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Film composers aren’t known as the most gregarious, outgoing of people. But don’t tell Jan Kaczmarek that.
As the founder and creative director of The Transatlantyk Film & Music Festival, which kicked off Wednesday night in the Polish city of Poznan, the Oscar-winner appeared completely at ease as the host of the opening night gala at the historic University of Adam Mickiewicz Hall.
Casually interacting with the audience – in both Polish and English – Kaczmarek helped launch the fest on a high-spirited note as he introduced film clips and musical performances from the Poznan-based Autumn Orchestra, which was accompanied by a rousing accordion-only group called The Motion Trio.
“He was like Ryan Seacrest up there,” quipped producer Richard Gladstein (Pulp Fiction, Finding Neverland), who was in town to lend support to his friend and frequent collaborator.
Now in its second year, the Translantyk Fest was founded by Kaczmarek to become a “festival of ideas” by celebrating film music and offering support to emerging film composers. With roughly $50,000 in prizes spread across various competitions, the fest offers attendees a wide-ranging program that includes screenings of classic and contemporary films, a strong documentary focus, lectures, master classes and live performances.
Highlights this year include a Master Class from composer Mark Isham (Warrior, A River Runs Through It), a discussion of film music technique with Richard Bellis, author of “The Emerging Composer: An Introduction to the People, Problems and Psychology of the Film Music Business” and a performance from British actor Julian Sands of Celebration of Harold Pinter, a one actor show he prepared with John Malkovich.
It’s all part of a vision that Kaczmarek says began with a desire to give back to a city he calls home.
“I studied here and all my children were born here,” Kaczmarek told The Hollywood Reporter. “I highly identify with the city. I started my career as a theater composer and then as a film composer right here in Poznan. This city has a great tradition. This is a city that had a successful uprising against the German occupation; the beginning of independent Poland began right here in 1918. There is a great energy and spirit that remains here.”
Kaczmarek is especially pleased with the fest’s Transatlantyk Instant Competition, in which aspiring composers are tasked with quickly composing music to accompany a six minute film clip they have just viewed for the first time. Once fest organizers have narrowed the field of applicants to ten, the event pays for all travel expenses for the nominees.
“The response to this has been global – we get people from all over the world, including Hong Kong, China, America and of course Europe,” Kaczmarek says. “It is very unique – there is nothing like it in the world. It is all about an immediate response — a composer watches a film clip and then he or she goes into another room and composes something connected to the film.”
That commitment to fostering talent led to a partnership with the Sundance Film Festival. Sundance Music Program director Peter Golub, who has returned to Poznan after attending the inaugural Transatlantyk fest last year, says he sees similarities between Kazmarek and Sundance founder Robert Redford.
“Jan says this is a festival of ideas and that appeals to us,” says Golub. “As director of the Sundance Music Labs I see emerging talent from all over. What Jan is doing here is analogous to what Redford has done through the Sundance Institute because it provides an exhibition platform for talent as well as an educational experience.”
While Kaczmarek may not have the global name recognition of Redford, in Poznan he is clearly the star of the show and its driving force. Alternating between his duties as the event’s director and his composing work, Kaczmarek says he has no trouble moving between the solitary world of film composing and the more social demands of overseeing an international film festival.
“It engages two different parts of my brain,” he says. “When I am composing I can’t even talk. Suddenly my verbal abilities are diminished. Then something switches and I enjoy being verbal and interacting with people and doing this kind of thing.”
For producer Gladstein however, Kaczmarek’s busy schedule is a cause for concern. After all, Kaczmarek is still putting the finishing touches on the score for Gladstein’s next project, a drama called The Time Being, which will have it’s world premiere at the Toronto Film in just a few weeks.
At a press conference prior to the opening night gala, Gladstein drew laughs when he playfully wondered aloud if Kaczmarek would find the time to finish the score.
“Then it occurred to me,” he said, “this festival is filled with composers! Maybe I’ll come away with two or three other scores.”
The Transatlantyc Film & Music Festival runs Aug. 15-22.