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Jan AP Kaczmarek is dead. We owe it to him to ensure that Transatlantyk does not disappear from the cultural map of Poland

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On February 27, 2005, Jan AP Kaczmarek received an Oscar from John Travolta for the music to the film “Finding Neverland”. He then defeated such giants as John Williams and Thomas Newman. When we were talking on the phone and I was congratulating him on the golden statuette, he exclaimed: “You know, it's nice that John Travolta managed to use my name. But the most important thing is that 'Poland!' came from the stage.” The artist is remembered by Justyna Kobus, a film journalist.

For years, we have been planning to write a book – an interview – a book that would be a record of Jan AP Kaczmarek's artistic path, not so obvious at all. We only managed to agree on what we wouldn't talk about (the day he got it Oscar), because we exhausted the topic in dozens of interviews I conducted with Jan for subsequent editorial offices. We were supposed to “call” to find out the details.

Already then, Jan had the first symptoms of an as yet undiagnosed disease. He then thought that he had Lyme disease and that it was the cause of the ailments. Only after some time it turned out that it was MSA, i.e. multi-system atrophy, a very rare neurological disease whose symptoms resemble Parkinson's disease. Unfortunately, it is incurable.

Warrior type

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The illness meant that there was no talk about the book, but I remember that he was getting ready to work on the music for Philippe Caland's film “Wink”. When I look at the project's website now, I see that despite his serious illness, he still managed to finish it.

READ ALSO: Jan AP Kaczmarek: The American Film Academy has identity problems

Because he never gave up for a moment. He fought like a lion because that's just who he was. He learned to fight for himself in America, where he was not immediately noticed. As his wife, Aleksandra Twardowska, aptly wrote, Kaczmarek “was a warrior type.” Anyone who knew Jan better could not imagine him in a wheelchair, immobilized by illness. He was a volcano of energy and ideas, which he usually – like the Transatlantyk festival or the Rozbitek Institute, organized by him on the model of the Sundance Festival – brought to an end.

I remember when the idea for Rozbitek was born, and with what passion and enthusiasm he implemented his project. He spotted a ruined palace near Poznań, which he thoroughly renovated and made his headquarters. He brought artists and producers from overseas to meet and talk with “young, talented” people.

The projects were successful because Jan, apart from his musical talent, also had a social streak and a need to share with others contacts, ideas, everything that would facilitate the careers of people in whom he saw potential. Already an Oscar winner for the music for the film “Finding Neverland” by Marc Forster, in 2011 he organized the Transatlantyk Festival, which he said was aimed at “creating stronger connections between society, art and the environment through music and film.” The first Master Classes during the festival took place in Rozbitek.

Jan AP Kaczmarek with OscarJeffrey Mayer/GettyImages

Almost a diplomat

We met at the “Ale Kino” festival in Poznań in 2002, where we both served as jurors. Jan was not yet “the composer with an Oscar”, but he was already well known also in… Hollywood. Charismatic, aware of his own value, but extremely open to people, not creating distance. Years later, I think that the specificity of his talent (and character) was determined by a rare combination of two features – Slavic romanticism and American panache. He was born with the former, and contracted the latter after years of working in Hollywood.

And maybe the fact that before he became a musician, he dreamed of becoming… a diplomat. That's why he graduated in law, which he quickly forgot about. Great class, erudition and ability to talk to people remained. Like few people, he also knew how to listen.

In 2002, he already had great successes as a creator of film music. First of all, to “Unfaithful” by Adrian Lyne with Diane Lane and Richard Gere (2002), without which this moving thriller would not have such a powerful impact. In my opinion, this is the greatest work by Jan AP Kaczmarek. But even before that, he wrote the music for “Total Eclipse” Agnieszka Holland with young Leonardo DiCaprio. It was this proposal – the story of the difficult relationship between Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud – that became a breakthrough in his “American career”.

Interestingly, it came at a time when he wanted to return to Poland, because as he told me: “I lived mainly thanks to credit cards, on which the overdrafts were still growing.” And the father of four children didn't have it easy. At that time, he wrote music mainly for the theater, for experimental performances. But he dreamed of composing symphonic music. Cinema gave him such a chance. After that, he also worked with the Polish director on “Washington Square” and “The Third Miracle”. He also wrote the music for the award-winning melodrama “Aimee and the Jaguar”.

And then came an offer to work on “Finding Neverland”, from which the producer almost withdrew. Apparently he found the Pole's songs “too sad”. To convince him, he wrote a short three-minute song, as he said, “the most optimistic in my career.” With his own money, he recorded it with a symphony orchestra. He got the job.

On February 27, 2005, he received the Oscar from John Travolta. It is worth adding that he defeated such giants as John Williams and Thomas Newman. When we talked on the phone the next day and I congratulated him on the golden statuette, he exclaimed: “You know, it's nice that John Travolta managed to use my name. But the most important thing is that 'Poland!' was also said from the stage.”

A frame from the film “Finding Neverland” with the Oscar-winning music of a PoleNG Collection / Interfoto / Forum

When I asked him what an Oscar gives an artist, apart from prestige and a chance for higher fees, he said: “I will say this: in my current work, it sometimes, paradoxically, hinders more than it helps. It disrupts already established relationships between people and complicates them. People start to think about you. that you are probably difficult, capricious or too expensive now. However, looking more broadly, the fact of being an Oscar winner certainly helps its owner. In my case, I received orders for large concert and symphonic works that I might not have received. if it weren't for the Oscar. It opened the way to – let's call it – a serious career. What I achieved, largely thanks to the Oscar, is, of course, the Transatlantyk festival – an event that has entered the calendar of major artistic events in the country “.

I think we owe it to him to ensure that Transatlantyk does not disappear from the cultural map of Poland.

Author:Justyna Kobus

Main photo source: PAP/Adam Warżawa



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