Andrzej Pągowski in 1996

From 1996, Andrzej Pągowski reflecting on his career and the life of the film poster in Poland:

“My adventure with the poster began right after I graduated from my studies. As part of the work distribution system which then functioned in Poland, I was introduced to two institutions which were dealing with film posters. These were ‘Polfilm’ and ‘Film Polski’ and within a month’s time from receiving my diploma I made my first poster for the film ‘ABBA’. The procedure was the following: the screening was attended by two graphic designers and if the assessing committee rejected one design, the other graphic artist would present his. But what was amusing about the situation was the fact that the committee solely assessed the visual aspect of the poster because apart from one representative of ‘Polfilm’ or ‘Film Polski’ no one had seen the film. That did make sense in any way because the committee was looking at the work with the point of view of a passerby from the street, who had not seen the film and the poster was to encourage him to do so. When I design a poster I always first watch the film, and if it is a Polish film I meet the film director. We talk and I often ask probing questions in an effort to find out what the direction wished to say to viewers. (…) I made posters for the leading Polish film directors and became friends with quite a few. And each of them had his own vision, or maybe, his own vision of the poster’s presence.

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s was a great blow to me. I made posters for all of his films and Krzysztof always said, ‘Andrzej, you’re the author of the poster, so do what you like’. That was the biggest challenge for I was aware that at all cost I had to retain the level of emotions present in his films. Although, on the other hand, it was easier to design posters for Kieślowski’s films. I would see one at a screening and leave with a ready idea. That was probably because the manner of narration and the problems addressed in the films spoke to me directly. The situation was different with Krzysztof Zanussi who introduced corrections to my posters. He would often point out one or two details that needed changing. And the procedure was quite similar with Wajda, although in the case of ‘Man of Iron’ he said, ‘This one and nothing else’. But in the case of the film ‘The Right with the Crowned Eagle’ he made suggestions right from the very start at the stage of initial designs. So I can say that the experience has been very varied, but there were never any dramatic splits, as that I would bring a poster and would be told, ‘No, that’s not it’. (…) I recall with pleasure my cooperation with Agnieszka Holland, for she always had a friendly approach. And so did Andrzej Barański. I also did not experience any problems when working with [Janusz] Kijowski and [Witold] Leszczyński. For the poster ‘Konopielka’ I received a few awards. Although I remember being a bit apprehensive when presenting the poster, for Leszczyński was a bit difficult in conversations, he accepted my design with no objections. It was a good thing that he gave me the freedom to do my own design, for in those times it was slightly controversial due to its erotic content, which the censors did not much approve of.

Things differed with Juliusz Machulski. His films are more commercial – and one would wish to comment on them with numerous graphic elements. (…) The posters which I made for him – ‘V.I.P.’ and ‘Déjà Vu’ – conflicted with the commercial approach and Julek brought photographs, made his own suggestions, and asked for the name not to be written in feather-brush letters so that everything would be very clear. In other words, those were the first moves towards the western poster – that which seals our streets so tightly today.

I think that the Poles were envious of the western film poster – they envied its nauseating qualities and lack of taste. The photo poster is dominant and is immediately swallowed up by the street, so that it is hardly visible, for it does not stand out in any way, but just melts into the sub-artistic magma of western posters. The deciding factors are finance and marketing, and the artist counts less and less. I myself, for example, have received all the prizes in Los Angeles for my poster to Kijowski’s film ‘State of Fear’ only because no one limited my ideas and I could create without taking into consideration non-artistic demands. The result was evocative and the poster was awarded many prizes, including ‘The Best of Show’. In the past, our posters stood out from amongst the western chaff and for this we were envied. Today, Polish cinema does not wish to have any of that. The viewer is treated almost like somebody stupid who has to have a large photograph of the star in front of his eyes and best if with a huge gun. The fact that our posters used to be collected, that they prided themselves in numerous literary metaphors and symbols which people were capable of ‘reading’ is of no significance to the distributors. Today’s winners are the uniform posters with photographs which disappear before they make it to the advertising columns. I am sorry to say this, but for me today, the film poster is dead and does not arouse any emotions.”

— (via Cinema #6 / Pągowski: Illustrating Films)