When shooting wrapped last February on Poland’s Oscar entry Never Gonna Snow Again, its filmmakers and production team could never have predicted the bizarre physical and emotional journey that the indie title would undergo across the next 11 months as it was finished and then unveiled amidst a global pandemic.
The film, which played In Competition at the Venice Film Festival in September and was scheduled to premiere at Telluride before the event was cancelled, is hoping to get Poland another seat at the Oscar nomination table much like Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War and Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi did in 2018 and 2019 respectively, even if this year’s seat will be a virtual one.
Born out of an idea from established Polish helmer Malgorzata Szumowska and cinematographer Michal Englert, who have worked together on films such as Berlin Silver Bear winner Mug and last year’s English-language title The Other Lamb, Never Gonna Snow Again marks the first time the duo have co-written and co-directed a project together. The story stars Alec Utgoff as Zhenia, a quiet but hypnotic masseur from the Ukraine who changes the lives of residents in an affluent neighborhood just outside of Warsaw.
The $2.8M (€2.3M) Polish-German co-production was produced by the duo alongside Lava Films’ Mariusz Wlodarski and Agnieszka Wasiak, The Match Factory’s Viola Fügen and Michael Weber and co-produced by Kino Swait, Di Factory, Bayerishcer Rundfunk/Arte, the Mazovia Warsaw Film Commission and supported by the Polish Film Institute, Film and Medienstiftung NRW, DFFF and the German Polish Film Fund.
“It was a pretty straightforward finance out of European funds,” says Fügen. “We were happy that we didn’t need to find equity as we were able to finance it through soft money. Additionally, throughout the entire process we all benefited from having an eye-level partnership. Usually with co-productions that are set up like this, there is one main producer and minority co-producers but in our case we really kept it an equal partnership.”
Shot in Poland and Germany from December 2019 to February 2020, the title was about to commence the editing process before Covid-19 brought European countries to a standstill.
“We were amazingly lucky to have finished shooting and be picture locked when the first lockdowns happened in Poland and Germany back in March,” recalls Wlodarski. “We joined Malgo and Michal with Cold War editor Jaroslaw Kaminski and even though they worked remotely in two different cities, we managed to organise it very quickly. It wasn’t the most ideal situation, but it all went very smoothly.”
Sound post-production was planned to go ahead in Germany but this proved to be too risky in the midst of travel restrictions, so the entire post-production was moved to Poland. “That was the only major thing we needed to handle within that process, [which was] great all things considered,” he says.
But Wlodarski, who is also a producer on Greece’s Oscar contender Apples, admits that it’s been a difficult journey for non-English language independent films like his that rely so heavily on festival exposure, audience engagement and buzz.
“There’s something that you definitely feel is being taken away from you,” he says. “I dreamt of being in Telluride – it was one of the festivals that I had always wanted to go to and feel the atmosphere. When my two films were selected, I was absolutely over the moon but when they canceled the festival it was the first moment I knew how strange and hard this year might become for these films. When the physical premiere actually happened in Venice, we were so happy to meet people and see their reaction. It was so energising.”
Szumowska and Englert agreed that the Venice premiere was an unforgettable experience. “It’s so important for filmmakers to have this chance,” the duo say. “It was intimate and while we were of course disappointed that we couldn’t be in Telluride, London and many more fantastic festivals, we understand the situation. It’s a painful experience for filmmakers not to be able to present their movies in the cinema. However, we are optimistic given the films reception so far and hope that when we conquer this virus, art house and indie projects will thrive.”
Off of the back of Venice, Never Gonna Snow Again benefitted from stellar reviews and buoyant sales for the title. The Match Factory’s Head of Sales Thania Dimitrakopoulou says the physical event was “a gift for the cinema world.”
“Everyone was longing for the moment again to discover films in movie theaters and meet talent, exchange opinions on the films and the live buzz that only a physical festival can offer,” she says.
Füger adds: “We had great revenues on the film and great offers. It felt like it couldn’t have gone much better considering how tough the last year has been.”
Kino Lorber picked up the title in the US with sales also concluded in the UK and Ireland (Picturehouse), Italy (I Wonder), Germany (Real Fiction), Benelux (September Film), Palace Films (Australia/New Zealand), CIS (Capella Film), Taiwan (Hooray Films) and Brazil (Imovision). IFA Cinema picked up rights for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Promoting films for Oscar entry feels unsurprisingly distant, notes Wlodarski, and having been a first assistant director on Pawlkowski’s 2013 Oscar winner Ida, he’s seen the buzz and momentum a film can have on the other side of the coin. “I remember this process of being part of a global environment, speaking to people around you and it felt like there was so much opportunity,” he says. “This whole Zoom and conference call thing doesn’t really compensate so it’s hard emotionally on that level.”
“We all on a bit of a blind walk,” says Fügen. “We are working hard to get the film in front of people and get their attention but never being with people in the same room or feeling a response just makes it so much harder to understand. I cannot get on Zoom the same emotional response I could get if I was with people in the same space. It does leave an uncertainty of what’s real and what’s not.”