Mariusz Miodek on Polish Posters

Mariusz Miodek writing in 1991 on the state of film posters in Poland:

“Laurels in Hollywood, dozens of international awards, film poster exhibitions in the capital cities of Europe and…not a single commission on the Polish market in the last year – that is in brief the situation of Andrzej Pągowski. Still, this outstanding graphic artist is an exception: his poster for the film ‘Dances with Wolves’ is the first since June 1990 designed by a Polish artist.

Only a few years ago the situation was completely different: no film would not have been associated with a poster designed by a Polish artist. The state monopolist – the Central Distribution of Films – commissioned advertising materials for the films imported from abroad in Poland.

Once the institution of the CDF was liquidated and the private distribution companies appeared on the market the situation changed totally. It turned out that the ‘privates’ were tied by contracts with their foreign partners and were not allowed to commission any advertising materials by Polish graphic artists. Ready-made sets of promotional materials arrived in Poland together with the film copies, i.e. posters, photographs, television commercials, and so-called gadgets. Pągowski claims that he never managed to check whether such a clause really exists in the contracts. It is a fact, though, that once Warner, Columbia, UIP and 20th Century Fox entered the market, no Polish artist received any commission for a poster advertising a film. A representative of one of the Polish distributors, whose name must remain anonymous, claimed that prior to their actives, the bosses of one of the American production companies asked for a presentation of Polish film posters and decided that they did not conform to Western standards. In their opinion they were not commercial enough. It is difficult to say to what extent that is true, but one thing is certain: Polish posters, both those from the period of the so-called Polish school of posters as well as contemporary ones, had received dozens of awards at international competitions, but rather ferried for their artistic value than their purely commercial application. All in all, though, for over a year all American films shown on our screens were advertised with American posters.

It had come to a situation which in an interview on television Pągowski called abnormal – here on Polish walls there were posters on in the English language! ‘Let them at least change the writing on these posters to Polish’, said Pągowski, and his appeal brought an effect. Western distributors made just one condition: the poster ‘in Polish’ had to be an exact copy of the original with exactly the same font and size of letters with the printed names of the film stars. That is obvious – the protection and demands of the commercial industry are sacred. Pągowski lately breached that ban for the first time by changing slightly the framing of the original poster. The Polish distributor was displeased but finally gave his consent for printing.

Given such principles for conducting advertising campaigns, the role of Polish graphic artists was limited to a strictly applied one, if not one of servitude. However, several, if not dozens of companies in Poland deal with the ‘remaking’ of foreign materials. Of these, ‘Studio P’ is centered around the person of Pągowski. The company works together with one of the most important world commercial agencies, the American company McCann-Erickson. On the Polish market this magnate has formed a joint-venture enterprise within the company ITI. ‘Studio P’ is now capable of conducting an advertising campaign for any product including film. For the reasons mentioned above it does not do this for foreign films. As far as Polish films care concerned none of the Polish producers have turned to the company with relevant offers. Only Janusz Mchulski and Jacek Bromski have commissioned posters for their newest films.

In the middle of this year the Film Art Foundation and ‘Solopan’ asked Pągowski to design a poster for the film which they were distributing: ‘Dances with Wolves’. The poster constituted an artistic event and was head and shoulders above all the foreign materials advertising Costner’s film. However…it was not allowed to enter ‘world circulation’ because the producers allowed for its distribution only in Poland. ‘Perhaps if it had been made earlier, at a stage when the film was being produced, then its fate would have been different,’ Pągowski claims. A second and similar such project was Pągowski’s design for the film poster of ‘The Double Life of Veronique’ by Kieślowski.

It would seem that the growing video market in Poland might create an opportunity for our graphic artists – after all, thousands of cassettes circulate around Poland and each of them has a cover … But it pays for distribution companies to copy the original covers and to place Polish titles on them rather than commission new designs from Polish artists. Some time ago Pągowski designed a few covers for Polish films on video cassettes, but he stopped doing that, not because new orders were not flowing in, but as it turned out, this was when ‘pirates’ were taking over the market…

Pągowski is today an exception among the community of Polish artists designing film posters. Amongst the 50 posters he has designed this year, one third are film posters (of these two ‘foreign’). But the ‘community is troubled and in crisis,’ says Pągowski. Does this mean that Polish poster artists are doomed to unemployment?”

— via (Film #49 (1991) / Pągowski: Illustrating Films)