‘I didn’t choose Poland; Poland chose me’
Loved by some, disliked by others, British filmmaker Patrick Ney’s internet videos promote Poland in impactful, sometimes controversial, ways.
After eight years of living in Poland, Patrick Ney has built quite an internet reputation. His Facebook videos on Polish history and culture have garnered millions of views. Occasionally people recognise him on the street and say, “Hey, you’re that guy from YouTube!”
Born in Reading, UK, he graduated from Nottingham University with a degree in politics. Most of his jobs in Britain were civil servant roles: he worked for a member of Parliament, a senior minister he describes as “formidable” and “hugely intellectual,” and in various government ministries. Ney visited Poland many times for holidays before deciding to permanently move to Warsaw to be with his then girlfriend. After various roles at the British Embassy, the British Polish Chamber of Commerce and in business, he is now a full-time filmmaker with over 100,000 followers on Facebook and YouTube.
One month he covers the selfless death of Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan monk who traded his life to save another in Auschwitz, the next he makes a video about the strange differences in animal noises between the English and Polish languages. His most popular film to date has been a short biography of Witold Pilecki, the Polish soldier who volunteered to go into Auschwitz, which got 9.5 million views. But his personal favourite is a guerilla marketing film for Poland, ‘Poland is COLD and BORING and NOTHING ever happens’, which received 2 million views… at no cost.
“Thank you for this beautiful video, and thank you for showing the true history of Poland. It is amazing that you uncover small pieces of Polish history,” writes one fan. “Go back to England” says another. Although a large proportion are positive, these two comments summarise the polarisation among his viewers and, in a larger sense, in Poland. One theme remains constant: his love for his newfound country. In his recent TEDxKazimierz talk he said: “I always felt that I didn’t choose Poland; Poland chose me.”
That love for this country was sorely tested when he suffered a serious fracture of the skull in an attack by an unknown assailant in the centre of Warsaw. He regained consciousness in a Polish neurosurgical ward and had to make a difficult choice whether to have an operation on the major blood swelling compressing his brain, or leave it be. “All of the stuff that I was doing, all of the work that I was obsessed about before this attack… none of that mattered at that particular moment. The only thing that mattered were the people I loved,” he shared with his TEDx audience. “Now the films that I make … have to in some way help other people … and just create love.” He now focuses on his films’ production with a renewed energy and hopes that at the end of his life, all his work will have been worth the effort.
Interview with the PM
“My name is Patrick, I’m a filmmaker, today is Friday, and I’ve just found out that I’ve got an interview with the Polish Prime Minister on Sunday. I haven’t got very long to prepare,” said Ney in a short video-documentary detailing his preparation process for the most important interview of his career. Unfortunately, not everyone responded as enthusiastically as Ney to the final interview, and the internet exploded with criticism from enraged viewers. “My mistake was that I kind of presented him as if he was a World War II hero, and I probably should have had a little bit more journalistic rigour,” Ney said.
Morawiecki’s statements that he was arrested and beaten whilst active in the Solidarity movement were derided by many viewers – unsurprising given the polarised political scene in Poland – and clearly hurt Ney. Despite admitting he didn’t push Morawiecki as a journalist would have done, he is adamant that he didn’t set out to conduct a ‘political’ interview. He was evidently fascinated by Morawiecki’s story: “He’s the teenager who became the rebel who became the business owner who became the bank owner who became the prime minister. That’s a story.”
His frenetic work rate sometimes costs him personally. He broke a promise to his family to spend the weekend with his two daughters, Zofia and Mia, to interview the PM. “I said to my wife, ‘After the birth of our daughter, I will make no more films until the end of the year.’ Within a week, I was already working on my next film.” Asked if he’ll ever retire from creative endeavours, he replies, “Never, ever, ever. Forever, and ever and ever… Maybe it’ll be singing, or books, but I’ll be creating something right up until five minutes before I pop my clogs, 100%.” He has big plans: he aims to start a new channel to show Polish history in a non-partisan way, focusing on major figures who he sees as heroes, and he is in talks to make a short series covering 350 years of history, with a focus on World War II. Whether he will have an impact on Polish history remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Ney is a man with several plans.