A Bear Named Wojtek: Animated film about Polish war hero bear who stayed at Edinburgh Zoo gets green light

The production of a new animated special which tells the tale of a polish war hero bear who went to live out its days at Edinburgh Zoo has been given the green light.

Director Iain Gardner's concept artwork of animated film A Bear Named Wojtek.

Written by Wojciech Lepianka (My Father’s Bike, 2012) and directed by Iain Gardner (The Tannery, 2010), A Bear Named Wojtek, tells of the journey of the orphaned Syrian brown bear Wojtek, brought to Scotland, having been previously adopted by Polish soldiers during World War II.

Throughout the animated special, he becomes a beacon of hope and an emblem of their fate.

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The film has secured the UK voice talents of Bill Paterson (Miss Potter, Truly Madly Deeply), Shauna MacDonald (The Descent, Filth), Piotr Baumann (EastEnders, Coronation Street) and Tomek Borkowy (Doctor Who, Dom), and Marcin Dorocinski (Queen’s Gambit) for the Polish language version.

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Multi-Oscar winning composer Normand Roger (Father and Daughter, The Man Who Planted Trees, The Old Man And The Sea) has agreed to compose and score the music for A Bear Named Wojtek.

The news comes as Filmograf and The Illuminated Film Company have closed on the finance deal of the animated special.

The production is a Polish/UK co-production between the two companies, with production finance from the Polish Film Institute, Screen Scotland, the UK- Government supported Young Audience Content Fund, which is managed by the BFI, with TV Poland and BBC ALBA (with funding from MG ALBA) the commissioning broadcasters.

As part of the finance deal, Illuminated Films has agreed a deal for the international distribution of the animated special.

The production is expected to be completed in Autumn 2022.

The film is being made using computer assisted animation, compositing and special effects software TV Paint, which will create the look and style the director is after.

Co-producer Iain Harvey said: “When Iain Gardner came down to London to tell me of this wonderful story, I confess I was skeptical about the details, but quickly learnt just how important the true events portrayed in this film are to the people of Poland and Scotland.

"It is a bond between the two countries. For once, the magic is real.’

Wojtek who fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944 was known as a gentle bear that cuddled its friends and occasionally would drink beer and smoke cigarettes.

Its comrades in arms, 94-year-old Ludwik Jaszczur, recently closed his leather goods shop in Edinburgh’s Old Town, Leatherwork, after announcing his retirement.

Wojtek ended up in Scotland after the war and Ludwik would regularly visit Edinburgh Zoo to see his comrade in arms.

The Syrian brown bear passed away in 1963 at the age of 21.

A statue stands in Princes Street Gardens to remember the story of Wojtek and the Second Polish Corps.

Co-producer Wlodek Matuszewski: “Wojtek the bear is a cult figure here in Poland and I was so excited when Iain Harvey proposed that we make a film together, based on the amazing art concept of Iain Gardner (director), who is not only an excellent animation artist but also lives in Edinburgh, the place where Wojtek spent the majority of his life.

"With the wonderful script by Wojciech Lepianka and the British-Polish creative team we are going to make a unique film that will make this moving story live again – and famous worldwide.”

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