World Cinema - Poland, September 2015

Michael Rowan, a member of Chiltern Film Society's committee, is finding out about how people from different countries experienced cinema in their homeland.

With one exception I have only ever visited the cinema in the UK and had always assumed that mine was a universal experience. One day a chance conversation made me wonder if perhaps I was being naïve and so I set myself the challenge to find out what people living in Chesham but born in another country recalled about cinema in their homeland. I am very grateful to everyone who gave up their time to give me such an insight often reviving memories that they had forgotten.


Today I am speaking to Gello Illczuk who came to Chesham in 2012 but is originally from Komarowka Podlaska in East Poland

Gello has owned Brazils, a much loved Chesham Café, since 2013.

Gello arrived in the UK in 2000 aged 24 and unable to speak English as the only language he could learn at school was Russian.  For 9 years Gello worked in the kitchens of restaurants in Marlow then moved to Nottingham before returning to Chesham. He enjoys playing football and his beloved guitar and also collects vinyls which he plays on his recently purchased 1977 record playe.

Having known Gello for a number of years, imagine my surprise to learn that he is something of a cinema buff.

1) How does the cinema here differ from that in Poland?

Gello - The first cinema that I visited in the UK was in Henley on Thames which made me think that all cinemas in UK would be the same (well upholstered).

2) What is your first memory of going to the cinema as a child?

Gello - My first memory is that of going to school and watching the propaganda films before every film. In the UK we see adverts but in communist Poland it was a 4 or 5 minute propaganda film either how good the system was or how bad it was in some other country. For example I recall that when we suffered a plague of caterpillars that attacked the potato crop we were shown a film shortly afterwards that explained that the ‘Stonka’ had been dropped from a USA aircraft flying overhead to destroy our harvest. Stonka is Polish for the Colarodo beetle - (one for the conspiracy theorists possibly?)

3) What was the first film that you recall seeing?

Gello - The very first film that I saw was called KRZYZACY which translates as ‘Crusaders.’ You see I lived in a village so the nearest cinema was 50 km away and I never saw children’s films until I was 12 or 13 years old. So my very first film was a trip to the county town of Biala Podlaska as part of a school trip with our history teacher.

4) How expensive was it to visit the cinema?

Gello – By today’s prices it is the equivalent of £3.50 to see blockbuster in a modern cinema in Poland.

We were ordered to see films as part of organised trips from school so they would be free because before the main feature they showed us the propaganda film.

5) What is the etiquette in the cinema in Poland?

Gello -After the fall of communism from the age of 14 to 18 I was given permission to leave school early in order to travel the 50km by bus from our village to the Youth Film Academy MAF as I had shown an early interest in film. The journey by bus took 1.5 to 2 hours as we had to stop at all the villages between to pick up people. There were few if any adverts, but there was a full discussion of the film at the end. Sometimes the discussion took longer than the film itself.

I recall that once after a showing of Kenneth Branagh’s,
Much ado about nothing the entire cinema stood to applaud.

Smoking was forbidden in cinemas but young people would try to smuggle in alcohol and cigarettes. If you were caught smoking or drinking vodka you would be escorted out and there was no second chance or right of appeal.

6) When I was a child the only food eaten in the cinema was tubs of ice cream or choc ice, Orange Juice and hot dogs. What kind of food could you buy at the cinema?

Gello - No food was allowed in MAF one had to respect the person sitting next to you so no talking or eating; food was introduced after the fall of communism by the big western world.

7) What sort of films were shown in Poland? Was it the usual blockbuster? Walt Disney or something else?

Gello - As I said early much of it was propaganda and back in the 80s most of films were Polish or Russian. Censorship was tough and there were lots of historical films showing their great achievements or victorious battles against the west.

Lots of Polish uprisings but never against the Russians as that wasn’t allowed. The film that I was made to see as a child was called Monastry (German Crusader who took a chunk of Poland in the  1400s but the battle that ends the film shows the great Polish victory).

Later we had marathon film sessions starting at 10 00pm aimed at hard core cinema goers. This was always 3 movies shown back to back and I recall that there were always people passing out.

One cinema I visited a lot was called Bajka which means Fairy Tale. We have a great love of film don’t forget that Roman Polanski began his career in Poland.

8) Do you go to the cinema in UK – what were your first impressions?

Gello - Yes but I didn’t particularly enjoy the occasion. I saw the usual block buster films in the West End. I also saw Taken in the screening room for 8 people in one of the 8 screening rooms in the Savoy Nottingham.

9) We have certain films that are shown every Christmas, is that the same in your country and if so what ?

Gello – It has to be Home Alone.

10) And what film character would you like to be?

Gello – Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful which I saw many times in Poland; I think he sings in the film.

11) Finally your favourite film here or in Poland? (it was at this point that I realised just what a film enthusiast Gello was)

Gello - Ironically the film that I could watch over and over is Groundhog Day. Among the Polish films I believe that Potop should have won an Oscar for its depiction of the invasion of the Swedish army into Poland (this it is said did as much damage to Poland as that inflicted in the Second World War).

Whilst on the topic of Polish films Gello launched into a critique of Ida which he did not see as a part of the CFS programme last year. He considers Ida to be a dreadful film, almost as bad as KLATWA DOLINY WEZY which is widely considered by Polish film enthusiasts as the worst Polish film ever made.

Films before 1988/9 were made ‘to warm Polish hearts up’.  Some film makers used comedies to illustrate the reality but the audience knew that this was real life in Poland. One famous film by Stansilav Bareja is called Mis (about a teddy bear) but telling the story through satire.

In the film Konopielka, a tiny village is surrounded by swamps with no electricity when a government official arrives saying we have something for you guys which turns out to be a project to build a school complete with a teacher. The film is showing how backward some people were and how communism for all its faults taught everyone how to read and write. Gello’s own grandfather was an illiterate man working the land but through communism he was taught to read and write. So as Gello says not everything about communism was bad.

By this point Gello is on a roll and is keen to advise of Polish films that I should look out for which includes Man of Marble which is directed by Andrzej Wajda, the second most famous Polish director, and also started the career of Krystyna Janda, the famous Polish actress. Gello’s final piece of advice is that the sequel, Man of Iron is not quite as good as Man of Marble but still worth seeing.

[Note that CFS is showing Andrzej Wajda's masterpiece Ashes and Diamonds on 16th March 2016 as part of our current season.]

Gello Illczuk thank you for sharing your experience of cinema