Jerzy Toeplitz

With his death Jerzy Toeplitz becomes the missing link between Roman Polanski and Jane Campion, Andrzej Wajda and Peter Weir - one of the most influential if discreet figures in international film culture, in- directly responsible for movies as different as Patriot Games and The Piano, The Double Life of Veronique and Chinatown.

Toeplitz, who died in Warsaw at the age of 85, had an impressive academic record, publishing a six-volume History of Cinematographic Art (1955-89); but as an educator Toeplitz made film history rather than writing it. For Toeplitz was the founder of not just one, but two of the world's most renowned film schools, both of which formed an identifiable national cinema around them.

In 1947 Toeplitz was instigator and then from 1949 to 1952 and 1957 to 1968 director of the Polish Film School, based in Lodz but regarded with awe globally as the world's finest. Located in the palace of a pre-war merchant prince and heavily subsidised by the Polish government, Lodz was deliberately intended to create a new Polish cinema.

The notoriously tough entrance exams were almost enough to put off Toeplitz's most famous pupil, Roman Polanski. In fact Polanski's entire early life was formed by the academy, his acting debut was in a graduation film by students and he made seven short films at the school, including Two Men and a Wardrobe (1958). Whilst at Lodz Polanski married his first wife, the famous beauty Basia Kwiatkowska, who had become his room-mate. Just after their wedding Polanski received his directing diploma.

Lodz under Toeplitz was the nexus of Poland's intellectual renaissance, with such pupils as Wajda, the playwright Agnieszka Osiecka, Jerzy Skolimowski, then a poet, the jazz composer Jerzy Matuskiewicz, Krzysztof Kieslowski, and even the novelist Jerzy Kosinski, who Polanski spilt tea over on first meeting, to test what he would do. The school was very much about the industry rather than intellectual theory and maintained strong links with ex-pupils working in the outside world.

All the important post-war Polish and East European directors were trained by Lodz, much as in America a whole generation of movie brats emerged from film schools rather than through the industry.

Despite, or because of, his pivotal role at the school, which he combined with serving as Director of the Polish Film Corporation and the Institute of Art at the Polish Academy of Science, Toeplitz was forced to resign from it in 1968, as the result of anti-Semitic campaigns, and he left the country. His popularity was probably not helped by his brother, the acerbic critic "K.T.", one of the most infamous journalists in Poland.

Meanwhile in 1969, the Prime Minister of Australia, John Gorton, announced a plan to create an Australian film industry, including a film training school. After a long search for a director, Toeplitz was appointed to run the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS) when it opened in 1973, on the outskirts of Sydney. His school at Lodz had done for Poland exactly what Australians wanted for their own country, kick-start an entire film industry. Barbara Leaming's 1982 book Polanski explains why Australian headhunters settled on Toeplitz and Lodz: "One of the finest film schools in the world, far more successful than most of its Western counterparts . . . it had been started by the government to create a Polish cinema virtually from scratch."

Or, in the words of Phillip Adams, one of the original Australian search team, "If we were going to have an industry, we were really looking to start from ground zero."

The first Australian students under Professor Toeplitz in an Interim Training Scheme included Gillian Armstrong (Last Days Chez Nous, Little Women), Phil Noyce (Sliver, Clear and Present Danger), Chris Noonan, the present chairman of the Australian Film Commission, and the leading film historian Graham Shirley.

The success of a whole wave of Polish directors from the Sixties was replicated by their Australian counterparts in the Eighties, all trained by the same man. AFTRS soon established itself as a serious rival for American schools, turning out graduates from Peter Weir to Alex Proyas, a pop video director feted by Madonna who recently directed The Crow.

Toeplitz remained Director of the AFTRS from 1973 to 1979, when he returned to Poland. In 1979 he received the Raymond Longford Award for outstanding service to the Australian Film Industry, which it might be easier to say he had singlehandedly created.

At the school he left behind the Jerzy Toeplitz Library, over 5,000 video titles, scripts and screenplays as well as books, periodicals and clippings service, the largest film library in the southern hemisphere. He also left behind an entire antipodean entertainment industry and a new aesthetic category of his own invention, "Australian film".

Jerzy Toeplitz, film historian and educator: born Kharkov, Ukraine 24 November 1909; OA 1986; married 1943 Isabella Stanislawa Grnicka (three daughters); died Warsaw 24 July 1995.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London