“Alternatywy 4” in America

Bringing a TV show from my old home to my new one

Marcin Wichary
4 min readOct 9, 2015

Alternatywy 4 was a nine-episode Polish TV show, finished in 1983, but cleared by censorship only in 1986. It was a cutting satire on late-stage communism, a chronicle of a dozen fictional families moving into a new apartment building, and their struggles: crappy workmanship, bureaucracy, casual corruption, food shortages, power outages, and last — but you bet not least — political aspirations of the always-conniving building manager.

The show was populated by top-notch actors, instantly well-loved by audiences, and thirty years later remains a classic in my homeland.

It has also never made an impression anywhere outside of it.

I decided to change that. Earlier this year, I edited the 9+ hours of the show into a 2h45m standalone entity, translated it, subtitled it, rented a movie theatre in San Francisco, and invited my friends to come and watch.

This teaser trailer will give you an idea of what it was like. (Oh, yes, I made a teaser trailer. What movie event would be complete without a trailer?)

My relationship with my home country is complicated, and ever-changing. While I don’t think I am interested in being an ambassador of all of Polish culture, I occasionally attempt to bring over some things to my new home. I translated a short story by my favourite writer, Stanisław Lem, put his other creations on Google’s homepage, and also wrote about the Polish keyboard and computers I grew up with.

Alternatywy 4, too, felt personal and worth sharing. Why?

  • My ’80s were different than all of my friends’ ’80s. I wanted to be able to talk about one of the cornerstones of my childhood TV watching.
  • I always enjoyed the show and thought it really well done — fascinating on the surface but with substance if you wanted to dig deeper, and today able to provide a rare-in-America glimpse at everyday communism I remember from when I was little.
  • Plus, I’ve always dreamt of having my own event in a movie theatre.
Editing, subtitling, and a frame from the final edit.

I was very proud with how the event turned out. There was authentic communist candy (and serious research into its history), a recreated Polish TV clock, and one crazy presentation experience. It made me happy to see so many of my wonderful friends in the audience, laughing — or not! — at the awkward humour, and supporting my weird labour of love originating in the place and time where “labour” meant something so very different.

Polish candy, brochures, and my intro providing some context and explaining Poland’s uniformity. (Photographs by Ryan Germick.)

I embarked on this project wanting to learn new things (video editing, translation, subtitling), but what surprised me was how much I learned about what I assumed was table stakes: the recent history of my own country. In order to faithfully translate the dialogue, give a little intro talk before the show, and print out the keepsake brochure, I needed to do tons of research into the history of communism in Poland… research that I’ve never done before, and research that taught me a lot.

A few entries from the brochure’s glossary, set in a typeface designed by a Polish designer

Even though the project is over, the above effort and some conversations I had with friends made me realize that other people could enjoy my edit. I am, after all, not the only person from East Europe to move to another continent. Perhaps for others, too, Alternatywy 4 could be a way to connect to their homeland, or their parents’ homeland? Explain their nostalgia? Their weird sense of humour? Or their abnormally high patience for standing in lines?

So, if for any reason you might be interested in showing my edit/translation of “Alternatywy 4” to an audience in your city, contact me at mwichary@gmail.com.

And, if you need more convincing, this trailer will give you an idea of what it was like. (Oh, yes, I made another trailer. What movie event would be complete without multiple trailers?)