GDANSK, Poland — Eminent domain, strictly speaking, is a legal term--an elegant euphemism for the right of the state to appropriate all property within its frontiers. As applied in Communist countries before the dramatic events of recent months, eminent domain also included the lives, emotions and hopes of the people who lived there.
Now, it is the title of a film being made by an international cast and crew looking at events in Poland that could not have possibly been looked at from inside that country . . . until now.
"Eminent Domain," which is being directed by an Englishman from a script written by a Polish-American, with financing from a Japanese company and starring Donald Sutherland and Anne Archer, is the story of a Communist Party official who has been deemed by the Party as a "non-person" and, in planning his escape from the country, has to deal with the threat of betrayal from those closest to him.
The film is based on fact: much of what happens on screen actually took place in the family of screenwriter Androej Krakowski, whose father was high up in the Polish government and then became a non-person--not once, but twice. Krakowski is now an American citizen living in Upstate New York. He was one of the writers of "Triumph of the Spirit," which was set in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
The fact that the current government of Poland gave permission for the film to be shot entirely in the country shows vividly how things have changed behind that jagged line for so long known as the Iron Curtain. It is the first time such a film has been made.
Six years ago when the producer Shimon Arama and Krakowski first started to look for locations they focused on Munich, Berlin, Stockholm, even the Irish capital of Dublin. Then suddenly there was a change. Poland could be used and a studio was even available for $15 a day, a good deal even if neither electricity nor equipment came with it. The unit settled on two stages and provided their own ice box for food and furniture for the office.
The director, John Irvin ("Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"), is English, and stars Donald Sutherland and Anne Archer are Americans. The cast also includes 14-year-old Johdi May, who portrayed Barbara Hershey's daughter in the internationally acclaimed anti-apartheid film, "A World Apart."
The budget is $7.5 million, a half or a third as much as it would have been had "Eminent Domain" been filmed in Paris, and considerably less even than it would have cost in Yugoslavia where government subsidies to filmmakers are generous. The money comes from Japanese electronics giant Sony, through a New York subsidiary, in a venture being done completely outside its Columbia Pictures operation in Hollywood.
Even now, Irvin finds it difficult to believe he has actually been allowed to take his cameras into Poland and shoot the film.
"I wake up every morning thinking, this can't be true," he said. "The first week I really thought a group of sinister men would arrive one day and say, 'Can we have your film? Get to the airport and get out.' Two years ago, it just wouldn't have been possible at all."
For Androej Krakowski, the realization is even stranger. His father, Jozef, had been a Resistance fighter during the war and then became an official high up in the Polish government.
"Twice he was removed from high positions and became a non-person," Krakowski said. "The first time was when he was commissar for food, but he refused an order to nationalize all the butchers' shops because he said then there would be no meat.
"My father told me of the case of a friend who had actually been minister of agriculture and ruined all the agriculture in Poland. So they made him minister of culture instead. That is what it was like. The first time my father became a non-person I was only 3, but it happened again when I was 10 and I remember it well.
"My father had become head of tourism at this time and he was told to prepare a list of Jews to be purged. My father was Jewish, my mother was not. He refused. He was arrested between his house and his office. I came home to find the police searching our home.
"He was imprisoned for months. They charged him with just about everything. The irony was that they couldn't say officially it was because he had refused to get rid of the Jews. They claimed that the car he had, one of the two Mercedes in the country at the time, was a result of currency fraud. In fact it was a gift from the prime minister of the time."