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An interview with award-winning Polish producer, Zbigniew Żmudzki

Zbigniew Żmudzki (on the right) at ART&TUR 2016

Zbigniew Żmudzki graduated in economics at the University of Lodz and studied film and television production management at the National Film School in Lodz.  From 1976 to 1992 he worked as a producer of fictional films and in 1993, he joined the animated film and Se-ma-for Film Studio, where he was the head of production. In December 1999, he founded the Se-ma-for Film Production company and became its president (until 2015) and from 2008 to 2015, he served as Head of the Se-ma-for Film Foundation. Zbigniew is also the creator of the Se-ma-for Museum of Animation and the Se-ma-for Film Festival.

The animated films he has produced have won many Polish and international awards at film festivals, namely the Academy Award-winning short animation film (2008), directed by Suzie Templeton, “Peter and the Wolf

In this interview, Zbigniew reveals his view on the relationship between film and tourism and what distinguishes ART&TUR from other festivals. He also delves into what he finds most appealing about Portuguese culture, his perspective on the evolution of animation in Portugal and his advice to young people thinking of starting a career in animation.

You have garnered worldwide notoriety in 2008 when a film you produced, ‘Peter and the Wolf’ won the Oscar for Animated Short Film. Your production company, located in Lodz – ‘Se-ma-For’– is visited annually by thousands of tourists. Based on your experience, what is your perspective on the relationship between film and tourism? Also, how has this relationship evolved and how do you envision its continuity?

Z: Film is a type of art that is very popular and loved all over the world. It’s the magic of cinema. People also like to visit places where films are made. This applies to cities, regions and countries where famous films were made, as well as film studios. Film supports tourism. The city of Lodz, where I live, is a city where three large film studios operated after the Second World War. The Feature Film Studio, Educational and Documentary Film Studio and the Se-ma-for Studio where animated films were made. Lodz is a city where film heavily supports tourism. There is a Museum of Cinematography and a “Fairy-tale Trail” with statues of characters from animated films from the Se-ma-for Film Studio. On the main street, stars (like in Hollywood) of actors and filmmakers are showcased.

The idea of creating the Se-ma-for Animation Museum was the result of many requests from schools, kindergartens and private people who wanted to see the studio. At Se-ma-for, we made films with puppet animation. After each film, there were decorations, dolls and specially made props. Decorations were usually thrown in the garbage. Since there was a lot of interest from people, we decided to keep everything and create a special museum of animation. In this way, one more film-related tourist attraction was created in Łódź.

Now, after my retirement, the museum is unfortunately not working. The new president of the studio bankrupted it and the museum was closed. For over a year I have been the Court-appointed curator of the studio. One of the tasks I have set for myself is the reactivation of the Museum. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused problems in achieving this goal. It is my hope that the Museum will be reactivated shortly after the end of the epidemic.

You have a long history as a jury member of ART & TUR, which started in 2009, and thus you have visited Portugal many times. On a personal level, and as a Polish cultured citizen, what image do you have of Portugal? What aspects of Portuguese culture do you find most appealing?

Z: Portugal is the farthest country in Europe from Poland, but only in terms of geography. Mentally, the Portuguese and the Poles are very similar. We are not among the richest countries in Europe, but we love our homelands and are proud citizens of our countries. Portugal, for me, is a beautiful country with a fascinating history, great monuments and a very rich culture. I like your food. The dishes perfectly match my taste. If I want to drink wine, I only buy Portuguese wines since they are both excellent and at a good price. In Poland, the most popular chain of stores is the Portuguese “Biedronka” (Jerónimo Martins consortium). We can buy good and inexpensive Portuguese wines there. It may seem strange, but the popularity of “Biedronka” supermarkets has contributed to the increased interest of Poles in travelling to Portugal.

For me, the most interesting aspect of Portuguese culture is Fado. I love this music (Mariza, Amalia Rodrigues, Dulce Pontes, Coimbra Fado…). I listen to it very often, even though I don’t understand the words. It has magical powers.

For Poles, who are mostly Catholic, a very important place in Portugal is Fátima and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima.

Based on your extensive experience, what is your perspective on the evolution of animation in Portugal?

Z: Unfortunately, I don’t know Portuguese animated films. I only saw, a few years ago, the full-length cartoon animation “Até Ao Tecto Do Mundo“. I really liked its art, character design and decorations. I think that animators in Portugal have similar problems with getting money for film productions as in Poland, so there are very few films made.

In my opinion, national television should play a large role in the development of domestic animation. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Poland. I think it’s the same in Portugal. We have the Polish Film Institute, which funds animations and thanks to this, every year we produce several original films and several TV series for children.

In Portugal, there is an excellent festival “Cinanima” in Espinho – one of the world’s most important festivals of animated films. We entered films from Se-ma-for to this festival many times.

What advice would you give to young people thinking of starting out a career in animation?

Z: I am a great lover of author and artistic animation, not only for children. Most of the films I produced were just like that. These are non-commercial films, usually short films, shown mainly at film festivals for demanding viewers. For this reason, I advise young filmmakers to make such films. An art film, if well done, and if successful at festivals, can be a ticket to a career in commercial activities.

The visual aspect is very important in an animated film. Good projects. Choice of animation technique. I don’t like 3D animation because it is often primitive and ugly. Good 3D animation is very expensive. Cheap 3D is ugly. In terms of art, very interesting results can be achieved using classic animation methods. Cut-out, plasticine, puppet animation, salt or sand animation, classic cartoon, pixelation and various special techniques.

The second very important element is the scenario. You can make a movie where the form is most important, not the content. There are plenty of such films at festivals. Usually, they are not very successful. I think that short animated films should always contain an anecdote, some moral. The films I have produced have always had a philosophical story. The content and the message have always been important in them. I guess that’s why most of them were successful at festivals.

Based on your familiarity with ART&TUR, what aspects do you think differentiates it from other festivals you know?

Z: The great value of ART&TUR, merit of Francisco Dias, lies in its scientific lectures and seminars that discuss relevant topics regarding audiovisual promotion of tourism, as well as various aspects of brand building and marketing of tourism destinations.

When I was a guest, the screenings and festival meetings were not limited to tourism only. There were also, for example, concerts or animated film screenings (which I had the honour to present). Such meetings and screenings enrich the festival and are appealing to the audience.

A very interesting experiment is also the ART&TUR Factory project.

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