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Brilliant Nuances of Darkness — Piotr Dumala’s Animations

Polish animated film belongs to the leading film industries in the world when we take into consideration its creative achievements and a number of minutes of animation produced in one year. The pioneers of Polish cinema viewed animation as a very important genre from the very beginnings, if not the most important. In practice, animation started to develop in Poland after 1916 when Felyks Kuczkowski made his first animated film, while Zenon Wasilewski founded the first studio for animated film Triofilm at the end of 1930’s. Until the end of World War II nothing much was happening, but then in 1950’s started the golden age of animation in Poland. Four different studios for animation were founded, in Bielsko-Bialama, Krakow, Lodz and Warsaw creating a precious and unique cinematic and historical phenomenon. At the same time, with a number of over 2000 animated films produced Poland is one of ten countries with the richest production of animation.

Polish animation is characterized by absurd, macabre films, films with nightmarish atmosphere achieved through brave and original experimenting with unique graphics techniques and audiovisual processing of the film form. Polish animators Jan Lenica, Walerian Borowczyck, Witold Giersz, Miroslav Kijowitcz, Ryszard Czekala, Daniel Szczechura, Zdislav Kudla, Jerzy Kucia or Zbigniew Rybczynski preferred working with unusual forms of expression; using methods of model animation, collage and flicker rather than those of classical animated film.

Sophisticated artistic and animation forms were combined with a literary content and typically middle European characters, pessimists making fun at their own expense, laughing at the hopelessness of their situation in the world resembling a gigantic trap they are caught in. Totalitarianism of the modern age, which has left deep scars on Poland, was best portrayed in the animated medium.

These films superbly developed a certain surreal visual language that described the subconsciousness and dark nightmares of lonesome losers, their anguish in the ambiance of entrapment they were born into. Painting absurd, often morbid dreams of these pessimists who have lost all their illusions, human caricatures that wander through the tunnel with no entrance nor exit, Polish animators spoke about their reality, political system and the society they grew up in and harshly criticized it.

All this could also be said of Piotr Dumala’s films (1956) who is, along with Jerzy Kuciu, one of the leading contemporary Polish animators.

Dumala is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, his current living and working place. For a part of the year he lectures film animation in Sweden, in the Higher Artistic School in Eksjö. His films have won almost all the awards an animator could win. He won several prizes at the festivals of animation in Annecy, Ottawa, Hiroshima, Stuttgart and he won the Grand Prix in Zagreb in 1992.

A combination of his various studies and interests created Dumala’s fascinating technique of animation. He places plasterboard painted in black under the camera. Each phase of movement is engraved with thin needles. He scratches the paint and thus obtains white lines and hatches on the dark background. Each drawing has a very high graphic value. However, after being recorded, every drawing is repainted with black paint so that they live shorter than a drawing made by a finger on a steamy window. His work has placed him among the greatest creators who have improved the technique of animation with original innovations.

Almost all of his films are black and white, while he only occasionally and discretely uses some other colour. His films emit a strong sense of loneliness and loss, fear and anguish: man is shown as a live being buried in the dark world very much resembling a grave.

Author of the text analyses Dumala’s films Lycantrophy (1981), Little Black Riding Hood (Czarny Kapturek, 1983), Flying Hair (Latajace Vlosy, 1984), Gentle (Lagodna, 1985), Jittery Life in Space (Nerwowe Zycie Kosmosu, 1986), Walls (Sciany, 1987), Freedom of the Leg (Wolnošć nogi, 1988), Franz Kafka (1991), Crime and punishment (Zbrodnja i Kara, 2000) and concludes that Dumala’s films are based on cartoon figuration, however, almost all of the above films include elements of non-figural, geometrical forms and pursue an imitation of motion picture ’realism’. His most significant heritage, however, is Polish satiric graphics. The foundations of Dumala’s aesthetic are Kafka’s work and philosophy, while Kafka’s influence and love of literature defined basic features of his art. Nevertheless, the ultimate value of Dumala’s films lies in the fact that under a thick layer of darkness, fear and anxiety hides a treasury of authentic humour presented in the form of bitter irony and sarcasm.


The Polish tradition of animation / Piotr Dumala / Dumala’s authentic style of animation / Dumala’s films: beginnings / Dumala and Kafka / Piotr Dumala’s filmography.

Midhat Ajanović

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