As post-war Poland became a communist state that embraced the tenets of Stalinism, the socialist realist approach to the arts was keenly felt at the cinema. Naturally, this ideology was not for everyone. The documentarians Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski may have trained in the USSR at the All-Russian State University of Cinematography, but their legacy would be the birth of a distinctly Polish school of documentary film-making; one that broke the conventions of the hegemonic socialist realism.
Hoffman and Skórzewski made their debut film Are You Among Them? in 1954, during the cultural ‘thaw’ that occurred after the death of Stalin. This meant that, in their depiction of a low-level vandal, the two were able to show a non-compliant member of society; one who did not subscribe to communist ideals of positive behaviour. This concept was further developed in their subsequent two films, Look Out, Hooligans! (1955) and The Children Accuse (1956), the former of which kick-started the so-called ‘black series’ (czarna seria) of Polish documentary films, in which dark societal issues such as hooliganism and alcoholism were directly confronted on the screen. These films – set among ruined post-war cities and disappearing towns – often used staged scenes to force the viewer into a critical mindset. In doing so, they brought forth a Poland that cut through the hitherto propaganda machine, presenting a shocking reality.
Outside of the ‘black series’, Hoffman and Skórzewski also worked on stylised reportage films, showing holiday destinations (Sopot, 1957) or the small-town practices of some of Poland’s Catholics (A Souvenir From Calvary, 1958; The Two Faces of God, 1960). Later, they would go on to work on feature films, both together and individually, contributing to the rich fabric of Polish cinema.
In partnership with the ICA, we are pleased to present an overview of Hoffman and Skórzewski’s early documentary films.
If asked to name the Polish director who has left the most lasting...