Barely thirty, director Bartek Kulas is on the cutting edge of Poland’s cinema scene and has been for a while.

Creating films since childhood, Kulas talks about his latest and last animation project, “Millhaven,” based on the song “The Curse of Millhaven” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Kulas discusses the seven-minute short that has been awarded in film festivals around the world as well as new directions – namely a debut in feature-length film.

GALO:  Translation of lyrics can be tricky when trying to keep a rhyming and rhythmic flow. Roman Kolakowski did a masterful job with this. How involved in that process were you?

Bartek Kulas: The Polish version originated ten years ago for a musical performance of Nick Cave’s album “Murder Ballads.” At the time, I was only a fan of the Polish versions of Nick Cave’s songs.

GALO: Regarding challenges in translation, let’s look at: “Loretta knows we all have to die” and “Loretta nazbyt dobrze zdaje sobie sprawe z faktu, że wszytsko ma swój koniec,” (Lorreta is quite aware of the fact that everything ends sometime). The latter is much more Meta — more about finality and closure of events and experiences, not just our own lives. Do you think one is more relevant or right in this context?

BK: That’s from the film synopsis, right? Yes, in the Polish version there is more to read between the lines.

GALO: What’s your favorite line in Nick Cave’s version? The Polish version?

BK: I like the whole story in the song. As for a particular part– and I don’t think it’s only my favorite — (from the Polish version) “I was just brushing the blood out of my hair when in barged a bunch of cops.” Cave version: “Twenty cops burst through my door without even phoning.”

GALO: Did you consider keeping the original, English version of the song? Polish is a far less universal language, do you feel that by translating the lyrics you created something for Polish audiences first and foremost?

BK: I didn’t think about it. The film arose out of the basis of the song, which I came to know a long time ago through Kinga Preis’ performance of it. Ten years later, when I decided to get started on my final animation project, the piece came back to me in a version by Kasia Groniec. I had found my subject matter.

GALO: Your film has been shown at a multitude of festivals around the world. What kinds of responses has it received? Was it dramatically more successful in certain cities? If so, what do you think was the reason for this?

BK: That’s true, and what was surprising is that it was received by the foreign public without any problems, and won awards in lots of foreign countries. I think that the truth of this story resonated with the audience – if not through a foreign language, then in the images and emotional performance of Kasia [Groniec].

GALO: The animation in this film is very reminiscent of the great Edward Gorey. This simple but morbid story, and drawing of a young girl, is especially reminiscent of Gorey’s ABCs. Who would you list as your influences for this project?

BK: My greatest influence was the discovery of “new” colors. For many years I was searching for a new color palette. But intuitively I kept choosing expressive, contrasting colors, and I always found something missing in half-tone monochromes. I got to see the change I was looking for in “Millhaven.” There wasn’t any body of work that consciously inspired me.

GALO: Nick Cave’s version is upbeat if dark – musically a lot like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band. Why slow the tempo down to more of a haunting, less crazed story telling? Was that the plan from the outset or did the process of animation affect it?

BK:  Kasia’s version of the song was ready the moment I decided that I would once again return to animation. Of course I integrated it into moments of the film, but I used it as narration for the film; I didn’t illustrate the song.

GALO: Cave also uses fewer instruments. The whole piece sounds almost festive – like a pagan chant around a fire in the woods. He jumps right into this atmosphere, but you build to a climax. Do you think that approach is due, in part, to being a filmmaker?

BK: I didn’t have much influence on the piece. [Cave’s] “The Curse of Millhaven” as a song became part of the film “Millhaven.” I think it was something different from the moment it was just sound. In the film you can discover Loretta—her infirmity, frustration and desire to live manifested in dance lessons; her persistence is ultimately broken. On an even deeper level, the film questions the world we live in; might we perchance be creating it ourselves? Do we illuminate the world’s darkness with our perspectives?

GALO: I read somewhere that this is your last animated film. Why did you choose animation as the medium for this (as far as I can tell, Cave doesn’t have a music video for this song – did you consider doing that?), and why do you feel done with it?

BK: Yes – for now this is my last animation, but also not my first. I’ve been doing animation professionally for ten years and as an amateur since childhood. As a seven-year-old I decided that I would make animated films — that decision just morphed in shape over the years. Doing animation as a teenager I knew that this would be a step toward making fiction films. That stage has now run its course. A new beginning is unfolding; the story continues.

Currently I am working on a feature film debut. Most likely this will be an “Episode,” which is being written at the moment – a story on freedom and a second look at reality.

For more information about Bartek Kulas’ work and developments on his new project visit his website:

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