Women are at the forefront of Polish animation, with their films to be found at the Berlinale, Cannes, and Annecy film festivals. However, 2018 is by no means a revolution, but rather proof of a trend that has been ongoing for a number of years.

While there is global awareness of the need to support gender equality in the film industry, while there are organizations representing female creators in different fields of art, and while festivals increasingly apply gender quotas in their programmes, women have quietly and completely taken over Polish animation. Women have been gradually building their position in the animated film market for a number of years now. Men who are successful in the international arena (such as Zbigniew Czapla, Marcin Podolec, or Tomasz Popakul) are not to be discounted but statistically it is female names that appear more often at festivals.

By women, not about women...

So what do women talk about when their voice is so clearly heard? Paradoxically, most frequently it is not about women. The majority of the animated films made by women touch upon universal subjects, and it is far from easy to put them in the ‘cinema for women’ box. They are neither told from a woman’s perspective, nor do they solely address a female audience. The Other by Marta Magnuska shows the mechanisms that come into play when a stranger enters a community; in Bless you! Paulina Ziółkowska shows the mark that every interaction with another leaves on a human, and Oh Jesus by Betina Bożek talks about the need for love that arises regardless of sex. While Karolina Specht and Marta Pajek show the relationships between a man and a woman in their films, they do so by using geometrical concepts and mathematical equations.  

Instead, An Eye For an Eye by Julia Płoch is a tale about a disciple and his master, drawing somewhat upon the Japanese cinematic tradition, although here the story is so moving that one may stereotypically consider it precisely as being made for women. This cannot be said, however, about the Oscar nominee Loving Vincent, co-directed by Dorota Kobiela, for this animated feature about Van Gogh is primarily an absorbing detective film.

…with some exceptions

It doesn’t mean, however, that women have not used the medium of animation to share some of their secrets. In Norm by Agata Mianowska, we witness the struggle with complexes related to looks, and attempts to meet the demands of contemporary standards of beauty, and Three Women on a Bench (by Karolina Borgiasz) uses irony to depict the girly tendency to gossip.

100% femininity is included in Beautiful by Weronika Kuc, where the heroine loses herself somewhere on the way to perfection. Not only is its imagery filled with pinks, but all kinds of feminine props can be found there (from a wardrobe full of furs to a dressing table with make-up products).

Moreover, animated films openly addressing female sexuality from the previous year can still be seen at international festivals.  Renata Gąsiorowska’s Pussy shattered a taboo by talking explicitly about masturbation, and Wiola Sowa’s XOXO – Hugs and Kisses invited the audience into an erotic threesome, depicting a relationship between a woman and a man in an incredibly sensual manner.

Expansion at festivals

The above-mentioned Pussy by Renata Gąsiorowska, which has been shown internationally over 200 times since its premiere, triumphed at the festivals in 2017. However, Marta Pajek’s Impossible Figures and Other Stories, Marta Magnuska’s Foreign Body, Karolina Specht’s Beside Oneself, or Paulina Ziółkowska’s Oh Mother! also enjoyed considerable success in terms of Polish animated films.

None of these animation makers have rested on their laurels and they have begun to conquer more festivals already this year. Paulina Ziółkowska returned from the Berlinale with a special mention for Bless you!, Marta Magnuska’s The Other  and III by Marta Pajek will be screened in Cannes, and six more Polish animations will feature in Annecy, all made by women: along with The Other and Bless you!, Tango of Longing by Marta Szymańska, Squaring the Circle by Karolina Specht, and Oh Jesus by Betina Bożek. Oh Jesus will also be shown at the Oberhausen, VIS Vienna Short, and Melbourne Animation Film festivals. All we can say is: Go, Girls!


Dagmara Marcinek