“Herstorie for Women’s Day,” a film screening organized by the film festival HER DOCS, was suspended earlier this month by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The event was scheduled to take place virtually from March 4 through 8 on the Ninateka website, the streaming service for Poland’s National Film Archive-Audiovisual Institute (FINA) but it did not happen.
On the intended start date of the film festival, the director of FINA, Dariusz Wieromiejczyk, was abruptly dismissed from his position by the Ministry of Culture. Shortly thereafter, Ninateka removed the festival films from its streaming platform and announced the “temporary suspension” of the event. HER DOCS was able to find a new streaming platform on which to host their festival, which is running from March 8 to March 12. Both FINA and the Ministry of Culture made statements denying any connection between suspension of the screening and the content of movies.
“Just days before International Women’s Day, the Polish Ministry of Culture made the decision to disavow the artistic expression of female filmmakers and to fire the government official who wanted to screen their films,” said Polina Sadovskaya, director of Eurasia Programs at PEN America. “The obvious message ministry officials are sending with this abrupt cancellation is that they neither value nor appreciate the voices of female artists — at least, not the ones who seek to tell stories that shine a critical light on society. We condemn this apparent act of censorship and applaud HER DOCS’ efforts to continue the film festival.”
“Women have shaped documentary filmmaking in transformative ways since the early years of cinema,” said Julie Trebault, director of Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The pushback against this film festival, which had been planned in celebration of International Women’s Day, has illuminated the struggles of filmmakers and culture professionals in Poland. It is absolutely vital that the international community, especially EU leaders, acknowledge this shameful act of repression and aim to protect artistic freedom in Poland.”
Public reporting in Poland indicates that it is “likely” that Poland’s Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński had cancelled the festival and fired Wieromiejczyk due to his disapproval over the content of some of the documentaries shown. In particular, according to Wieromiejczyk, the films “The Vibrant Village”, directed by Weronika Jurkiewicz, and “You Are Overreacting”, directed by Karina Pasiorkowska, may have aroused the ministry’s ire. Both films, which deal with feminist themes and are set in the region, have already been shown at international film festivals. “You Are Overreacting” is a film about verbal, physical, and sexual violence against women, and “The Vibrant Village” is a short film which features a factory in Hungary that makes sex toys.
Weronika Anna Jurkiewicz director of “The Vibrant Village” answers the following question to the Budapest Reporter: Why there is so much fuss about the documentary film?
„HER Docs, is a festival dedicated to female documentary filmmakers, the showcase included eight films which were all part of last year’s edition of the festival. Ex-director of FINA identified two films, including mine, as potentially problematic and tried to defend them to the Minister. In the official statement, the Ministry rejected the claims that it was trying to censor the event. I have no further details about the suspension of the festival, other than what was revealed by Gazeta Wyborcza, but this apparent act of censorship highlights the importance of amplifying the voices of female artists, especially given the current events surrounding women’s rights in Poland.”
The film has already been screened at several festivals.
“Vibrant Village” premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019 and was screened at more than 25 festivals worldwide. In Hungary, it was shown as part of the Verzio Film Festival. It also had two screenings in Poland prior to “Herstorie” neither times was the film deemed shocking or provocative. Hence, I was incredibly surprised to find out about this whole situation.
However, it was not the first time when the film was part of a censored event. In 2019, the film was supposed to be shown as part of Feminale of Contemporary Art in Bishkek, Kyrgistan. The exhibition was first censored by the Kyrgyz authorities and finally closed after one day. The director of the State Museum of Fine Arts where the event took place was forced to resign on the wave of threats against her and her employees.”
The director told that the film is a satire, and a humoristic commentary on the rigid gender roles and the taboo surrounding anything female sexuality related, especially in Poland.
“In that sense, the efforts to cancel the film are a good indicator of how uncomfortable a mere mention of the topic still makes some people. I made the film when I was studying at SZFE, as part of the DocNomads Erasmus Mundus MA Program.
I stumbled upon an article about the factory and when I saw the women working there, I knew I had to visit that village. I was received very warmly by everyone there. I decided not to include any dialogues or VO in order to emphasize the satirical aspect of the film and to allow the views to focus solely on the visual elements. There’s something incredibly beautiful in the “normalcy” of that place.”
Now the film is available for the public on YouTube.