Oscar-winning composer Jan Kaczmarek on his Transatlantyk Fest and getting back to work
POZNAN, Poland: Composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, who won the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2005 for Marc Forster’s “Finding Neverland,” has put his writing on hold for the last few years to get his latest production off the ground. But now, he’s ready to return to his first love.
Kaczmarek, who also scored such films as “Unfaithful,” “The Visitor,” and “Washington Square,” started the Transatlantyk Festival, a music and film event here, in 2011. The Polish native attended college in Poznan and now splits his time between Poznan and Los Angeles.
“I took a sabbatical from writing,” he says. “Creating and funding the festival was such a big job, I removed myself from writing for three years. I did two movies and one concert work just to keep the flow, but it was a necessary decision to really seriously create this structure that works.”
In its third year, the Aug. 2-9 festival, which draws more than 41,000 people to its series of classes, screenings, scoring competitions and events, will honor Yoko Ono on Aug. 7 with its Glocal (a combo of global and local) Hero Award. Accompanied by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, the 80-year old icon will also perform a selection of her works.
For Kaczmarek, Ono’s work and life beautifully represent the spirit of the festival, which draws attendees from all over Central Europe, and budding composers from around the globe. “We are a festival of film and music, but we define ourselves as a festival of ideas —social, political and culturally. We wanted her for many reasons, she’s also an activist in the peace movement,” he says. He also knows the benefit to having such a name grace his budding conference: “To have an award accepted by a legend certainly has to send a message that, ‘yes, we do something important here.’”
Just as Sundance Film Festival started with the film institute before launching the full festival, Kaczmarek began by launching a film and music institute five years ago in Poznan. “There’s nothing better than hungry people you can feed,” he says. “We’re a big city with a great tradition of academics, great museums, music academy, culinary artists...this is the first capital of Poland from the 10th century, but on the level of film music, this was never an important place on the map.”
With Sundance continuing as the model, Transatlantyk now has a working relationship with the famous Utah festival. “We present a selection of movies chosen by Sundance for us called Sundance at Transatlantyk,” Kaczmarek says. Additionally, Sundance’s music director Peter Golub has attended the Poznan festival every year.
The festival prides itself on its slightly quirky innovation and creativity. The opening gala on Aug. 2 was preceded by a drumming circle to protest GMOs and the disappearance of bees. There is a green carpet instead of a red one to highlight a concern for the environment. In addition to the slate of films accepted into competition, there is a series dedicated to culinary films, and after the film, attendees can have a meal prepared by a chef that ties in with the movie’s theme. There is also a flight of films about bikes.
The festival, which takes over much of the 650,000-person town, makes the most of the large outdoor spaces no more so than for Cinema In Bed, a nightly series of films in a town square viewed on your own queen-sized bed, with your own projector and screen. There are 60 beds and the movie starts at the same time for everyone, but if you want privacy, you can lower the curtains on your bed. “It was my idea, like drive-ins, but beds are much quieter than cars and much more comfortable that cars. If you have a girlfriend, it’s much nicer to kiss her in our bed than in your car,” Kaczmarek jokes.
With Transatlantyk finding its feet, Kaczmarek is very eager to get back to writing music. “It’s what I’m here for,” he says. “It’s how I communicate with the world.” Immediately after the festival, he is meeting with Austrian director, Feo Aladeg (director of “When We Leave,” winner of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival) about her new film about Afghanistan, shot in Afghanistan. “I’m curious as to why she wants me,” he says. “I’m always looking for a challenging project. I love the idea of a new culture and using muscles I didn’t expect I had.”
Like many composers, Kaczmarek is happy to toggle back and forth between film and television. What matters for him is quality. “Television is so good these days, especially American television,” say Kaczmarek, who scored the 2007 “War & Peace” mini-series. “It’s become really brilliant in a way and intellectually stronger, quite often, than the world of features.”
His score for 2009’s “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” and his subsequent live performances of the music in Japan about a Japanese dog who went to the train station every day to greet his master for nine years following the owner’s death has helped make him a star there “They needed a Polish composer for the movie to capture the years of suffering,” he jokes.
He also teases that he’s very popular with “Arab princesses” who loved the movie “Unfaithful” because it was about such a forbidden topic for them.
But he turns very serious when he talks about receiving a letter from a fan in Tehran, who wrote Kaczmarek to tell him that his music kept him from committing suicide. “People play my music a lot when they lose someone, especially [the score to] ‘Washington Square’,” he says. “People play it over and over. I’m very touched.”
Such feedback spurs him to get back to writing. “I want another letter,” he says.