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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Maleszka Magic

Polish director Andrzej Maleszka has been a stand-out at PRIX JEUNESSE as long as I’ve been attending. In either 1998 or 1990, he brought a brilliant game show, set in a wooded park, in which mixed teams of Polish children who spoke no German and German children who spoke no Polish had to find ways to communicate to complete tasks.

Only a few years later, his genius as a drama director began to emerge. “Jakub” was the story of a boy sent out for milk who returns with a cow. “Kitten” featured a little girl who, disappointed that she got a cat instead of a dog for her birthday, wakes the next morning to find she can only speak ‘cat.’ “Tele-Julia” continued Maleszka’s love of magic, as an enchanted hat turned into a mega-TV antenna, and compelled the girl wearing it to act out whatever was currently on TV.

Maleszka has a winning streak at PRIX JEUNESSE dating to 2004 with his “Magic Tree” anthology series. The link among the films for TV Poland is that each traces the ultimate fate of some piece of a magic tree, that itself carries a bit of the magic. So, in “The Sceptre” (2006), two boys fight, with predictable results, over a baton that allows whoever holds it to compel others to do as they say. In “The Wooden Dog,” a boy’s sled runs by itself, since he’s allergic to dogs.

In 2008, Maleszka may be up for a “three-peat.” In a highly competitive category, people in the discussion groups loved “Devourer of Books,” where books put into a magic cupboard are magically turned into luscious cakes that imbue those who eat them with all the book’s contents. The class’ non-reader suddenly becomes the academic quiz champion, but was it magic…or just newfound confidence?

Much of Maleszka’s directing magic comes from his longstanding technique of spending a long time in workshops with his child actors, giving them time to become comfortable together.

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