Bring back the unruly dogs – Daniel Bird

At the Flatpack Film Festival in Birmingham, filmmaker and writer Daniel Bird gave a cracking lecture on the art of Polish film posters, accompanied by an exhibition of posters from Barbara “Basia” Baranowska. The full lecture has been transcribed and can be read here. We invited Daniel to give his take on the current scene for Polish film festival posters, where he wonders if the ‘poster artist as hero’ is a thing of the past…

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Posters by Barbara “Basia” Baranowska: See You Tomorrow, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Possession

When it comes to film festivals, Poland offers quite a range. There is Gdynia, which focuses exclusively on the domestic industry. There is Warsaw, which like the London Film Festival, presents itself as a sort of ‘best of the fests’. Despite focussing on cinematography, Camerimage packs a formidable punch when it comes to attracting Hollywood star power for what is, essentially, an industry affair.

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Posters for Camerimage Festival, 2010-2013

Then there is the New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw, and its sister event, the American Film Festival. Over the years, New Horizons has managed to combine an astute and frequently bold overview of what is happening in the world of film, combined with a competition section as well a thoughtful retrospectives (full disclosure: I curated 2013’s Walerian Borowczyk retrospective – himself a former poster artist). In recent years, New Horizons has advertised itself with uniform typography and minimalist designs featuring black on white with a single magenta colour accent – thus accommodating the brand colour of the key sponsor – T mobile. Two years ago, it was simply a thick line. Last year it was a fingerprint. In 2013 it was an iris.




Posters for New Horizons Festival, 2011-2013

This could be seen as part of a trend in which complete faith is put in typography, typesetting and a single, direct graphic idea.



Posters for Animator, and the American Film Festival, 2010-2013

For me, this tradition was pioneered by the likes of Grzegorz Laszuk, whose posters and programme layouts for Grzegorz Jarzyna’s Teatr Rozmaitości grabbed the almost lifeless remains of the Polish Poster School and dragged it into the Mac age. Nevertheless, sometimes it risks smacking of corporate branding, when there is a draconian control over typography and colour.


Posters by Grzegorz Laszuk, for TR Warszawa

The question I find myself asking is this: can the ‘poster artist as hero’ flourish under such constraints? Those titans of the 50s, artists like Jan Lenica, studied not graphic design but the likes of Picasso, François and Steinberg. Lenica died in 2001 and I doubt he ever had his colour palette and typographic choices dictated by a marketing policy.

jan-lenica_wozzeckPoster by Jan Lenica, for the opera Wozzeck by Alban Berg

Of course, there is always the danger of lapsing into nostalgia about the ‘golden age’ of the Polish poster. Indeed, I would readily pit some of Laszuk’s early posters and book jackets against the very best of Tomaszewski and Cieślewicz. Tomaszeski’s son, Filip Pągowski (who took the surname of his mother, another formidable artist, Teresa Pągowska), frequently pulls aces out of the hat, along have a handful of other defiant and, above all else, intelligent contemporary Polish poster artists. Arguably the most insightful commentary on the Polish response to the Smolensk disaster (which risked being hijacked by Polish Catholic Nationalists) was a cartoon featuring Jesus, sans crucifix, under which was written ‘where’s my cross?’ The answer was outside the presidential palace, guarded around the clock by the ‘mohair brigade’, who interpreted any attempt at removing an ad hoc wooden crucifix as an assault on Poland, the Catholic Church and, hell, even Western civilisation itself…

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Four images by Filip Pągowski

Pągowski‘s cartoon reminded me of my favourite poster by Tomaszewski, for a theatre production called ‘Witkacy’ by Jozef Szajna, then director of Teatr Studio in the Warsaw Palace of Culture. The writings of Witkacy, the avant-garde polymath who was in many ways a precursor of the ‘absurd theatre’ of Beckett and Ionesco, were unrecognisable after Szjana’s ‘design over direction’ mangling.

henryk-tomaszewski-3Poster by Henryk Tomaszewski for the play Witkacy by Jozef Szajna

Indeed, during the 1960s, whether it was Kantor or Grotowski, the director, not the text, was king in Polish theatre. Here, the egos of these often brilliant directors (Kantor, Grotowski) which sometimes veered off into kitsch (Szajna), was gently pin pricked, with the wit and humour, using a single, cutting poster image. Other than some act of ‘self-deprecation’ sanctioned from above, is there room today for such critique on behalf of the poster artist? When the ‘personality’ of the poster artist is reduced to a set of typographic preferences, is it only a small step away from no personality at all? Indeed, perhaps the ‘poster artist as hero’ a thing of the past?

Fake credits sequence that appears in Berberian Sound Studio, by Julian House


Initial concept posters for Berberian Sound Studio, by Julian House

Upon watching Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012), I was first struck by the attention to detail regarding the conjuring up of an analogue past. In particular, Julian House’s meticulous, designs for imaginary tape reel branding circa 1970. Here, Strickland’s film brings out the sheer tactility and rawness of analogue sound and visual culture.




Images by Roman Cieślewicz for the film Vertigo, and cover of the magazine tyija


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Images by Andrzej Klimowski including posters for Down By Law, The Boss of it All and Flying Lessons

What Roman Cieślewicz and Andrzej Klimowski accomplished using razor blades and cheap paper stock is now achieved on the computer. While it would be regressive to call for a return to analogue culture, is it not too much to ask for posters and graphics with just a little bit of rawness and crudity? It is the slickness, efficiency and soullessness that I find reprehensible. Posters are a cocktail of art and advertising. The question is one of ratio. Too many posters feel not so much designed as engineered. I am not suggesting that there are no contemporary Polish artists with personalities (on the contrary!), but their window for expression is closing… We need more eccentrics, or rather a tolerance for eccentricity… Poster artists like Cieślewicz, Lenica, Waldemar Świerzy, Tomaszewski and Wojciech Zamecznik were like unruly dogs: you always remember the times when they do not listen to you, not the times when they do. Maybe it is time for the festivals that commission these posters to consider loosening their grip on the designer’s leash?


Daniel Bird is a writer and director based in Warsaw. He is currently producing a box set of restored films by Polish poster artist turned filmmaker, Walerian Borowczyk (

For further reading on Polish film poster design, the Quay Brothers pick their favourites on Adrian Curry’s MUBI blog.


dokumentART selects DOK.fest München

Next in our ‘Festival Pick’ strand, Caroline Walke of dokumentART selects a poster from DOK.fest München, the International Documentary Film Festival, Munich.


For me a perfect poster is simple, lets the viewer grasp the idea of the event quickly and makes you wonder or smile.  This dokfest münchen poster collection just has it all for me – simplicity, by the four different motifs it shows the variety of the genre as well as making the viewer guess the contents of the films.  Also always a hard task to fulfill but has so much effect: humour, which will make people stop and wonder about it. People will remember the poster and thus the event – the festival.


Caroline Walke is Festival Director at dokumentART- European Film Festival for Documentaries, Neubrandenburg.

Behind The Poster: Docs Barcelona

Elena Subirà i Roca of DocsBarcelona Film Festival talks us through their recent campaign.


The posters of the latest edition of DocsBarcelona was designed by a Catalan Design studio called Nytt, and presents a unique message: Fill yourself with Emotions. The campaign reproduces three very different type of people you can find in our city, Barcelona, but that at the same time are all target audiences for our festival.  We liked its fresh and simple look, the characters’ personality and the symbiosis the poster delivered between general audience (the characters) and the professional side of the event (the digital camera they hold).

The inspiration for the poster came from DocsBarcelona’s goal to broaden its spectrum of viewers; to increase audience numbers, but also to broaden the target. We think there is a documentary for everyone. We think that documentaries bring you new experiences, sometimes they make you find out about realities you would never imagine or would believe in. Films that at the same time can be deep and emotionally shocking, or simply fun and entertaining.

And in the end, if this is DocsBarcelona’s goal and spirit, I think this campaign reflects it very well: For everyone, about everything, in many styles; But always about reality.


Elena Subirà i Roca is Executive Producer of DocsBarcelona Film Festival and Pitching Forum since 2009 and Head of Audiovisual Management at the documentary company Parall40 based in Barcelona, Santiago de Chile and Bogotà-Colombia.

Festival Pick: 33rd Berlin International Film Festival restrospective: Exil

Wilhelm Faber of Berlinale picks a poster from the festival’s archive.

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My favourite poster is for the Berlinale Retrospective in 1983.  The central motif is the Anhalter-railwaystation, whose name in free translation is “place where you have to stop.” A magic black and white photograph to open the spectators imagination and memory of old cinema.  At the same time an invitation to remember stories, fate or a turn of events.  The festival film series (EXIL) is highlighted by a typography which is both contained and higlighted. The poster was designed by Volker Noth.


Wilhelm Faber has worked at the Berlin International Film Festival since 1990; working in the fields of program-coordination, festival-organisation, event-management and IT.

Rotterdam selects San Sebastian

Continuing our ‘Festival Pick’ strand, Rutger Wolfson of International Film Festival Rotterdam, selects a poster from the New Directors sidebar of San Sebastian Film Festival 2012


David Bowie's The Next Day

It’s interesting to see that so many good festival posters use a drawing or an illustration. It’s very hard to work with a still (photo) image for a festival poster, because one such image will never cover the whole content spectrum of a festival. So a more abstract level of imagery to convey some sense of what the festival is about, seems to work well. We tried to solve this by using mainly text, that should evoke an image.

The one festival poster I found particularly interesting was the San Sebastian festival 2012, because visually it’s very much the same idea as the latest David Bowie album cover. You never know who got an idea when and where (but the Bowie sleeve is from 2013). Anyhow, you do see a lot of Bowie-sleeve inspired designs everywhere now. 

Rutger Wolfson is Festival Director of International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Behind The Poster: The London & Porto Underground Film Festival

From Werner Herzog to Hennessy Youngman, a line has been drawn from the firelight dancing on the walls of the caves of our ancestors to the arthouse future of 3D technology.  It’s all about the caves.  So we were delighted and intrigued when we came across this illustrated poster, mixing mysticism with body art.  Here, Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, Directors of The London & Porto Underground Film Festivals, illuminate on the philosophy behind the visuals.

The London & Porto Underground Film Festivals poster

The poster for our film festival, illustrated by David Penela, had to represent not only the kind of festival we wished to present but also our ideas about what cinema is and could be. Our festival is concerned with the art of cinema, so it was necessary for us to consider cinema as a part of the history of art rather than simply a modern phenomenon separate from it. The technology itself may only be 130 years old but its purpose and role in our lives reaches back to the earliest human beings. Art is a singularly human expression that came into existence as a response to the great mysteries of life. Cinema is one of the current forms of this expression and is shaped by the conditions of our time. It is often forgotten that art does not grow solely from the rational mind but it is as much a condition of the body, a poetic expression erupting from the interplay between the energies of the body, the conflicts and harmonies of the organs and the irrational unconscious mind. Like early humans faced with cave paintings lit by flickering flames, in the cinema – when it is art – we can be greatly transformed. We glimpse truths, new ideas and new feelings emerge. Through this we can engage with the great universal mysteries of existence, but we can also gain insight into our own individual day-to-day lives.

Our festival seeks to show works of cinema that are taking the medium beyond the dead language of commercialism and industry, and that are made by people who know that art cannot exist under such conditions. These films will take many forms and styles and come from the personal explorations of the inner and outer worlds of the people who make them. They are unique to their creators, this uniqueness is what we celebrate and champion. Our poster grew out of these ideas.

Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, Filmmakers at The Underground Film Studio and Directors of The London & Porto Underground Film Festivals

Children’s Film Festival Seattle picks Frameline


What goes on in the minds of children at a film festival?  Somewhere between the fizz of popping candy, the burst of soda bubbles and the general germination of mischief, an introduction to the delights of cinema causes several mini-explosions to get the synapses twitching, as shown in the deeply scientific diagram above.  With the tagline ‘Making Joyful Neurons’, which spilled into a video trailer that is part Fischli/Weiss, part Saturday morning TV gunge-fest, we were charmed by the recent campaign by the Children’s Film Festival Seattle designed by Creature.

So we invited Festival Director Elizabeth Shepherd to pick her own favourite film festival poster, and tell us what it was about it that caught the eye:

Frameline 37 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival 2013


“I love how playful it is, and how the tagline is built into the poster in such an appealing way. It perfectly conveys that the festival is built for a community of people to come together to experience joy. And … the image of sprawling down on a bed of popcorn with a friend is so fantastic! It seems like this design would be good for every use — programs, bus stop adverts, posters, t-shirts. It is very, very original and uplifting, at the same time.”

Elizabeth Shepherd

Director, Children’s Film Festival Seattle Northwest Film Forum

The poster was designed by Creative B’stro, a San Francisco and Vancouver based agency, and here they give some insight into it’s formation:

Otterly Fabulous

“Film festival posters are a creative challenge in that you must distill down an entire festival of many reels into a snapshot. That snapshot needs to capture the essence of the festival in a way that will inspire attendance.” Sharon Kerr, Account Director, Creative B’stro.

B’stro had developed the “Find Your Story” theme for last year’s Frameline festival so we were already familiar with the festival audience and had worked with the team at Frameline before. For this year’s theme Frameline wanted to focus on a sense of coming together of the LGBT community for this event, while remaining very inclusive of the diversity of this community.


“Frameline is all about community, chosen family, making new friends, and big love connections. The LGBT community is something that really sets us apart from the other big festivals”, Desiree Buford, Frameline’s Director of Programming, commented during the initial creative briefing.

The Frameline team had also really liked the VQFF poster that the B’stro Vancouver office had designed using hedgehogs as a fun way to depict festival attendees. Armed with these requests; the hunt was on! We needed to find members of the animal kingdom that could represent festival attendees in a very broad manner, convey a sense of fun, and depict “chosen” family and togetherness.

After brainstorming and researching the team came up with the theme “Films Bring Us Together” and several possibilities for animals that either exhibited interesting pair-bonding behaviour, or formed bonds that lasted for life. Among the many contenders were penguins, monkeys, and seahorses. Otters, apart from looking cute, apparently hold hands when they sleep so they don’t lose each other —with that delightful behaviour, we settled on otters.


Image: Sea otters holding hands by Joe Robertson from Austin, Texas, USA.

To bring the theme to life, Nina Westin, a Designer at B’stro said, “We wanted the poster to feel warm and inviting, so we chose a warm, rich color palette and added a texture similar to film grain on the otters and the background. We also wanted to represent the diversity of the festival attendees. So we kept the otters non-gender specific, of any age or ethnicity and dressed them in way that festival attendees might be dressed. You can’t tell if they are hipsters or grandpas, boys or girls, but you know they are fun and friendly!”

In order to tie the visual of the to movie attendance we added in cinema tickets and had them swimming in a sea of popcorn. Before some movies an extra short but extra cute animation of an otter cranking the film reel will show. To encourage audience participation and leverage social media we created a life-size otter sign with the face cut out, so people can be their own otter!