Małopolska in a movie, or will Kraków live to see James Bond?

A bird’s eye view of the Vistula River flowing through Kraków
This is tourism for connoisseurs and explorers, the so-called cultural tourists. However, the outdoors seen in films can become a great impulse for cognition. Just as, after the premiere of the last James Bond film, tourists flocked to Matera, Italy, and those interested in the film "Schindler's List" came, and still come, to Kraków. Małopolska and Kraków have been featured in many films. These places are worth seeing!

Steven Spielberg on the streets of Kraków - the magic of cinema

Today’s film productions are not just a business in cinema, they are a huge promotional force. Places where “Game of Thrones”, “Harry Potter”, further scenes from the Narnia stories or the last part of “Star Wars” were shot attract hundreds of thousands of tourists who not only visit but also buy millions of souvenirs. Some scenes of the Narnia stories were shot in the Stołowe Mountains, and the famous set of the escape from the White Witch on the frozen lake was created on the Siemianowski Lake in Podlasie.

Such a wave of interest in Kraków was triggered by “Schindler’s List”, filmed in our city in the early 1990s, telling the story of a German industrialist who saved the lives of around 1,200 Polish citizens of Jewish origin during World War II. This story, which is as true as can be, was partly filmed in the natural scenery of Kraków’s Kazimierz district (a city game about Kazimierz) and Podgórze. The film, which Steven Spielberg himself directed, brought Kraków global fame, and to this day, “Schindler’s Factory” is known worldwide. The former “Emalia” factory in Podgórze, which was administered by Schindler during the war and in which a Polish-Jewish crew worked. Today, it houses a branch of the Kraków Museum (one of the best museum spaces in the city), with an exhibition on World War II. Schindler’s office is also arranged here.

Interestingly, during the Second World War in Kraków, the Austrian industrialist Julius Madritsch helped Jews on an even larger scale. Spielberg, however, gave a nod to the memory of Madritsch, placing him as an episodic character in his film.

Jim Carrey on the streets of Kraków, following the trail of crime and criminality

Kraków can also be seen in a Hollywood film starring Jim Carrey. This is the most significant international production to have been made in Poland. In “True Crimes”, the main role is played by the Canadian-American star Jim Carrey (“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”, “The Mask”, “Dumb and Dumber”, “The Truman Show”, “The Man in the Moon”), who gets more serious with age and successfully moves into areas of significant dramatic roles. He is partnered by, among others, Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of the legendary Serge Gainsbourg Jane Birkin, and with the Polish actors Agata Kulesza, Zbigniew Zamachowski and Robert Więckiewicz.

“True Crimes” is a psychological thriller inspired by Polish history. At the beginning of the 20th century, Krystian Bala, a writer from Wrocław, published a thriller novel whose plot consisted of a murder committed by the writer. A few years later, Bala was sentenced to 25 years for killing his wife’s lover in a circumstantial trial. The film shows the charming streets of Kraków, and the aura of mystery may attract people from all over the world. All the more so as the gloominess of Kraków’s backstreets can also be seen in “Czerwony pająk” / “Red Spider”, a film by Marcin Koszałka, loosely inspired by the figure of Kraków’s serial killer, Karol Kot.

Kraków has more than once become known as a charming place of film wickedness. One of the best is probably Juliusz Machulski’s “Vinci”, with unique scenes on the terrace of the Academy of Music and on the Vistula Boulevards, where the real fame was won by the building of the police station in Szeroka Street, where the department was dealing with thefts of art and where “Cuma” reported, or the Corpus Christi Basilica (scenes with a bomb planted in it). As we remember, the film tells the story of the attempted theft of the “Lady with an Ermine”, which is in the Princes Czartoryski Museum, with several well-known and authentic Kraków characters appearing in the film.

In turn, Jacek Bromski’s “Uwikłanie” / Entanglement, based on the screenplay by Bromski and Machulski and the novel by Zygmunt Miłoszewski, is a crime story with a clear and brutal theme of not settling accounts with the communist past. We have an actual festival of Kraków landscapes here, with the Pogorzały Castle or the gloomy masses of the former Forum Hotel. Here you can genuinely walk in the footsteps of crime, just like in Krzysztof Krauze’s “Gry uliczne”, 15 years earlier, reporting on the journalist’s investigation into the murder of Stanisław Pyjas. In both these films, ideologically similar, the camera recorded two eras of Kraków, that of before and after the great modernisation.

Our Pope on the streets of Kraków, and the Wild Fields

Where can you make a film about Karol Wojtyła? Only in Kraków, of course. So, from the moment when the world noticed the greatness of Karol Wojtyła, films about him started being made, starting with “Before the Jeweller’s Shop”, a film based on Wojtyła’s poetry, in which Burt Lancaster starred, through great biographies - “From a Far Country” or “Karol. The Man Who Became Pope”. Both in Kraków and throughout the Małopolska region, there are places marked by the presence of Karol Wojtyła - John Paul II. But would you expect that scenes from distant Ukraine could be filmed in Kraków? Indeed, they were. In Kraków, in a flooded quarry in Zakrzówek, Jerzy Hoffman shot the scenes of “Ogniem i mieczem” - Skrzetuski sails down the Dniester River with an envoy to Chmielnicki. This is where the big Cossack canoes were launched and filmed on water from a floating platform. The rest of Skrzetuski’s journey along the Dniester was filmed on Lake Klimkówka, while the scenes from Czechrynia were shot in the Orava Ethnographic Park in Zubrzyca Górna. The journey to the witch Horpyna’s abode was shot in one of Kraków’s valleys, with other scenes in the Bat Cave, and the Bar Fortress was played by the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec.

And who would have expected that Kraków would be promoted to the role of Kalisz - the novel Kaliniec from "Nights and Days" (Oscar nomination in 1975)? (Jerzy Antczak turned Plac Nowy (New Square) in Kazimierz into the centre of a 19th-century town, and we must admit that the place looked very attractive in the film (the production was in the mid-1970s) because in the early 1990s only war times could be filmed here.

There are, of course, film stories that must take place in Kraków, because what city could play Kraków itself, its magical atmosphere? Films like “Spis cudzołożnic” (“The List of Lovers”), “Pogoda na jutro” (“Tomorrow’s Weather”) or “Anioł w Krakówie” (“Angel in Kraków”), which portray the people as well as the city. And where else but in Nowa Huta could Andrzej Wajda’s “Man of Marble” have been made, loosely inspired by the biography of the bricklayer Piotr Orzański, a so-called work leader in Nowa Huta in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In the open air of Małopolska, i.e. holidays with spirits

Małopolska is an endless wealth of landscapes and places inspiring filmmakers. Such as the castle in Pieskowa Skała, which has probably played everything there is to play (from "Stawka większe niż życie", through "Janosik", "Czarne chmury" to "Ogniem i mieczem"). Like the famous river gorge of Białka near Krempachy, the place of, among others, bravura scenes in "Janosik" and the unforgettable image of a mass held on a canoe instead of an altar in "Karol. The Man Who Became Pope". Like the rocks and valleys of Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska, which were once the settings of Polish westerns (yes, there were such!). The above places became famous for their participation is probably the most famous Polish film in the West, namely "The Saragossa Manuscript". About the picture by Wojciech Jerzy Has spoke, among others, Martin Scorsese, Luis Buñuel, David Lynch, Lars von Trier, as one of the greatest films in the world.

Only the administrators of Dunajec Castle in Niedzica on Czorsztyńskie Lake know how to care about fame. During summer holidays, it used to host events reminiscent of Stanisław Jędryka’s cult TV series “Wakacje z duchami” / “Holidays with Ghosts”. Most of the scenes were shot in the local castle and its surroundings. And this was at a time when Lake Czorsztyńskie did not yet exist.

The former station of the Galician Transversal Railway in Kasina Wielka, which has already appreard in more than a dozen films from various eras, including Andrzej Wajda’s “Katyń”, is also a film phenomenon. In addition to the historic station buildings and magnificent landscapes, this place is favoured by the proximity of the open-air Rolling Stock Museum in Chabówka.

James Bond on the streets of Kraków, or what else will Bollywood do to us?

We know that James Bond likes to travel. The crew have filmed in many places worldwide, the closest being Prague. And let’s not forget that Bond likes to mess things up, just like the filmmakers from Bollywood, the Indian dream factory, who shot scenes for the mega-production “Aazaan” in Kraków. It is a Bond-style film with a cast of the biggest stars of Indian cinema. Scenes were shot on Szczepański Square, Krakus Mound, Pijarska and Floriańska streets, Nowy Square, Ludwinów and Balice. They even wanted to blow up the Main Square. Indian cinema, though the biggest in the world, has a weak promotional impact. This was not the only visit of Bollywood guests. They made several films here, one in the Tatras, for example. The Tatra Mountains were also the location of one of the biggest film scandals. In 1987, during shooting of the film “Bermuda Triangle”, a shelter in the Pisana Glade in the Kościeliska Valley was blown up. Polish Tatra Mountains are also the scenery of several Polish films, for example, “Prowokator” / “The Provocateur” by Agnieszka Holland and “Iluminacja” / “Illumination” by Krzysztof Zanussi. 

For lovers of localism, films are often a record of places that no longer exist or have been completely changed. This is true of films from the 1960s and 1970s, to name but a few: “Journey for a Smile” (the first episode), “Jowita”, “How to be loved” or “The treasure of three scoundrels”. We recommend the last one - it’s a real travel in time to Kraków from the early seventies and the still cult, although now defunct, Hotel Cracovia.  

Let us also remember that Kraków is the venue for the Film Music Festival and the Kraków Film Festival.

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Propozycja szlaków pieszych w Małopolsce