Poland's Andrzej Wajda a guest at Cannes

Andrzej Wajda, photo: www.poloniabusiness.com

A special guest at the Cannes Film Festival this year is the renowned Polish director Andrzej Wajda. He presides over Cannes Classics, a series of screenings and events dedicated to 'rediscovered cinema, restored prints and DVD releases of the great works of the past'. Wajda will present a restored copy of 'Canal', a feature that brought him a Special Jury Prize in Cannes fifty years ago and skyrocketed him to international fame. In Wajda's native Poland meanwhile film lovers are looking forward to the release of his new film.

'Canal' was the first feature film about the Warsaw Rising of 1944. Wajda's latest project is the first Polish film about another crucial event in Poland's modern history - the massacre of Polish officers in Katyn forest in 1940.

Some 22 thousand Polish officers were taken prisoner by the Red Army when the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland in September 1939, 17 days after the Nazi attack on Poland. On orders from Stalin, the Poles were shot in the Katyn forest. The crime was revealed by the Nazis in 1943 but the Soviet Union blamed Hitler's Germany for the massacre. Andrzej Wajda's film is not a historical account of the tragedy but draws psychological portraits of a group of mothers, wives and daughters of Polish officers.

"I think my film shows how the lie about Katyn was brought to Poland with the Red Army and the communist administration, and how this lie - that the Polish officers were murdered by the Germans - lingered for so many years. While it was the men who were murdered, the lie about Katyn concerned in the first place the women. This is not so say of course that massacre itself is not present in the film. It is."

For 81 year-old Wajda, whose father was a victim of Katyn, this is probably the most important project ever. Kordian Piwowarski, who was his second assistant on the set, says that for all members of the crew this was a highly demanding project.

"It was very difficult not onlt from the technical point of view but specially from the motional point of view for everyone and I saw people from the crew crying. when we started shooting the scene when the Germans announced the list of Katyn victims. In the morning when the set designers put on the flags in the Main Square of Krakow the people started to complain and called the police asking what was going on, why Nazi symbols are again shown everywhere and we had to take them off and Wajda had to make a speech on local radio and TV and ask Krakow citizens not to be offended."

Even though in 1990 the Soviet leader Gorbachev acknowledged Soviet responsibility for the Katyn massacre, Russia still claims it was a crime under civic jurisdiction and therefore no longer subject to prosecution. What is also worrying for Poles is that according to recent surveys, as many as 40 percent of Poles do not know who is responsible for the Katyn massacre. The producers of the film hope it will play an important educational role. Historian Janusz Cisek..

"People don't take education from books any more. It's through the Internet and movie productions. You can see it judging Spelberg's films about the Holocaust. It's the best way of introducing historical education to modern society. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for this movie and am looking forward to the day of its introduction to our movie stores."

Wajda's Katyn will be premiered on September 17, an anniversary of the Soviet Union's attack on Poland in 1939. It remains to be seen if it proves an artistic success comparable to his Ashes and Diamonds and Man of Iron. One thing is certain - it is surely the most eagerly awaited Polish feature film in many years.