When we think of Polish Oscar winners, we think mainly of Wajda, Polański and, recently, Pawlikowski. These brilliant filmmakers are the brightest points in the sky of Polish cinematography, where generations have been brought up. It is worth knowing, however, that there are many more Polish filmmakers who have been awarded the American Film Academy Award. Polish-born directors, cinematographers and film composers won over 60 Oscars in total. In the article below we present most important of them!
We are gonna start way back in the year 1942, with Leopold Stokowski. He was responsible for the realization of music in Disney’s “Fantasia”. He chose the right pieces, decided about the pleasing shape of the whole. When the film was screened, it was not applauded at all. Critics attacked the film, accusing it of triviality and plastic kitsch that did not comply with the classical music used by Disney. Nonetheless, Stokowski and his associates won an Oscar for their work. The Academy noted was: “For their unique achievement in the creation of a new form of visualized music in Walt Disney’s production Fantasia, thereby widening the scope of the motion picture as entertainment and as an art form.” Although Stokowski’s British-born and American-naturalised nationality status, he’s widely considered as Polish. He was the first Pole to receive an Oscar. Thanks to Stokowski, the world of American cinema heard about pre-war Poland.
Second on the list is Bronisław Kaper, who was also awarded in the category of Best Original Music Score. In 1953, 12 years after Stokowski, Kaper created the score for the movie “Lili “, which stolen everyone’s hearts. Kaper was one of the most talented and beloved Hollywood composers of his time. He has been nominated for the Academy Award four times, but he won the golden statuette only once.
Although only a few people recognize the name of Stefan Kudelski, his invention “Nagra”, revolutionized sound recording for radio, television and film. In 1951, Kudelski, a 22-year-old engineer, invented recording equipment that changed cinema and video for the next forty years. For Hollywood sound engineers, his Nagra was a real blessing. A small device was easy to move and hide, so that sound could be captured during difficult outdoor shots. Even later, when more and more new, competitive tools appeared on the market, “Nagra” enjoyed the recognition. Especially filmmakers were using it mainly to record high volume sounds such as gunshots. No wonder that the Polish engineer has received the most prestigious awards from the members of the American Film Academy three times in 1965, 1977 and 1978.
In 1982 Zbigniew Rybczyński won an Oscar for “Tango” in the category of Best Animated Short Film. Although, the story of how Rybczyński have earned it, is one of the most colourful Academy awards in history. After receiving the statuette, Rybczyński went for a cigarette. When he returned, he turned into one of the wrong corridors, and the police, which had set him on his feet because of the terrorist threat, arrested him. The case would have ended on the spot if it had not been for the fact that Rybczyński did not speak English at that time. Not only did he not manage to explain the situation to the policemen, but he also got into a fight with two policemen. This is how the new Oscar winner found his way to the police station. He left only the next day, and his story had already been described in several local newspapers.
Ewa Braun and Allan Starski
The next “Polish Oscars” happened to be in the category of Best Art Direction, but they were awaited until 1994. Back then the golden statuette was given to Allan Starski and Ewa Braun for their work in Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”. However, even then, there were also adventures. On the day of the ceremony, Starski left the hotel and boarded a limousine specially designed for him to go to Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the party took place. When the car moved, the driver asked the Polish artist for directions. Sam did not live in Los Angeles and did not know the topography of the city at all. Instead of using a map, the driver followed another “Oscar” limousine. The problem is that instead of going to Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that car was driving home to one of the guests of the Oscar gala, who forgot to take the invitation to the evening party. Only from there, after driving halfway through the city, both cars set off for the evening gala.
Speaking of Schindler’s List, you just can’t miss the Janusz Kamiński. In 1994 “List…” was one of the Oscar-winning favourites. Receiving the award for Best Cinematography, Kaminski admitted that “the possibility of shaping the image in “Schindler’s List “was the most important event of his professional life”. Work with Spielberg resulted in a long-term cooperation and many joint projects. One of the best of them was a film that brought Kaminski his second Oscar in 1998. “Saving Private Ryan” is one of the masterpieces of war film. Inspired by the original visual form by Robert Capa, one of the most famous war operators, who immortalized the Normandy landing. Spielberg and Kamiński did their best to make the image of the war struggle as real as possible. Even if the lenses were splashed with water or blood, they wouldn’t interrupt the shot. Thanks to this, one of the most effective war sequences in the history of cinema was created.
Andrzej Wajda is an outstanding personality of Polish cinematography. The director received an Honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 2000. His most famous films include “Man of Marble”, “Man of Iron”, “Channel”, and “Ashes and Diamonds”. He has filmed classics of Polish literature. Before the year 2000, Paweł Potoroczyn, Poland’s cultural consul in Los Angeles, came up with the idea of doing something to make Andrzej Wajda finally win an Oscar. He called Janusz Kaminski and said he wanted to do a promotional campaign. At Kamiński’s request, Steven Spielberg wrote a letter to the members of the American Film Academy, and the proposal to award Wajda for lifetime achievement met with a strong response. After all, Wajda has already received three Oscar nominations for the best non-English-speaking film, for “The Promised Land”, “The Maids of Wilko”, “Man of Iron”. During the ceremony, the Academy explained their decision as “In recognition of five decades of extraordinary film direction”.
Undoubtedly, Roman Polański, next to Andrzej Wajda, is the most famous and valued Polish film director. At the age of 29, he received his first Oscar nomination for the best non-English film “Knife in the Water”. In his career to date, he has received several other awards, including three Golden Globes, three BAFTA Awards, and six Caesars. It was “The Pianist” that brought him the only Oscar for directing in his career. Earlier, he had been nominated three times: for the screenplay for Rosemary’s Child, directed by Chinatown, and Tess. It was only when the story of Władysław Szpilman, transferred to the war screen, that the Oscar was awarded in 2002. Polański, however, could not collect his award in person. Due to the accusation and unfinished court proceedings, the director could not come to the United States. He received the award only in September 2003 at the Deauville Festival. It was handed to him by Harrison Ford, who read Polański’s name during the gala.
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek is one of the most valued and awarded composers of film music in the world. Kaczmarek has created many musical compositions, soundtracks for over 60 feature films and documentaries and directed three multimedia performances. In 2004, he faced the great challenge of composing music for the film “Dreamer”, which tells the story of James Barrie’s life and friendship that inspired the creation of “Peter Pan”. A year later he was awarded the Oscar for his extraordinary work. The musician regularly cooperates with Agnieszka Holland, whose films he created soundtracks for.
When Pawlikowski started making “Ida”, he felt fatigued by typical cinematic procedures, such as unnecessary camera rides or cuts. He wanted to make a kind of suicidal film because it was boring – he wanted to enclose everything in static pictures. As he stressed himself, he did not want to try to win the viewer’s favour. Meanwhile, it turned out that “Ida” is one of the most significant international hits of Polish cinema of the last decade. Pawlikowski himself admitted that he did not expect such an unusual reception of his film. The British director of Polish origin is currently one of the most exciting directors of the new European cinema. “Ida”, in turn, was included in the most prestigious film of the year and won over 100 awards and distinctions. At the beginning of 2014, “Ida” managed to win the first Oscar in the history of Polish cinematography in the Best Foreign Language Film category.