Don’t Ask About Poland

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Polish Queer Cinema

Special Interview With Kamil Krawczycki

Sunny day of March 26, 2019 – the council of the Świdnik municipal council gathers for another day of seemingly uneventful local politics.
This day however will not go unnoticed, rather it will start a chain of events that will in turn lead to the country spiraling into further polarization.
The opening statement of the Resolution nr 1/2019 reads :

For the sake of life, family, and freedom, we declare that the local government we represent – in accordance with our centuries-old culture of social life – will not interfere in the private sphere of the lives of Polish women and men. We will not allow ourselves to be imposed by exaggerated problems and artificial conflicts that LGBT ideology brings.

LGBT-Free zone in nearby Kraśnik

The so-called “LGBT-free zones” would cover much of rural Polish municipalities – including my region and the surrounding administrative units
The Świdnik resolution was revoked not a year before writing this article – and many more remain, buried beneath the dust of bureaucratic insignificance.

This rather visually terrifying example highlights the reality of queerness in Poland.
In the age when the country is on the rise to become a political and economic powerhouse of the continent queer rights are still not respected.
The skyscrapers of Warsaw or the hip cafes in Kazimierz, Kraków can deceive an unwatchful eye.
However behind the shiny new buildings, in the corridors of outdated socialist blocks, the cry of queer Poles continues.

The disparity between big cities and the Western part of the country – commonly known as Poland A and the smaller towns and the East – Poland B, continues.

The background of the divide is a subject far larger than a simple article therefore the details I leave up to personal research.
The chain of events that followed the introduction of “LGBT-Free Zones” was one of hateful narratives.
The open physical violence towards queer people and the use of average people in a sick game of politics is a topic personal to my heart. Along with hundreds of young queers that found themselves in an hostile enviornment, I left the country.


Poland brought to the cinema several geniuses and innovators of the art. Names such as Kieślowski or Wajda are forever ingrained in the holy scripts of cinema.
Questions of morality, love, disillusionment, or for that instance every problem discussed in cinematography are no stranger to the country’s film industry.

One topic, however, remains untouched, perhaps lost between the bland color schemes or countless cigarette-break scenes.
As often does, the film reflects the moods of the society it’s based in. This may explain why in the 30 years of post-communist Polish cinematography, the topic of queerness appears only in a handful of high-scale productions.
Reasons for that might be plentiful: lack of producers’ interest, fear of reaction from conservative groups, or the inaccessibility of the industry.

When researching the topic the element that struck me the most was the almost complete lack of presenting healthy queerness in films before the 2020s.

If appearing at all, LGBT characters often served roles of comedic side-kicks – with their identity still not being explicitly said. The other case when the topic was present was to highlight the internal confusion of the character, often returning to the correct heteronormativity.
The question this journey into Polish film left me with is

where are the Polish queers?

An answer can be best found by talking to the local queer filmmakers and so happens that I had the pleasure of talking to one.

Kamil Krawczycki is a film director, and creator of the wildly successful film “Słoń”. One of the first openly queer feature stories, critics and the audience alike appreciated this breakthrough.
Winning countless awards and nominations in festivals in Poland and around Europe. He graduated the Warsaw Film School in 2021 and ever since he has been working on changing the Polish film industry.

The 2022 “Słoń” (en. Elephant) is a story of the struggle for queer love in a small town. As we learn during the duration of this interview, the film consists of several very personal aspects for Krawczycki.

Krawczycki (left) at the premiere of “Słoń”

On the topic of the reception of his film he had to say :

The reactions were very positive.
I was a little afraid of what would happen, but it was unnecessary. There were no protests, no aggression, nothing. So here, as much as possible, the whole aura of the film was positive, and somehow you could sense such love maybe around this film.
As we traveled to meetings, I could see that the audience needed this film.
I know that quite a lot of queers came to these screenings and afterward after talking to us they were very moved many people also told me their own stories and this also moved me a lot,

Shining a more positive light on the topic, he also recognizes the specificness of his position –

I am also aware of the fact that in Warsaw I live in a certain bubble, it would be probably different if I lived in a small city then maybe I would choose to go abroad instead of Krakow or Warsaw. Still, as I already live here in this bubble of mine, I feel nevertheless, maybe it’s illusory, but safe, I do know, those times were terrible, but they did not affect me daily, but I know that I am privileged here simply by the fact that I live here

By “these times” he refers to the height of anti-queer violence and rhetoric of the 2021 Presidential Elections. Times where “Anti-LGBT Zones” were being implemented by local municipalities across the country and the introductory incident was motivated by.

Not Yet Lost

Śródmieście, Warsaw

The previously mentioned issues paint the reality of queer Poles as quite grim. Although these issues are persistent, it would be unjust to deny the efforts of the country’s queer communities. People demand queer Polish cinema – as Krawczycki points out :

I heard a few times that someone took their moms or grandmother, who were not necessarily allied, to this film, and then this film became some kind of a premise for conversation at home, which also then makes some kind of change in people, that sometimes there must be that seed that starts to sprout after all, and that was cool. We got I remember a lot of messages on Instagram, when the film entered the cinema it was, I waited often until the evening because these screenings were just in the evening in the cinema, and I always got afterward with a dozen messages every day and it was great.

The “LGBT Film Festival Poland” celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. As the cinemas in 10 Polish cities prepare for screenings of the event one conclusion arises.
Demand is high – people want more queer films.
The festival features a special category dedicated exclusively to Polish short films, with more and more indie titles present each year – a beacon of hope for change in the industry.

In addition to the low-budget, independent projects larger producers start to recognize the demand. Although still often limited to side plot lines the topics of queer identity continue to remind the audience that Polish queers are here to stay.

Another Life

Hiacynt (2021), picture taken from IMBD,

One black and red online streaming service dedicated itself to the promotion of Polish queers.
Netflix, although with productions varying in quality and reception has without a doubt contributed to this change.
One issue with the Polish queer films is its difficulty with commercial, silver-screen profit.

I see that people, Poles don’t necessarily want to go to the cinema for queer films afterwards, that box offices of such films are much lower. I don’t know where that comes from, then these films get their second life in VODs or streaming platforms.

Netflix challenges this order of things, as its model is based fully on digital distribution and production.
The 2021 “Hiacynt” sent shockwaves through the country. The title references the real communist invigilation and persecution campaign of Polish queers in the 80s.
The plot of the film fundamentally focuses on a murder mystery in the gay community and the police officer uncovering the case. Instead unraveling another mystery – his repressed sexual orientation.

Hiacynt” has its issues, both technical and plot-wise; it again continues the trend of presenting queer relationships with a violent undertone.

The thrope of queer stories always ending with a “punishment” is a legacy of The Hays Codes from 1930s Hollywood. Its impact can be felt through the film even to this day as Hiacynt proves.

Whether an intentional or a subconscious choice – the answer remains hidden behind the corpo-mystery of Netflix productions.

Productions such as Słoń or the section of Shorts Polska at the LGBT Film Festival are therefore needed.
Young Poles need role models that are not afraid to show their identity

I too would probably have needed to hear these motivational messages when I was a teenager, or later when I was in my twenties. So I think that’s what I would wish for, that queer directors would also be open to talking because with that they can change something in the heads of the young. I think that something causes them not to be afraid because we don’t have outed gay directors in Poland yet – Krawczycki adds.

The future appears promising – a less and less common statement in our times – the new generation of Polish filmmakers implements that change with full force.
The political environment of the country has also changed, the real-life issues impacting the citizens have taken the place of political scapegoating.

In the week before the filming of the article, two new openly queer films appeared in Polish cinema and the LGBT Film Festival is busy with its 2024 edition.
Krawczycki also mentioned his next project, currently in the stages of pre-production, the film will follow 3 characters and their external travel to Spain, mixing with an internal journey.

Speaking here for all the Polish queers that ended up beyond the Oder, the Channel, or wherever else life has brought them. I’d like to thank all those filmmakers who continue to transfer queerness into the cinematic mainstream and make a change in the industry.

Julia Chmielewska

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