A man grieving the loss of his loved ones retreats into the safety of memory, a place where time stands still and the departed walk among him. Over the years an imaginary city grows, populated by literary idols, comic book heroes, family members and friends. But even that mysterious place is eventually threatened by the passage of time, and the protagonist must make the difficult decision to return to the real world.

“Kill It and Leave This Town” is the debut feature by acclaimed Polish animator Mariusz Wilczyński, who spent 11 years crafting a dreamlike journey into the subconscious and the past. Produced by Agnieszka Ścibior for Bombonierka and Academy Award winner Ewa Puszczyńska (“Ida,” “Cold War”) for Extreme Emotions, it features the voices of Krystyna Janda, Andrzej Chyra, Maja Ostaszewska, Małgorzata Kożuchowska, and Barbara Krafftówna. Pic world premiered in Encounters, the new competitive strand of the Berlin Film Festival.

A self-taught artist who has been creating animation for over 20 years, Wilczyński has been the subject of retrospectives from the likes of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Museum of Brasília, Brazil. But when he began to work on his first feature-length film, he admitted: “I didn’t know how to do it.”

“Kill It and Leave This Town” was conceived as a short film. But much like the movie’s fantastical depiction of Łódź, the industrial city of his childhood, it continued to grow and grow, each memory seeming to spawn new tributaries and narrative threads. While the film’s hero fought in vain to stop the passage of time, a full decade passed as Wilczyński grappled to bring his idea to fruition. “It was the most difficult period of my life,” he said.

This is Wilczyński’s most personal project to date, a film that was spurred by the sudden loss of some of his closest loved ones, including his mother. “I had this feeling that I had many unfinished conversations, and I didn’t have a chance to tell my mom that I loved her,” he said. After her death, he was stung by the sense that he had somehow let her down. “I think that she expected more [from me]….I felt guilty and I wanted to fix everything.”

Inevitably, Wilczyński found an outlet for his emotions through his sketch pad. “For me, drawing is the most natural form of expression,” he said. “I’ve been drawing since I was a child. It has always been my main passion in life.”

Though it was impossible for the animator to imagine where this journey would end when he began “Kill It and Leave This Town” 11 years ago, he believes the experience has made him a better artist. It also has helped to heal old wounds. “For me, it’s an opportunity to make mistakes and create something new,” said Wilczyński. “I wanted to do this movie to close a certain stage in my life. Now I want to move on.”