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Representing Poland at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival

The biggest annual film event in North America kicks off September 8 as the Toronto International Film Festival celebrates its 36th year. Toronto always delivers an extravaganza of cinematic fare sufficient to overwhelm the most diehard of film fans-- or film geeks as the case may be. And this year should prove to be no exception, with (at last count) 268 features and 68 short films scheduled to be screened from 65 countries.

Although the majority of media attention will be focused on red carpet galas and star gazing, Poles at home and abroad will also be watching to see how their film makers do at what has become one of the most prestigious and highly regarded film festivals in the world.

The selection of work from Poland this year showcases an impressive range of diversity in terms of style, themes and subject matter, demonstrating that Polish talents continue to distinguish themselves in world cinema, even though many of them might not yet be household names in their native country.

Veteran director Agnieszka Holland's film "In Darkness" will be screened in the festival's Special Presentations programme. In July, it was announced that the film will be Poland's entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 2012 Academy Awards. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the U.S. rights earlier this year. 

Based on the true story "In the Sewers of Lvov" by Robert Marshall, it tells the tale of Leopold, a thief who hides a group of Jews in the city's sewers during the Nazi occupation, which forces him to confront his own attitudes and personal prejudices. The film stars Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Furmann, Maria Schrader and Herbert Knaup.

Also screening in the Special Presentations programme is Malgoska Szumowska's film "Elles". A French/German/Polish co-production, the film stars Juliette Binoche as Anne, a journalist working on an article for Elle magazine about student prostitution who befriends two young women, one French, one Polish, who have entered the sex trade for different reasons. As they discuss their lives and encounters, it gives Anne insight not only into the reality of the young women's lives, but also causes her to ruminate on her career as a journalist, as well as her role as a wife and mother.

The programme will also feature Polish-born director Pawel Pawlikowski's "A Woman in the Fifth", starring Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas. Hawke plays Tom Ricks, an American writer who moves to Paris to be closer to his daughter, but soon finds himself falling on hard times. Offered a job at a dingy hotel, his personal life takes a turn as he becomes involved with a beguiling woman, played by Thomas.

In addition to having directed several acclaimed documentaries for the BBC, this is Pawlikowski's fifth feature film.

Wojciech Smarzowski's "Rose" will be featured in the Contemporary World Cinema programme. A historical drama set in the picturesque Mazury region of northern Poland (formerly East Prussia) in the summer of 1945 just after the Second World War, the film's protagonist Rose is a Pole whose German husband has been killed in the war, leaving her alone on their farm. As Soviet soldiers and locals circle around the farm, she is grateful for the help provided by Tadeusz, a former officer in the Polish Home Army and survivor of the Warsaw uprising who is attempting to hide his identity.

A unique offering in this year's Kids programme is "The Flying Machine", a Chinese/Polish co-production, co-directed by Martin Clapp, Geoff Lindsey and Dorota Kobiela, a graduate of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and the Warsaw Film School. This is the first feature for all three directors, whose vision is realized by an impressive team of world-class animators, combining 3D stop-motion animation, live action and the music of Fryderyk Chopin, performed by renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

Heather Graham stars as an overworked mom, inattentive to her children's needs. But a chance meeting with Lang Lang and his flying piano provides the catalyst for change that causes the woman to reassess her life and priorities.

The good news is, even if you won't be in Toronto for this year's festival, all five films should be released in Poland in the near future, with the Polish release date for "Rose" already set for January 27, 2012. 

The recipients of the festival prizes, including the People's Choice Award and others, will be announced on Sunday September 18.



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