Ewa Gębicka, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof. | private archive
| Maria Sztuka |
Until the outbreak of World War II, the role of Polish cinema in social life was not marginal, however, it mainly consisted in providing entertainment to the audience or glorifying the struggle for national liberation. The new authorities perceived the 10th muse in a completely different way after the war, guided by the Soviet idea of film as the most important of the arts. Cinema was supposed to teach, agitate, educate and influence the transformation of social awareness, co-create the model of the socialist cultural revolution. The initial subordination of cinematography to the Ministry of Information and Propaganda in 1944 is meaningful. Knowledge about how the model of post-war cinematography, which in its essential features survived until 1989, is valuable, because the system contained as many errors and shortcomings as positive stimulus. Awareness of this ambiguity can be very useful today. The mistakes of the past should not only be noticed, but also remembered not to repeat them.
In 2022, the University of Silesia Press published a monograph From the Department of Film Propaganda to the Central Office of Cinematography. First decade of party-state monopoly in Polish cinema. It was written by a film expert, Ewa Gębicka, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof. from the Krzysztof Kieślowski Film School at the University of Silesia. She has been associated with our Film School since 1979 – almost since the establishment of the Faculty of Radio and Television at the University of Silesia. Prof. Ewa Gębicka graduated from Econometrics at the Poznań University of Economics, then she comleted Postgraduate Studies in Film and Television Production at the PWSFTiT in Łódź. She defended her PhD thesis (Cinema in Poland in the years 1944–1965. Cultural policy. Economy. Repertoire) at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Wrocław, and in 2008 she obtained a post-doctoral degree at the Jagiellonian University (Between state patronage and the market. Polish cinematography after 1989 in the context of political transformation, University of Silesia Press 2006).
This unique “mix” of education turned out to be very useful in finding a path of scientific interests. Undoubtedly, the inspiration to reach for the beginnings of the history of Polish cinema was the research of Professor Edward Zajiček, a co-creator of post-war cinematography, the production manager of many films produced during the communist period. In the years 1979–1985 Prof. Zajiček was the Dean of the Faculty of Radio and Television of the University of Silesia. What is important, he is remembered as the author of numerous books describing the history of pre-war and post-war Polish cinematography.
“He was the first person who showed how to describe cinematography from a point of view other than just the analysis of the works themselves” recalls prof. Ewa Gębicka.
Not ignoring the personal artistic motives and creative impulses of the producers, it is worth remembering that the number and quality of films made in the subsequent decades of post-war cinematography were determined by many external conditions, including political and economic realities, the way cinematography was managed and financed, and even directors’ remuneration systems.
“After reading everything about the history of Polish cinematography, I realised that its history, compiled many years ago, was drawn up and interpreted mainly by the participants of the events of that time. Naturally, their relations were burdened with a powerful charge of subjectivism. Over the years, these descriptions have also become quite outdated and required reinterpretation, emphasises the film expert.
Tons of documents
Queries in the archives initiated the preparation of materials for the PhD thesis. It started with the archives of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party. Although the use of these resources in the late 1970s required appropriate permits, the scientist’s safe-conduct proved to be sufficient to overcome the barriers faced by the researcher who did not belong to the Polish United Workers’ Party. Using the available materials turned out to be the beginning of a tedious work. There were no duplicators and digital media, while the access to photocopies was not too simple and obvious either. Therefore, many sources had to be copied by hand, noting reference numbers, file numbers, files, etc. Later, the researcher moved to the Central Archives of Modern Records in Warsaw, taking a closer look at the files from the Central Office of Cinematography, the Central Office of Planning, the Central Committee of the Polish Workers’ Party and its subordinate Department of Education and Culture; the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (Department of Culture), the National National Council, the Ministry of Information and Propaganda, the Ministry of Culture and Art – the Central Office of Cinematography and the General Directorate of Polish Film, the Polish Workers’ Party, the Polish Committee of National Liberation – the Ministry of Information and Propaganda and, of course, the archives of the National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute.
Actors of the film Forbidden Songs – Danuta Szaflarska and Jerzy Duszyński on the cover of the magazine “Film” 1947, year II, no. 9–10 | public domain
Prof. Ewa Gębicka remembers this extremely difficult job with a smile, just like the archives of the Central Committee covered with red carpets and the dusty folders in the basement depths of the ministerial archives. The monograph is a collection and chronological arrangement of a dozen or so threads previously made available in various publications. Synchronising them gives us a picture of the first decade of the functioning of socialist cinematography, which, according to the researcher, helps in a new interpretation of the sense and general cultural consequences of the changes in Polish cinema that took place after the war.
The researcher collected the largest set of documents from the collection of the Ministry of Information and Propaganda and published them in the early 1990s as annexes to her pioneering studies on traveling cinemas in the first years after the war (Cinefiction or Cinemafiction? 1944–1947; When you come with a cinema, don’t make propaganda! Traveling cinemas in 1944–1947). This list of documents was sent to the Museum of Cinematography in Łódź, which enabled other film experts to explore the subject. In 2022, a book Distribution of films in Polish People’s Republic in the years 1944–1956, co-authored by film experts from Łódź: Krzysztof Jajko, Konrad Klejsa, Jarosław Grzechowiak, and Ewa Gębicka.
In Ewa Gębicka’s archival research, numerous preserved reports of cinema managers, entries of viewers in the books of wishes and complaints, as well as instructions and directives of the then state and political authorities turned out to be an invaluable source of knowledge. The threads revealed in them opened up new, hitherto unanalysed issues, such as the post-war reactions of viewers to Soviet films, the principles of constructing the cinema repertoire, or the ways of “fighting” for viewers.
From the summaries made by prof. Ewa Gębicka, it turns out that in the light of the documents, the assumptions of the new cinematography model adopted in 1945 turned out to be more devastating for Polish cinema than previously thought. Contrary to appearances, it was not just a short-term episode that compromised the ideology of the time and the way the authorities enforced its assumptions. In fact, certain elements of this system have permanently entered the canons of state cinematography and, despite the periodic relaxation of film policy after 1955, influenced the management and relations between the artist and the authorities. But it must also be admitted that it was not a period burdened only with errors. The undoubted positives include: raising the status of filmmakers, state involvement in the development of the material base of cinematography, increasing the number of cinemas, increasing participation in film culture, and above all – building the foundations of film education and its development.
Film studies by prof. Ewa Gębicka run in two ways. One of their directions is a reliable reconstruction of the post-war history of cinematography, but for a long time the main track of scientific research has been the present, the changes that took place after 1989 in Polish cinema, treated as an institution of social life and the cultural industry.
“I am a film expert who is less interested in subjective creative impulses and analyses of individual films, I am more absorbed in motivation: why these films were made, why they took up such and no other subject, because it is obvious that it is not always the decision of the creator himself, but often the influence of external stimuli, the creator’s perception of what is more profitable in a given system, the scope and expectations of state patronage, and the consequences of honoring market mechanisms. These aspects interest me the most” sums up the film expert.