(New York, NY) — The last-minute suspension of a Polish women’s film festival, alongside the firing of Polish cultural director Dariusz Wieromiejczyk, appears to be a ham-fisted attempt to censor the voices of women artists who are telling stories the Polish government does not want to hear, PEN America said today. 

“Herstorie for Women’s Day,” a film screening organized by the film festival HER DOCS, was suspended earlier this month by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. The event was scheduled to take place virtually from March 4 through 8 on the Ninateka website, the streaming service for Poland’s National Film Archive-Audiovisual Institute (FINA). 

On the intended start date of the film festival, the director of FINA, Dariusz Wieromiejczyk, was abruptly dismissed from his position by the Ministry of Culture. Shortly thereafter, Ninateka removed the festival films from its streaming platform and announced the “temporary suspension” of the event. HER DOCS was able to find a new streaming platform on which to host their festival, which is running from March 8 to March 12. Both FINA and the Ministry of Culture made statements denying any connection between suspension of the screening and the content of movies.  

“Just days before International Women’s Day, the Polish Ministry of Culture made the decision to disavow the artistic expression of female filmmakers and to fire the government official who wanted to screen their films,” said Polina Sadovskaya, director of Eurasia Programs at PEN America. “The obvious message ministry officials are sending with this abrupt cancellation is that they neither value nor appreciate the voices of female artists—at least, not the ones who seek to tell stories that shine a critical light on society. We condemn this apparent act of censorship, and applaud HER DOCS’ efforts to continue the film festival.”

“Women have shaped documentary filmmaking in transformative ways since the early years of cinema,” said Julie Trebault, director of Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The pushback against this film festival, which had been planned in celebration of International Women’s Day, has illuminated the struggles of filmmakers and culture professionals in Poland. It is absolutely vital that the international community, especially EU leaders, acknowledge this shameful act of repression and aim to protect artistic freedom in Poland.”  

Public reporting in Poland indicates that it is “likely” that Poland’s Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński had cancelled the festival and fired Wieromiejczyk due to his disapproval over the content of some of the documentaries shown. In particular, according to Wieromiejczyk, the films The Vibrant Village, directed by Weronika Jurkiewicz, and You Are Overreacting, directed by Karina Pasiorkowska, may have aroused the ministry’s ire. Both films, which deal with feminist themes and are set in the region, have already been shown at international film festivals. You Are Overreacting is a film about verbal, physical, and sexual violence against women, and The Vibrant Village is a short film which features a factory in Hungary that makes sex toys. 

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection, a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently released A Safety Guide for Artists, which offers practical tools to help artists navigate risks. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.