Tomasz Wolski’s The Palace at The Full Frame Festival

The contemporary image of The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland: an amazing simulacrum and an entire universe, a place where the past meets the present. There is no other building in Poland that could be more controversial, and at the same time be a symbol of the nation’s capital city, and maybe even the country as a whole. Daily life in The Palace of Culture and Science: a gift from Stalin, who everyone hates.

The director Tomasz Wolski comes inside the building with his camera, into this mirror of Poland’s history and its everyday life. The director looks at the work of the building’s security guards (who themselves look at the hundreds of cameras watching the events in and around the Palace), and behind the scenes of the Alexandrov‘s Choir performances in the Congress Hall. He watches classes at the swimming pool, and follows a woman who feeds the homeless cats. The corners of the dome and the crowds inside the corridors are the scenery for the film’s accurate and witty observations, but also they are also symptoms for a diagnosis.

The Palace of Culture and Science was built in the center of Warsaw, on the Parade Square, as Stalin’s gift to the Polish nation. It was completed in 1955. Along with The Mermaid, a historical statue, it is one of the symbols of the capital of Poland. Many people hate it because it is associated with the hard times of Stalinism, but it also has a large group of supporters, especially among the younger generation of Warsaw residents.

The Palace is the first feature-length documentary on this building, the PKiN or Palac Kultury i Nauki, as it’s known in Poland. But it has previously “starred“ in Polish fiction films: as a tower high above the city in The Little Apocalypse, directed by Tadeusz Konwicki, in the television series Extradition, and in Sylwester Checinski’s comedy online Conversations Controlled, where it is destroyed.

The film is a deconstruction of the myth of the Palace. Scenes in the movie depict Poland’s Communist past, mainly taken from the Polish Film Chronicles Order , and other newsreels.”On the front of the Palace is a neon sign, below which there is carved inscription: Palace of Culture and Science. Below this there is the plaque, which obscures the rest of the inscription: the name of Joseph Stalin. I wanted to reveal this inscription and also the other from different places in the main hall, where we can also see the word “Stalin”. But I did not get permission from the management of the building, they told me that there is no need to recall the demons, said Tomasz Wolski (“The Palace of the Culture and Science: the Warsaw’s ballerina”. Interview with the director by Tadeusz Sobolewski for  Purchase Gazeta Wyborcza Buy , 05/02/2012).

In the movie there are many scenes of the present day. Wolski shows the current reality. In the morning, his cameras scour the area, finding security guards waking up the homeless people who sleep in the park around the Palace. Different people meet here in the center of Warsaw, the homeless and celebrities alike. Here there is the Museum of Technology, and the headquarters of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the  Cinematheque, the Dramatyczny and Studio theaters, the Congress Hall, where the Rolling Stones performed, and also the Alexandrov‘s Choir. Here you can go to the swimming pool, attend a city council session, and find many activities for the young people. The camera follows the maze of the museum’s corridors, and shows these very well-known outdoor locations, but also those newly discovered.

“When I walked through the maze of the Palace with my the camera, I thought it is like Poland… This Palace is like our reality—capitalist, but growing out of the past. Embedded in the walls founded by Stalin, existing according to the old museum‘s rules,” Wolski has said.

A link between Stalin‘s and the current reality is the omnipresence of the cameras. They ensure safety, but at the same time they deprive the people of their privacy, keep their lives under surveillance, like the government of the past, but without the help of technology. In the movie, camera operators describe their cameras as “like Big Brother.”

Wolski does not wonder if it would be better to destroy the Palace and build high buildings around it, which would obscure this symbol of Warsaw. “The Warsaw Palace is still dancing like a ballerina in the front of all the buildings in the center of the city,” he says.