FILM / Three parts chutzpah, one part cash: The Polish film industry, stripped of its old state subsidy, is fighting for a new form of recognition. Rick Richardson reports from Warsaw

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The Independent Culture
The director Krzysztof Lang, in his office at Kronika Film Productions in Warsaw, is on the phone to an Austrian actor in Vienna. He is trying to convince him to take a small part in a new Polish film being shot in English. 'You are just the man for this part,' he says. 'We don't want anyone else.' The actor demurs - he is only being offered dollars 200 a day. Lang doesn't crack (after all, he only earns dollars 100 a month) and concentrates on charming his way to success.

'You've never been here before?' he continues. 'It's a beautiful country. You'll love it. You'll be on location for a couple of days. We'll arrange a trip to Warsaw or Gdansk for you. We'll put you in a hotel . . . ' Lang winks - the phone bill is already more than his daily salary. The actor succumbs.

It is on such moments of chutzpah that the Polish film industry has survived over the last year of stringent government cuts. The unofficial Ministry of Culture policy has underlined Lang's words: it is fun making movies in Poland, they say, we'll roll out the red carpet; we've got everything you need - our production units, cameramen, technical staff are superlative. And most importantly, it's cheap. Make a film in Poland for a cool million and it will look like a dollars 10m investment.

It's a policy that seems to be working. Drawn by low costs and outstanding production talent, Westerners have begun to invest in co-productions here. Thirty- eight feature films, filmed wholly or partly in Poland, are currently in the pipeline (as opposed to about 12 in the UK last year). And the feedback so far is positive. The director Costa-Gavras, who recently worked on Little Apocalypse in Warsaw, recorded in the press his high regard for the Polish crew's expertise. The British producer Mark Forstater, who co- produced the Polish / Scandinavian / British co-production The Touch (directed by Krzysztof Zanussi) and Lang's own soon-to- be-released Paper Marriage (set in Newcastle, with interiors shot in Warsaw), echoes this sentiment: 'The Polish crews are absolutely dedicated,' he says, 'and filming is a personal challenge for them.'

Another actor who worked in Poland on The Touch was the Swede Max von Sydow. Over supper in Warsaw's best restaurant, he agreed that making movies in Poland was a good idea: 'Most of the investment shows up on the screen. There isn't much waste. It's all very well organised. And where American productions are so obviously a purely business deal, there is still room in Europe for films that are not totally commercial at first sight.'

This success, though, doesn't simply rest on good fortune. The Poles have built connections in the film world through highly successful directors like Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Zanussi, Agnieszka Holland, Roman Polanski and Jerzy Skolimowski. And post-war Polish cinema in general has a potent artistic legacy. But, as with most successful enterprises, there has been an element of Micawberish luck, too. Western producers faced with huge costs are looking for bargains, and if the subject just happens to fit a Polish setting so much the better. Stephen Spielberg recently materialised in Krakow to see locations for his new film, Schindler's Lives, based on the true story of a German who saved the lives of 1,300 Jews during the war by employing them in a Krakow factory. Spielberg, who has Polish roots, wants to make the film because his mother liked the book, Thomas Kenneally's Schindler's Ark.

But, despite this optimism, a less forgiving opinion comes from Malgorzata Potocka, head of the Independent Producers Society: 'We need more than co-productions. We need Polish investors. But 'new money' is terrified to contribute to the arts. Right now we're paying the price for new captitalism. People want soap, jeans and hamburgers. It's still hard to create something deeper. We have to learn everything from scratch.'

It may be such thoughts that are driving some Polish film people west, which creates a problem in itself. As Von Sydow says: 'The problem is the same in Sweden. People go to Hollywood. It's important to keep talent at home.' Wajda, for one, remains. But his protegee, Agnieszka Holland (who directed Europa, Europa), has decamped to the West.

Taking a break on the set at Pinewood Studios where she is shooting her new film, The Secret Garden, for Warner Brothers, she says: 'Objectively things have never been better for Polish films. But in intellectual circles things are worse. In the 1970s, Communism provided. The risk was minimal - a few weeks in prison. Intellectuals were respected by the government, even if they had political troubles. People had control over their moral attitudes. Now they don't. I miss those days when my friends were near and we were collaborating. I work with strangers now. I compromise.'