Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Fourth Partition / Czwarta Dzielnica [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

The Fourth Partition / Czwarta Dzielnica [2013] (directed and cowritten by Adrian Prawica along with Rafał Muskała) is a locally made documentary that played to packed audiences at the recent 25th Annual Polish Film Festival in America held here in Chicago where it won a Discovering Eye Award for Emerging Artists.

The documentary is about the Polish American community in the United States, and above all, in Chicago at the turn of the 20th Century and then its contribution to the creation of the modern state of Poland.  Recently, we had the honor and pleasure of hosting the "South Side Premier" of the film here at Annunciata Parish on Chicago's South East Side to an audience of about 200 people.  Most of them were parishioners, the vast majority were from or descended from the Polish American community of Chicago's South Chicago Neighborhood (bordering the Steel Works nearby) that figured so prominently in the film.

The film makes the point that by the early part of the 20th Century, there were four million Polish immigrants living in the United States, a good portion of them settling in Chicago (which even today is home to more people of Polish descent than the Polish capital city of Warsaw).  These Polish immigrants settled in three key neighborhoods in Chicago: the "Polish Downtown" of Chicago's near North-Side anchored by the two churches St. Stanislaus Kostka (to this day the "Mother Church" of the Polish Community in Chicago) and Holy Trinity, and then The Back of the (Stock) Yards neighborhood on Chicago's South-West Side and tthe South Chicago neighborhood by the Steel mills of Chicago's Far South-East Side.  Both the The Back of the Yards and South Chicago neighborhoods had their key Polish Churches as well, in South Chicago they would have been St. Michael's, Immaculate Conception (both pictured in the film) as well as St. Bronislawa (which was not).

One of the outstanding features of this film was that its makers truly went to the right people to discuss each of these three neighborhoods.  In each case, they leaned-on historians who besides being of Polish American ancestry actually grew-up in the neighborhoods that they were asked to discuss: Victoria Granacki with regard to the old Polish Downtown, Dominic Pacyga of Columbia College with regard to The Back of the Yards and Rod Sellers of the S.E. Side Historical Society in regards to South Chicago.  Each explained what it was like to live in these neighborhoods in their heyday, Victoria Granacki talked about the rivalry that existed between the two anchor "Polish" churches of her neighborhood -- St. Stanislaus Kostka being the more religiously oriented parish, Holy Trinity being more nationalistic.  Dominic Pacyga talked about the smell associated with living quite literally "down wind" from the largest stockyards / meat processing facilities in the country at the time, Rod Sellers of flames and soot that hung-over South Chicago when the Steel mills were still rolling.  They talked of the taverns (and of the funeral parlors) that fought to place themselves as close as possible to the Steel Mills' / Stockyards' gates.  And they all talked of the generosity of those Polish immigrants both with regards to building those enormous Catholic Churches in their neighborhoods, and then supporting both with money and finally even with blood the independence aspirations of their countrymen that they left back home in Poland.  There were Polish American units in the U.S. Army during World War I that later transferred over to Poland after it gained independence (and had to defend that independence) in the years after that war.

The film-makers ultimate argument, encapsulated already in the title of the film, was that with so many Polish immigrants living in the United States at the time of Polish independence (already 4 million) this community could be called  Poland's "Fourth Partition," Poland having been (in)famously carved-up (partitioned) by Prussia, Russia and Austria over the course of the previous two hundred years.

The larger, more implicit point made by the film would be that EVEN TODAY IT SHOULD BE DIFFICULT to talk of Poland, especially in a cultural context (and perhaps even in a political context), without taking into account THE HUGE EXPATRIATE COMMUNITY and THE DESCENDANTS OF THOSE FIRST IMMIGRANTS / EXPATRIATES (as many as 22 million) living outside of its borders, AND THAT A SIMILAR POINT COULD BE MADE WITH REGARDS TO ALL KINDS OF OTHER EXPATRIATE/IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES AS WELL.  To my smiling Czech-descended ears, the Czech and Slovak communities of Chicago are explicitly mentioned in particular in the film.  However, the same argument could be made with regards to the Lithuanian community in the United States, THE IRISH, and even the Mexican, Puerto Rican, Filipino and Vietnamese communities with large presences in the States.  In recent weeks THE UKRAINIAN COMMUNITY in the United States, and again especially in Chicago, has been in the news... in regards to all the news that's been recently coming out of their home country).  On the flip side, truth be told, there's a large U.S. expatriate population now living all around the globe.  It all makes for an interesting argument in a world that is becoming more globalized by the year.

Needless to say, the film was very well received even immediately beloved here at my Parish.  There are technical issues that could be improved.  Some of the captions are of a font that was hard to read.  The names of the some of the historians interviewed in the film are only given at the end the film, rather than given when they first appear. 

But these are relatively small matters when compared to the larger triumph of this work.  We had the entire Polish American portion of our parish here ENORMOUSLY GRATEFUL that two local film makers proved interested in beginning to tell their story.  And many had suggestions for future projects:  What about the Polish American Community in Chicago during World War II and during the Solidarność Era?   What about simply life at the Steel Mills here?  I added that with all house blessings that we've done here over the years, that perhaps a good horror film of sorts could made out of those stories.  In good part I'm kidding of course, but there are certainly some very good stories here from among the parishioners of all ethnicities of our parish.

Since beginning this blog, I've always been a fan of "smaller works" and a booster of all things local.  The annual Polish Film Festival in America held here in Chicago is jewel here (as are the European Union Film Festival and the Black Harvest Festival organized annually by the Gene Siskel Center and Chicago's Latino Film Festival which is again one of the largest of its kind in the United States and organized annually by the Int'l Latino Cultural Center here).  None of this is an accident.  Centrally located on our continent, Chicago has been a cross-roads and a destination for immigrants, be they from Europe or from the South (Mexico or even Mississippi / Louisiana), for those looking for a better life.   So good job folks, good job.  I wish you well and certainly a film about Chicago's Polish Community during World War II and the Solidarity Era would be worth the view.

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