Film & Music & Festival – a Winning Combination in Kraków

20 May 2023

I think I’ll start this article with a question… Do you know Krakow Film Music Festival? If the answer is NO, you definitely should! (And you should also keep reading this article, of course!).

16th Krakow Film Music Festival

By Gorka Oteiza

Once a year, the city of Kraków dresses up for a week to celebrate the fabulous art of film music, but, how does it happen?

Imagine a European film festival, one of the biggest, most prestigious, and important festivals you can think of: Cannes, Venice, Berlin, San Sebastian. Now, imagine that such a festival takes place in your city, Kraków, and that it is dedicated solely to film music. A festival full of concerts, conferences, and meetings revolving around soundtracks and their creators, the composers, who fully participate in all activities. A festival where you can meet and interact with them, as well as enjoy their music live.

Seen from the outside, perhaps it is difficult to imagine that there could be something like this. And what’s more: is it possible to fill a whole week with content related to film music, besides concerts? Well, yes, it’s possible! Let’s see it a little bit more in detail…

Kraków has always been an important European metropolis and a reference in terms of culture at an international level. Over the years, the city has made a strong commitment to host and promote different cultural activities, demonstrating that it can be a pioneer in many aspects. Among them, we find one of the most daring nature: live film music.

It goes without saying that music is one of the most important elements in a movie. An element that goes beyond the screen, comes out of it, and enters into a dialogue with spectators. It is an element that talks to us, that explains, that makes us believe in the stories, that moves us with its melodies, and that transmits what we could not fully understand just by watching the images. Such is its power that its mere absence makes us uncomfortable. And nowadays, it is hard to conceive of a film without music, isn’t it?

Who has not cried when the orchestra added a dramatic moment to the tragic outcome of Titanic? Who has not felt fear when the high-pitched cry of the violins stabbed its victim in Psycho? Or when the rhythmic sound of the orchestra announced the presence of the shark in Jaws? Who has not thought about piloting fast spaceships or hasn’t felt the company of the force when the music immersed us in the universe of Star Wars?

A modest first edition of the Krakow Film Music Festival in 2008 originated from the thought that the sensations music gives us during a movie, could be transferred to a concert hall with live orchestra, and that they could dazzle audiences in the same way. Little could its organisers have imagined that in time the festival would reach the volume it has today, and that the event would become the most important gathering in THE WORLD (yes, yes, worldwide, in capital letters, it is the most important in the WHOLE world) regarding film music.

In May, the 16th edition of the festival will be celebrated. It means that for the last 15 years Kraków has been demonstrating that it is capable of creating and expanding a cultural proposal dedicated to film music of great value and high quality, both for its inhabitants and visitors.

While the concerts and the music are the backbone of the event, the growth experienced over the years has led the festival to diversify its approach, both recreational and educational, giving rise to a set of very interesting additional activities. For example, a wide and varied list of free, open-access conferences, attended by the film music composers from all over the world, and aimed at both the professional public, and fans or just music lovers in general. These meetings have already offered us many unforgettable moments.

The festival has received multiple Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy, and Grammy award-winning and award-nominated composers, such as Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings, The Silence of the Lambs), Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water, The Grand Budapest Hotel), Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Inception, Interstellar), Joe Hisaishi (My Neighbor Totoro), Wojciech Kilar (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Pan Tadeusz), John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon), Tan Dun (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (Finding Neverland), Diego Navarro (Capture the Flag, The Wasteland), Don Davis (Matrix), James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games, The Prince of Tides), Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones), and Giorgio Moroder (Flashdance, Midnight Express), just to name a few.

And during their visits to Kraków, they told us what was going on in their heads while working on a soundtrack, and they made us participants in the process, from the original idea to the final result. We have been fortunate to enjoy their presence, their wisdom, and their closeness, something that many classical music festivals would like to be able to do: who wouldn’t like to know what was going through the minds of Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach, for example, when they were composing?

In the last 15 years, Kraków’s FMF has gone from open-air concerts to the industrial facilities of the ArcelorMittal Poland tinning plant, while witnessing the construction of the ICE Kraków Congress Centre (completed in 2014), which has become the regular venue for the festival’s concerts. Not to mention the 15,000-seat Tauron Arena Kraków: the perfect venue for the largest concerts of each edition.

It is difficult to give precise numbers, but it is estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 people passed through the festival events in each of its last pre-pandemic editions which offered them: film screenings with an orchestra playing the soundtrack live (with titles such as Lord of the Rings, Titanic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Casino Royale, How to Train Your Dragon, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The NeverEnding Story), concerts dedicated to great film music composers, special concerts of video game music, concerts with the themes of the most famous TV series, the special annual concert Scoring4Polish Directors, the FMF4Kids cycle concerts for the youngest members of the family, choral concerts in venues as diverse as churches and the Wieliczka Salt Mine, concerts of film songs in jazz/pop/rock format, or even a DJ session, with Giorgio Moroder playing his music at Jan Nowak-Jeziorański Square. What more could you ask for?

In addition, the organisers of the festival have clearly thought about its future, about new generations who would take over later on. Those young musicians and composers who want to learn more about soundtracks, for whom meeting and training spaces have been created, such as the FMF Young Talent Award competition or the masterclasses, which are markedly academic but totally practical.

Finally, the festival does not forget about children. The innate curiosity of the youngest ones, always ready to find a playful element in music, which offers a source of fun but also of learning, makes it possible to bring film music closer to children from an early age, generating a symbiosis that has countless benefits. Thus, the FMF4Kids concert series is dedicated to them.

So, once again, a dedicated and committed team of people has been working hard for months to create a new edition of the festival. Sixteen consecutive years of bringing the world’s best film music composers to Kraków and offering a cultural programme of concerts and parallel activities you can find nowhere else. A real luxury. A real gem.

The 16th edition, to be held in May, honours the 550th birth anniversary of Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus by taking us on a space trip with: the experimental and immersive FMF Echoes of Space concert on Friday 26th, the FMF Space Gala celebrating the best soundtracks from sci-fi movies on Saturday 27th, and the FMF4Kids: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – Live in Concert on Sunday 28th.

But the weekend full of music is just the tip of the iceberg, as the festival will also celebrate the classic works of Oscar-winning composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, along with new works by some of the most interesting composers of the younger generation in the Kaczmarek2Cinema programme on Thursday 25th, an evening with The Music of Patrick Doyle on Monday 29th honouring his 70th birthday, and one the most eagerly awaited film music concerts of the year: Hans Zimmer Live featuring the Odessa Opera Orchestra & Friends led by the Maestro himself on Tuesday 30th.

So, now that you have all this information, I would like to finish this piece with the same question I started it with: Do you know Krakow Film Music Festival? I hope that your answer now is YES, and that you are motivated to attend the 16th edition with its concerts, its gatherings, and its free conferences.

Once again, we will be waiting for you in Kraków, the capital city of film music… on Earth, and in outer space!

Gorka Oteiza
Founder and director of SoundTrackFest. Communicator, critic, lecturer, jury, and populariser specialised in film music. Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Spain. Co-founder and artistic director of FIMUCS festival.

Photo: Composers4Ukraine, FMF 2022 by Robert Słuszniak

The article published in the 1/2023 issue of “Kraków Culture” quarterly.



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