Scenarzysta i reżyser filmów animowanych, producent, pedagog.
Kucia graduated from the Faculty of Painting and Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków in 1967. He also studied at the Film Drawing Studio of the same university, which he has also been in charge of since 1981. Since 1970 he has been associated with the Animated Film Studio in Kraków. He debuted as an animated film director in 1972 with The Return. He created the artwork for all of his films. Since 1992, Kucia has also produced them. He is a member of the board of directors of the Association Internationale du Film d’Animation (ASIFA) and was its vice-chairman from 1994 to 1997. He runs the annual International Animated Film Workshop in Kraków. Kucia has lectured at many film schools, including in Vancouver, London and Mumbai. As a graphic artist, he has participated in many exhibitions, including the International Graphics Biennale in Kraków. Jerzy Kucia also makes short advertising forms, for example for MTV and for the Oberhausen International Film Festival.
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Kucia has been awarded many times at international and national film festivals. He won the Main Prize at the Oberhausen International Film Festival for his film Parade, the Golden Dragon Grand Prix at the International Film Festival in Kraków for Through the Field, the Platinum Dash at the National Festival of Authorial Animated Films in Kraków for Tuning Instruments, considered the best film of the 10th anniversary edition of the festival. He has been awarded several times by the Ministry of Culture and Art for outstanding achievements in the field of animated film. He has also won MTV’s Bronze Award, the Promex – British Design Awards, as well as awards at the Holland Animation Film Festival in Utrecht and the Internet Animation Festival Award. He is one of the world’s best-known Polish creators of animation, and his films have been shown at many retrospectives, including those in Zagreb, Clermont - Ferrand, London, Cannes, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and on BBC television. As a proof of his recognition, he was also the only representative of Polish cinematography to be invited to participate in the world exhibition The Art of Animated Film, organised in 1981 by Quebec’s Filmotheque and Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts.
Kucia has made only a dozen or so animated films. However, he is considered to be the most interesting and outstanding Polish animation filmmaker to debut in the 1970s and 1980s, alongside Piotr Dumała. After the presentations at the 29th MFFK in Kraków, Zdzisław Pietrasik wrote:
What Piotr Dumała ('Franz Kafka') and Jerzy Kucia ('Through the Field') showed in Kraków are the truest peaks of animation. ('Polityka' 23/1992)
Kucia’s film debut The Return, which Andrzej Kossakowski called ‘a poetic impression on the topic of loneliness’ (Polski Film Animowany 1945-1974, 1977), was highly acclaimed by the critics as an original work in which the modest form carries a huge load of expression. This simple story about a man riding a train into the past, into the house of his dreams, was sometimes compared to Daniel Szczechura’s famous film The Voyage. However, as Marcin Giżycki pointed out (Nie Tylko Disney: Rzecz o Filmie Animowanym / ‘Not Only Disney: A Thing About Animated Film, 2000), while Szczechura provokes with his monotonous film, Kucia invites the viewer on a similar, if not the same journey, to his memories, to break away from the monotonous reality. What’s more, the monotony and repetitiveness serve him as a medium to evoke the past. The director said (Kwartalnik Filmowy 19-20/1997) that by making a film he sends certain signals to the viewer, but also allows him to receive them in his own way. His purpose is to create ‘an individual image using the viewer’s internal experience’.
In the materials prepared by the Polish Filmmakers Association for their retrospective of 55 years of Polish animation, Jerzy Kucia is described as:
[…] probably the most consistent Polish animated filmmaker. Starting with his 1972 debut ('The Return'), he constructs films in which the characters’ monotonous activities are intertwined with flashes of memories. In these unhurried films, there is no conventional narrative. Instead, we see strings of images suspended between waking and dreaming. It is hard not to succumb to their hypnotic power.
Marcin Giżycki (Kwartalnik Filmowy 19-20/1997) summarised this work in a similar way, writing that it is distinguished by its form developed across several films. However, Kucia’s films ‘form a chain of visual impressions and, despite individual differences, give the impression of a coherent and logical whole’.
Wojciech Mischke wrote about Kucia’s films in a similar way (Kino 9/1983):
They share the same creative approach and attitude towards reality; they are deeply rooted in it. This manifests both in thematic inspiration and formal solutions drawn from meticulous observation. What strikes us in Kucia’s work is the consistency with which he returns to certain themes, the presence of ’motifs’ wandering from film to film, developed in subsequent works.
Kucia confirmed this impression in an interview with Monika Wysogląd (Film 31/1986):
Sometimes I think that maybe I’m lowering the bar because I’ve gotten into a creative tunnel […], the same things all the time. But I entered this tunnel completely on purpose. It’s very easy to make diverse films, but it is more difficult to make films derived from a single idea. I have a lot of scripts developed, but I want to produce only some of them, namely those that are connected with earlier films, from which they originate. For example, 'Reflection' grew out of 'The Ring'. When I was making 'The Ring', I knew that I will make 'Reflection', moreover, I knew that the two films would be similar because they would expand on one of 'The Ring’s' themes.
He said the same thing many years later in an interview with Magda Lebecka (Reżyser 1/1999):
Although a lot has changed, such as the form of my films, one thing remains: they all begin at the crossroads with the closest reality, with the man living here – whether through personal contact or the experiences of specific people.
W. Mischke noticed this continuity when writing about Kucia’s second film, Elevator:
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Just like in 'The Return', we see shreds of detached memories, among which some motifs seem to have been plucked from the memory of the protagonist of the previous film: water and pigeons, among other things.
Both films are linked not only by the ‘protagonist’s alleged identity’, who, after an elevator ride, watches a city resembling the one left by the protagonist of The Return but also by ‘homogenous art and the method of conducting psychological introspection’. In his next film (In the Shadow), a swing’s movement also evokes memories and images of the past. The home to which the protagonist of The Return travelled becomes a refuge for the protagonist of In the Shadow. Such memories can be shared by an individual hero or a community. The community consists of people who stand in front of a closed barrier (The Barrier), work in the field (Through the Field) or participate in various ordinary activities (Parade).
Reflection is a film which distinguishes itself from Kucia’s other works with their rich distinct story and anecdote. Kucia himself said (Kwartalnik Filmowy 19-20/1997) that he consciously made it as a so-called festival film, catering to the jury’s taste and, therefore, has ambivalent feelings towards it. The film has indeed won an impressive number of awards, including the Golden Dragon at the 1979 Kraków Festival, and rightly so according to K. Kreutzinger:
He didn’t seek originality, unknown effects and brilliant artistic solutions at all costs. […] Excellent drawing, extremely flexible art, the ability to concisely summarise an idea.
Although critics also praised the film, it is not difficult to notice that, even though Reflection exceeds in its visual form, the anecdote presented is close to a cliché.
The second constant element of these and many other of Kucia’s works is the opposition between nature and civilisation, as seen in the films Through the Field, Parade, and above all in The Ring. We will find this theme also in Reflection, closely related to the latter because both works take place in the same ‘natural circumstances’. However, in Reflection, nature is understood broadly, as a time when man was closer to it.
Edyta Turczanik (Grafia 3/2003) wrote:
Jerzy Kucia can notice the charm in ordinary, trivial situations and poetry in rhythmically reproduced motion: the squeaky gate of a wooden fence, the dynamic waves of a scythe, soldiers marching steadily or an entire machine of repeatedly rotating wheels, gears and rings in the 'Parade'.
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According to M. Giżycki (Not only Disney…), Kucia’s works ‘are built on the repetitiveness of themes, cyclicality of events, minimal, almost imperceptible changes’. He compared them to minimalist musical compositions. ‘The repetitiveness of sensations and actions puts the mind in a state between waking and dreaming.’ (Kw. Film. 19-20/1997)
It is connected with appreciating the beauty of the simplest impressions or phenomena. Giżycki recalls Stefan Themerson who told to look for beauty in the movement of clouds, the flash of a fish’s scale or even in the dancing of ‘the scratches on the surface of the film tape’.
Kucia saw the beauty in the concentrically spreading circles on the water surface or the reflections of light moving on the walls of the compartment of a moving train (or lift). He was fascinated by the everyday life’s monotony, by waiting before the barrier for the train to pass, by mowing of the grass.
Commonplace mundaneness, in the form of life in the countryside, traditional activities, tools, and landscapes all feature in his works. As the director said to Jerzy Wójcik (Rzeczpospolita 2/2002):
I concentrate on mundanity, the provincial, because it appears to me that there one can still find remains of the truth about the essence of our existence and about what of the original, of the true, was left in us. The world is changing. Tradition is dying and I’m getting old myself… So I try to remember the phenomena, objects, and habits that are disappearing, raise them to the rank of art and save them at least in the films.
Giżycki (Nie Tylko Disney…) wrote: ‘He is interested in both fleeting images of the outside world […] and preverbal states of our consciousness – image frames fixed in memory, though not always carrying fully revealed meanings, crumbs of memories’. He called Kucia a ‘film impressionist’.
‘I make films about emotions,’ says Jerzy Kucia ('Rzeczpospolita' 2/2002). ‘At one foreign festival, they were called animated documentaries. I guess that’s correct because they do document the emotional states of the characters.’
He was more interested in the individual, because, as he said on another occasion (Kwartalnik Filmowy 19-20/1997), he was more interested in ‘the details of a concrete life than what can be called the tactics of relationships between people’.
This may be the reason for the non-anecdotal nature of his films, which, in the words of M. Giżycki, are governed by the narrative. As the director said (Kino 4/2001):
In my films, the logic of associations, experience and emotions is […] more important than the logic of facts.
In Jerzy Kucia’s films, image, sound and music are in an integral relationship. In an interview with Monika Wysogląd (Film 31/1986), he said:
My films are rooted in visual arts. […] They also come from the crossroads of literature. I was never influenced by the tradition of animated film.
Critics point out that Kucia creates his world by ‘using various techniques, not limited to animation’ (J. Armata, Film 4/1989). He often uses photography, processing it in a certain way, for example by using laser. In the already quoted interview with J. Wójcik, Kucia said that although he uses processed, unrealised photography, he treats it as a supplement, in collages, because it seems to him that ‘the image is more convincing’ if he uses photos only as a quotation. Thus, he often combines drawings or a cut-out with a photograph or a film camera image, allowing the used technique to determine the nature of the events shown in his films. For example, in the film In the Shadow, the garden and the girl on the swing, both existing objectively, are presented using the photographic technique, while the visions evoked while swinging are presented using traditional art techniques. It is the same in Spring. M. Giżycki situates the director in the wider cinema genre which he calls ‘photo-animation’. However, Jerzy Kucia treats the formal side of his films as an instrument which is supposed to deliver the melody in the best way. In Tuning Instruments, he did not use photographs – the film consists of thousands of drawings made on paper and celluloid.
He got into animation by accident. In the interview with J. Wójcik, Kucia said:
I would probably also find my own form of expression in painting, but today I know that my work needs movement and sound.
It is the movement that allows to show the passage of time, passing, reaching out to individual and collective memory. In an interview with Bogusław Żmudziński (Kino 4/2001), Kucia said:
Time in film, especially in animation […] creates the possibility of moving on […] the boundary: a hat or shoes are no longer ordinary objects, they become fragments of experiences, a part of memory.
We can experience this in his films.
Originally written in Polish by Jan Strękowski, February 2005
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