A review of Aleksander Ford films and the premiere of the digitally restored "Mir kumen on" during the Singer's Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture at the Iluzjon Cinema of the National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute (FINA)
A review of films by Aleksander Ford (1908-1980), one of the most important Polish filmmakers, has been prepared by the National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute, for its now traditional presentation at the Singer's Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture.The cycle of films to be presented at the Iluzjon cinema between 27 August and 1 September includes Ford's films from the years 1933-1948, the early slightly less-known, but equally important, productions made by the future director of "Krzyżacy" [Knights of the Teutonic Order AKA Black Cross]. A special event during the festival will be the premiere of "Mir kumen on" (1936) – known under the Polish title "Droga młodych" [Children Must Laugh AKA We're On Our Way] – in an almost complete, digitally restored version.The special screening on 31 August will feature distinguished guests, including the family of Aleksander Ford himself.
The review will feature two films by Ford which constitute an important contribution to Polish cinema in the Yiddish language.The first is "Sabra" [Chalutzim] (1933), a tale shot in Palestine – with a melodramatic thread in the background – about Jewish immigrants from Poland struggling in the desert with a lack of water.
The other film – financed by the Bund socialist party but prevented from going on general cinematic release (as it was felt to promote communism) by the censors of the Second Polish Republic – is "Mir Kumen On" (1936), known under the Polish title "Droga młodych" [Children Must Laugh], a unique documentary showing the micro-community of the Włodzimierz Medem Sanatorium in Miedzeszyn. In this centre, from the mid-1920s, children from poor Jewish working-class families suffering from tuberculosis were treated. The film's premiere at the Iluzjon on 31 August - in a digitally restored and almost complete version – will be the festival's special event.It will be attended by members of Aleksander Ford's family and Léa Minczeles, one of the initiators of the project of the reconstruction and digital restoration of "Mir kumen on". Before the screening there will be a speech byAnna Szczepańska, PhD, from the Sorbonne in Paris, a film historian and researcher into the works of Ford.After the screening, the partners involved in this international project - Serge Bromberg (Lobster Films), Elżbieta Wysocka (FINA) and Martin Koerber (Deutsche Kinemathek) – will talk about the background to the project's realisation and the challenges they faced, with a number of different incomplete versions of the film and the desire to make their version as faithful as possible to the original.
"People of the Vistula" (1938) completes Ford's pre-war filmography – in the 1920s he was already being hailed as the golden boy of Polish cinema – and his status as one of the best contemporary directors was confirmed by the (unfortunately missing) "Legion Ulicy" [Legion of the Streets AKA Ulica] (1932). The 1938 film, co-directed with Jerzy Zarzycki and based on the novel by Helena Boguszewska and Jerzy Kornacki entitled "Wisla" [The Vistula], was intended to remain faithful to the ideas of the START group of filmmakers, from which they both originated, focusing on realistic cinema with a social conscience.In practice, the young filmmakers had to give in to the so-called "industry" and to producers demanding that the story about the lives of boatmen sailing barges on the Vistula river be embellished with a melodramatic thread. Despite this, "People of the Vistula" remains one of the most interesting films of the 1930s – and the only one in which the superb actress Stanisława Wysocka played her most famous role of Matyjaska.
"Przysięgamy Ziemi Polskiej" [We Swear to Poland, Our Motherland] (1943) is the documentary film which marks the beginning of the director's war period. In September 1939, he found himself in the USSR where, together with fellow "Start" member Jerzy Bossak, he organised the Czołówka Film Unit of the First Division of the Polish Army in 1943.The oath sworn by the soldiers of this unit and their commander, Colonel Berling, is immortalised here. "Majdanek – the Cemetery of Europe" (1944) was the first documentary about the Nazi concentration camps, a reportage film shot just after liberation of the camp featuring the harrowing accounts of the prisoners.
Chronologically, the last of the films in the review is "Ulica Graniczna" [Border Street] (1948), one of the first post-war feature films in Polish cinematography. For Ford, then a key and highly influential person in Polish cinema, it was a return to Jewish themes, but now in the shadow of the Holocaust. "Border Street", a war-time story of the residents of a Warsaw townhouse representing a cross-section of social attitudes towards the occupation and the Holocaust, although somewhat simplified, still remains one of the first and most important films on this subject, with the moving portrayal by Władysław Godik of Liberman the tailor.
"Mir kumen on" will be shown for the first time in Poland in an almost complete version. Digitally restored for its 80th anniversary, Aleksander Ford's film was previously shown in France and the United States.
"Mir kumen on" presents daily life at the Włodzimierz Medem Sanatorium in Miedzeszyn near Warsaw and the innovative treatments and educational methods employed there. During the years 1926-1939, it treated almost 10,000 children from poor Jewish working class families who suffered from tuberculosis. In 1942, the employees and patients of the sanatorium were transported to the extermination camp at Treblinka.
At the time of shooting "Mir kumen on", Aleksander Ford was 27 years old and – especially after the success of "Legion of the Streets" (1932) – he was regarded as the most talented director of his generation. The script was co-written by, among others, Wanda Wasilewska, who spent a lot of time in Miedzeszyn in conversation with the patients there, consulting on ideas. All the footage was shot in Yiddish in the summer of 1935 in the sanatorium and its surroundings. There are no professional actors in the film, which is full of documentary authenticity, and it is a rare picture of the real lives of Jewish children in pre-war Poland. Producer of "Mir kumen on" was the Association for the Włodzimierz Medem Sanatorium for Children and the film was co-financed by the Jewish socialist party, Bund. The film was intended to help raise money for the children's treatment, which was necessary after the Ministry of Social Welfare refused to subsidise the institution. It was a kind of "crowdsourcing" initiative among the international Jewish community: the prologue contained a request for help in the national language of the country in which "Mir kumen on" was being shown.
The film presents, among other things, the modern treatment methods used in the sanatorium, but it also has a clear ideological message: it is a call for (class) solidarity and (national) tolerance. The accusations that it promoted communism, supported by an anti-Semitic hate campaign, resulted in "Mir kumen on" becoming a victim of censorship in Poland.The censors asked the producer to make changes to the copies of "Mir kumen on" – but they would have been so numerous and interfered with the message of the film so much that they were refused.
There was a heated discussion in the press between supporters and opponents of the film – with openly anti-Semitic voices appearing for the latter. Extracts of the press reviews and post-war comments about "Mir kumen on" can be found on the Digital Repository webpages.
In the end, the film was not permitted to be released for theatrical distribution and was shown only at non-public "secret" screenings and closed press screenings organised by the producer. The employees of the Włodzimierz Medem Sanatorium managed to transport a copy of "Mir kumen on" to France, where the first screening of the film entitled "Nous arrivons" ("We're on Our Way") took place in March 1936 at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, with an introduction by Luis Buñuel.The French audience kept alive the memory of "Mir kumen on" and it was from France, from Serge Bromberg (Lobster Films) and Léa Minczeles to be precise, that the initiative came for the film to be restored and reintroduced to the international public.
The restoration of this unique film to global culture was made possible thanks to a joint project by the National Film Archive, the Museum of Modern Art, Deutsche Kinemathek and Lobster Films.
The unique story of the survival of "Mir kumen on", the memories about it and its archival life will be the subjects of a Q&A which will take place after the premiere of the film.After all, the film was shown in various countries, with several versions being prepared for the local audiences. These variations were incomplete and re-edited, and on top of that, they had overlapping subtitles of different language versions. The task of creating one version which would be as close as possible to the original was a real challenge.The restoration of the film, in terms of reconstructing the original cut from the preserved copies and the image remastering, was performed in France at the Lobster Films studios, while the soundtrack was restored by the French studio, L. E. Diapason.The work was completed in 2016.
Serge Bromberg (Lobster Films), Martin Koerber (Deutsche Kinemathek), Elżbieta Wysocka (FINA) and Anna Szczepańska (Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne) will participate in the discussion.
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