The spotlight is on Polish cinema this summer, what with the Scorsese-curated season showing at the Showroom until the end of September. Thanks so much to guest blogger Marcin Szuba, who below recounts the exciting, subversive and highly creative Warsaw film club KWANT…
“I didn’t manage to invite Fellini, although our auntie in Rome knew him well and played in his operas. Sergei Parajanov couldn’t come, as he was in GULAG, but I met and made friends with him in Erevan in 1978, just after his release, when almost everyone was scared to be seen talking to him”, explains Andrzej Słowicki, my uncle, who now lives in Frankfurt, but in 1965 became involved in the Film Society KWANT at the Warsaw University of Technology.
Andrzej was a young student with a provincial accent from a small and grey industrial town in southeast Poland when he took charge of KWANT. He arrived to find not a penny in the club, the telephones tapped and every activity monitored by the secret police. Only a select few movies were screened in Polish cinemas at that time, and those chosen were heavily censored.
Słowicki proposed a new form of event: an interdisciplinary discussion on an essential subject, often in a form of a happening inspired by film, where masters of cinema could meet with young filmmakers and talk until the early hours. Very soon, the events were drawing guests from across the world, and KWANT became a Mecca for the young intelligentsia and cultural elites of Poland. It was a place where the future stars of Polish and European cinema were discovered and created. In 1978, Krzysztof Kieślowski observed, “Andrzej, we are filling a ditch and in this place others will build Poland”.
In 1975, Michelangelo Antonioni came to KWANT with a copy of The Passenger in his suitcase, showing it to the students one month before the world premiere in Paris. Two months later, Julio Cortazar, together with a group of Latin American writers and filmmakers and Prof. Zofia Chądzyńska and Ryszard Kapuściński, took part in the seminar ‘Film and Literature of Iberoamerica’. In the same year, a seminar about the Polish Film School provoked a night-long debate on its protagonists and opponents from different political orientations.
In 1976, Gleb Panfilov, Inna Churikova and Nikita Mikhalkov took part in the seminar ‘Contemporary Soviet Cinema’. Here, Krzysztof Mętrak presented his text ‘The glasses of Zbyszek Cybulski’, of key importance to understanding the phenomenon of this actor.
In 1980, ‘Nothing about us without us’ — the documentaries and feature films of Kieślowski, Łoziński and others about the working class, banned earlier by censorship — were shown for the first time. There was also a first meeting with Lech Wałęsa outside the Shipyard. Andrzej Wajda took part in 13 events at KWANT, including the premieres of many of his films.
A key place in the programme of the club was held by Polish filmmakers who were active in the West. These included Roman Polański, Jerzy Skolimowski, Andrzej Żuławski with Sophie Marceau, Walerian Borowczyk with Ligia Branice, Jan Lenica, Piotr Kamler and young Lech Majewski. KWANT also hosted — among many, many others — Schlöndorff, Anderson, Arrabal, Topor, Jancsó, Konchalovsky, Bertolucci, Parker, Puttnam, Lelouch, Lumet, Mastroianni, Mikhalkov, Scola, Szabó, Ruiz, Petrović, Zanussi, Konwicki, Has, Holland, Chytilová, Ullmann and critics, including Jackiewicz, Eberhardt, Marszałek, Mętrak, Michałek and Werner.
In the 70s and 80s, KWANT was the centre of Eastern Europe’s film culture, offering a range of activities unknown in any other club in the world.