Famous people from Warsaw

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Andrzej Wajda

Legendary Polish film maker, who was honoured as only the third director, after Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman, with a Felix European Film Award and an Academy Award for lifetime achievement and for his contribution to world cinema. Wajda made his reputation as a sensitive observer of his country’s political and social changes. As a director he always reflects the mood and atmosphere of the times in which he sets the plot of his films. His body of work includes more than 35 feature films, beginning with “Generation” in 1955. It was followed by “Kanał,” the first film ever made about the Warsaw Uprising. This picture was appreciated by the jury at the Cannes Film Festival, where Wajda won a Special Jury Prize, which opened the gate for him to international renown. After that success, his international status was secured with the 1958 release of his masterpiece, “Ashes and Diamonds”. These three films tell the truth about the effects of World War II on Poland.

“Man of Iron,” which was part of Wajda’s commitment to the Solidarity movement (which was born in Poland in reaction against communist regime) won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival. In 1983 he directed “Danton,” starring Gérard Depardieu in the main role. For this film Wajda received a Cesar Award in France. Wajda’s most prominent film in recent times is “Katyn,” an examination of the Soviet slaughter of thousands of Polish officers and citizens in the Katyn forest in 1940. The film was acclaimed by international critics, and described as a powerful memorial to the victims of the Soviet regime.


Jerzy Skolimowski

Director, actor, and writer – a truly versatile artist, whose latest film, “Essential Killing,” got praise from Quentin Tarantino. It is a story about a Taliban fighter (Vincent Gallo) who kills Americans in the Afghan desert, is captured and tortured, then flown back to Europe where he manages to escape. The film won a special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2010. Skolimowski was born in Warsaw in 1938. His father, a member of the resistance, was executed by the Nazis. When the war was over he moved to Prague, where his mother worked at the Polish embassy. As many other successful Polish directors, Skolimowski studied at the National Film School in Łódź. Since graduating from this prestigious institution he has directed more than 20 films.

He began his film career as a screenwriter: he wrote Andrzej Wajda’s “Innocent Sorcerers,” and worked with Roman Polanski on the script for “Knife in the Water”. The big break in his career took place in 1967 when he directed “Le Départ”, a comedy with Jean-Pierre Léaud, acted in French and shot in Belgium. This film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and brought Skolimowski the status of a full-fledged European director. After that he made three other notable films: “Deep End” (1970) with Jane Asher, “The Shout” (1978), an adaptation of a Robert Graves short story starring Alan Bates; and “Moonlighting” (1982), featuring Jeremy Irons as the foreman of a gang of Polish builders.



Krystyna Janda

Polish film and theater actress who garnered international acclaim for er leading roles in several films by Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Her most remarkable performances were in movies like Wajda’s “Man of Iron” and “Man of Marble,” seminal works of the “cinema of moral anxiety” movement, and “Interrogation”, directed by Ryszard Bugajski . Janda won a best actress award for her performance in “Interrogation,” a story of young woman arrested by security police without being told why and forced to confess crimes she did not commit. The film was completed in 1982 and summarily banned by the Ministry of Culture for being “anti-socialist”. It was finally released in 1989 after the collapse of communism in Poland.

Janda appeared in politically oriented films, most of which criticized the communist system in Poland. In “Man of Marble” she played a student documentary film maker, Agnieszka, who tried to piece together the story of a worker who was praised by the regime in the 1950s but then suddenly disappeared when he started to question the society he lived in. Janda has also worked with other “morally concerned” directors like Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Zanussi. She is a versatile actress who is excellent in both tragedy and comedy, a talented singer and a cabaret artist. In 2005 she established her own theatre in Warsaw, called Teatr Polonia. She also established the Krystyna Janda Foundation for Culture.


Krzysztof Kieślowski

Was one of Europe’s most renowned and influential film directors and screenwriters. His movie cycles, “The Decalogue” and “Three Colours,” earned him international recognition. At the beginning of his career, after graduating from the prestigious Łódź Film School, Kieślowski focused mainly on making documentaries. The Soviet communist regime imposed on Poland after the end of World War II applied a relentless censorship policy to the work of Polish artists. In the 1970s directors of documentaries were less likely to face intervention by government censors. Film makers managed to develop an intuitive line of communication with their audience. Therefore, documentaries became popular and respected vehicles of social critique. In 1988 Kieślowski started to work on a ten-part television series, “The Decalogue”. Each film illustrated one of the biblical Ten Commandments. Two episodes of the series were turned into the feature films, “A Short Film about Love” and “A Short Film about Killing”.

“The Double Life of Veronique,” Kieslowski’s most abstract and poetic film, opened a chapter of international fame in the director’s life. It is a story of a Polish girl mystically connected with her French soul mate. The main role was played by French actress Irene Jacob. Kieslowski’s last three films were presented as a trilogy based on the colors and the corresponding ideals of the French flag (Blue: freedom, White: equality, Red: fraternity). “Blue” tells the story of Julie (Juliet Binoche), who survives an automobile accident in which
her husband, a famous composer, and their daughter died. After the great loss, Julie struggles to free herself from all emotional attachments with her past life. “White” follows Karol, a shy Polish man whose French wife, Dominique (Julie Delphy), divorces him. Humiliated by his wife, Karol loses his money and friends. He tries to restore balance to his life through revenge. “Red” is about fraternity and shows characters whose lives gradually become closely interconnected, with bonds being formed between two characters who appear to have little in common. It was the last film directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski. Kieślowski was born in Warsaw in 1941 during the German occupation of the city and died at the age of 54 in his home city.



Krzysztof Komeda

Was a music composer and jazz pianist, mainly known for the scores he wrote for films. He worked with Roman Polanski and composed music for famous films like “Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Fearless Vampires Killers” or “Cul-de-Sac”. His 1965 album, “Astigmatic,” gained international fame and is considered one of Europe’s most important jazz albums. In 1968 Komeda moved to Los Angeles, where he composed film music for Roman Polanski. Komeda’s style is very different from conventional jazz. He was described as the father of European-style jazz composition. Komeda’s works are often performed by jazz bands worldwide. The precursor of modern jazz in Poland, Komeda was a medical doctor by profession. He died at the age of 38 in Warsaw, after suffering brain damage in an accident in Los Angeles.


Krzysztof Zanussi

Director, film producer and professor at Collegium Civitas. He was born in 1939 in Warsaw, and studied philosophy at the Jagiellonian University (Kraków), physics at Warsaw University, and got his degree in film directing at the Łódź Film School. His debut film was “The Structure of Crystal” in 1969. Since then he has made many feature films, documentaries, and television features. He films have gained international recognition, and he has received many awards: the OCIC Award at the Berlin International Film Festival; the Jury Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival; the Silver Hugo Award at the Chicago International Film Festival; the David di Donatello Award; the FIPRESCI Prize and the Golden Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival; and the Golden St. George Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival.


Roman Polanski

One of the world’s top rated directors, began his career in Poland. He has made films in Poland, Britain and America, gaining long-lasting international success. Born in a Jewish family, he was forced into the Krakow Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. He escaped the ghetto in 1943 and survived the war in hiding places with a help of non-Jewish Poles. As many other famous Polish film makers, Polanski attended the National Film School in Łódź. The first feature-length film he directed – “Knife in the Water” – was a major commercial success in the West and brought Polanski his first Academy Award nomination, for Best Foreign Language Film, in 1963. Shortly after that, the director left communist Poland for France, where he made “The Beautiful Swindlers” in 1964. He then moved to England and directed three films – “Repulsion” with Catherine Denevue, “Cul-de-Sac” and “The Fearless Vampire Killers/Dance of the Vampires”. However, Polanski’s most successful movies were made in the USA.

In 1968 he made “Rosemary’s Baby,” a box-office hit that helped him to establish a reputation as a major commercial filmmaker in Hollywood, and earned him a second Academy Award nomination. Another of Polanski’s commercial successes was “Chinatown,” featuring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. In 2001 Polanski filmed “The Pianist,” a beautifully portrayed story of musician Władysław Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody) who struggled to survive the Nazi occupation in Warsaw. It was Polanski’s most awarded film, winning him a Best Director Oscar. The world premiere of “The Pianist” took place in Warsaw in 2002.

The recently released “Ghost Rider,” a thriller focusing on a ghost writer working on the memoirs of a character based loosely on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, once again proved Polanski’s great talent. The film won four César awards in France. The cast included such famous movie stars as Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan. Polanski lives in Paris and is currently working on his new film, “The Carnage,” starring Kate Winslet, Jody Foster and Christoph Waltz.



Agnieszka Holland

One of Poland’s most prominent screenwriters and directors, she has managed to develop a successful international career and has worked with Hollywood’s top actors. At the beginning of her career she worked as an assistant to more experienced directors like Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda. Her debut film, “Provincial Actors,” won the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1980. Shortly before the imposition of martial law in Poland, Holland emigrated to France. Her best known film is “Europa, Europa,” based on the biography of Solomon Perel, a Jewish boy who convinced a German officer that he was German, and became a member of the Hitler Youth. The film, a German production released in the USA, garnered Holland an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.

“Europa, Europa” was followed by “Olivier, Olivier,” a story of a child who disappeared and then returned to his family as a completely different person. Another international success for Holland was “The Secret Garden,” based on the beloved Francis Hodgson Burnett novel – a classic family film. One year later she directed “Total Eclipse,” with Leonardo Dicaprio playing the poet Arthur Rimbaud. The film detailed a taboo-shattering love affair between 19th century French poets – Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. “Washington Square,” an adaptation of a Henry James novel, was another internationally acclaimed film by Holland, and won her a growing audience in the United States. In 2007, in cooperation with her sister Magdalena Łazarkiewicz and daughter Katarzyna Adamik, she directed “Ekipa”, a Polish drama series. Holland was born in Poland in 1948. She is currently based in the USA.