing importance of digitisation and post-production could emerge as a long-term threat. Still, even taking modern technology into account, it is the director and the DP who make decisions on the final visual shape and the atmosphere of the film, and it is the DP who has control over the entire post-production process. As a result, it is no wonder that the Polish Film School has produced many internationally well-known and successful DPs such as Adam Holender, Andrzej Bartkowiak, Pawel Edelman, Slawomir Idziak, Piotr Sobocinski, Dariusz Wolski, Jerzy Zielinski. The many DPs who work primarily in Poland naturally complement this list.
In recent years, the PSC has solidified its position among Polish filmmakers and to day it represents the interests of Polish DPs. The Society is a member of the IMAGO (The European Federation of Cinematographers) and continues to expand international connections, thus establishing its brand worldwide. As the contemporary film industry continues to evolve, the PSC faces difficult challenges. The new supervisory board that includes Dariusz Kuc (Chairman), Wit Dabal, Jaroslaw Szoda, Marek Traskowski and Piotr Wojtowicz intends to tackle them head on. The board is determined to broaden the Society’s scope through more active participation in a greater number of social and educational activities. The priority is to enhance the audience’s visual sensitivity as well as to promote films that combine thematic, intellectual and aesthetic qualities. The Society also intends to take an active part in the process of digital change. Some of the activities include the promotion of new digital tools that expand the visual language. In this regard, it is important to promote issues that involve new image recording technologies, postproduction, digital distribution and digital archiving.
At the 2011 Plus Camerimage Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland, (November 26 – December 2) two key events will underscore the new strategy: a panel on the quality of both digital and analogue cinema projection and a symposium for young film journalists with a view to developing their sensitivity to the visual aspect of cinema and to the work of DPs in general. We hope to see you at Camerimage!
Dariusz Kuc PSC
Polish Society of Cinematographers
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