In June 1976, Poland's Communist government announced dramatic increases in food prices. The resulting protests set in motion a resurgence in activism and opposition that would eventually lead to the downfall of the regime.
In Ursus, just outside of Warsaw, outraged workers blocked train traffic. In Radom, they burned down the local headquarters of the Communist Party. The protests were spontaneous. But almost immediately, a group of intellectuals and workers banded together to form K.O.R. - the Workers Defense Committee. Active from 1976 to 1981, it clandestinely produced uncensored newspapers, provided financial and legal aid to fired workers, and tirelessly advocated for truly independent unions that could defend workers' rights.
This documentary accompanies Henryk Wujec and Jan Lity?ski - two key K.O.R. activists - as they meet with old comrades, scour archival materials and retrace the history of this influential movement.
Joanna Szczesna recalls putting together the underground Information Bulletin - surreptitiously hand-printed by volunteers - with a determination to tell only the truth. Auto plant worker Kobylka Wieslaw recalls being arrested for hooliganism after the protests, and how the experience changed his life: "In 1976 I became immune to Communism. I stopped being afraid."
Directed by Joanna Grudzinska, whose activist parents were forced into exile in 1981, K.O.R. captures the vibrant idealism and energy that informed Poland's dissidents in the late 1970s. The documentary traces how the links forged between workers and intellectuals were consolidated in the shipyards of Gdansk in 1980, with the founding of the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) union and the leadership of Lech Walesa.
Until now, few in the West have been familiar with the pivotal role played by dissidents in the turbulent years leading up to the founding of Solidarity. K.O.R provides an insider's look at these critical years and the people who would set the stage for the end of Communist rule.
"Highly Recommended. ...Joanna Grudzinska’s film brings together, three of K.O.R.’s founding and most active members, Jan Litynski, Henryk Wujec, and Joanna Szczesna, to tell the story of an organization that was truly Solidarnosc in embryo. With almost no contemporary footage to go by, the film relies on its protagonists’ recollections, dozens of still photos, readings from issues of Robotnik, and prose paragraphs on an otherwise black screen to advance the story. Nevertheless—and this is one of the film’s chief strengths—the portraits of Litynski, Wujec and Szezesna that emerge are strangely, admirably powerful—in their subjects’modest heroism, in their profound humanity. ...radiates the very purest kind of idealism—in all directions." —Educational Media Reviews Online
2010 Cinéma du Réel Film Festival
"K.O.R. [is] a wise, fresh, intimate, and nuanced exploration of the vibrancy and idealism of the Polish democratic opposition in the late 1970's. ...What distinguishes the film is its underlying theme of generational transmission. Grudzinska, whose parents were active in KOR and Solidarity, collects the memories of her parents' friends...whom she knew from childhood. ...In a refreshing departure from the static talking-heads documentaries, the filmmaker and her protagonists arranged their scenes to underscore the importance, not only of people and events, but of place. ...Grudzinska's film is a valuable teaching companion to academic course work, introducing personalities and themes and making opposition history accessible."—Shana Penn, Graduate Theological Union, University of California, Berkeley, Slavic Review, Spring 2012