Camerimage 2017 inspires some lively discussions


The 25th annual Camerimage in Bydgoszcz, Poland ended on Nov. 18 with a closing-night gala and special screenings. Steven Poster, the national president of the International Cinematographers Guild, Local 600, echoed the thoughts of many when he said, "I think this was probably the best and most exciting Camerimage I've been to."

During the gala, winners were announced in eleven different categories. The first went to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (DP: Ben Davis; directed by Martin McDonagh), taking the Audience Appreciation Award.

Receiving career awards were cinematographer John Toll, producer Paula Wagner, director Philip Noyce, editor Paul Hirsch, production designer Adam Stockhausen and others.

In the main competition, On Body and Soul (DP: Máté Herbai; directed by Ildikó Enyedi) won the Golden Frog, with Loveless (DP: Mikhail Krichman; dir.: Andrei Zvyagintsev) and First They Killed My Father (DP: Anthony Dod Mantle; dir.: Angelina Jolie) winning second and third place, respectively.

Sweet Country(dir.: Warwick Thornton; DP: Dylan River) won the Fipresci Award, an international critics' prize for directing. The Art of Loving (dir.: Maria Sadowska; DP: Michał Sobociński) won Best Polish Film.

In documentary features, Radio Kobanî (dir.: Reber Dosky; DP: Nina Badoux) won the Golden Frog, with Potentiae (dir.: Javier Toscano; DP: Ricardo Garfias) winning for docudrama. Normal Autistic Film (director and DP: Miroslav Janek) earned Special Mention.

In the Debuts category, Janus Metz won for directing Borg McEnroe (DP: Niels Thastum), while Maria von Hausswolff won for cinematography in Winter Brothers (dir.: Hlynur Pálmason).

Camerimage pays special attention to young cinematographers. The Student Etudes category gave awards to three films out of 22 entries. All of Us (DP: Felix Striegel; dir.: Katja Benrath) took first prize, followed by Across the Street (DP: Tom Durand; dir.: Jeanne Privat) and Rocco (DP: Martín Urrea; dir.: Gerard Nogueira).

Camerimage also spotlighted works by young artists taking their first steps as cinematographers. The shorts screened for the Emerging Cinematographers Awards included work by former operators and assistant camerapeople receiving credit as directors of photography. Steven Poster presented the Emerging Cinematographers entries in a special screening at the Multikino theatre. Poster also served as a jury member for the Student Etudes competition.

Juries and panels occasionally grew heated this year. Wayne Isham, who received a career award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Music Videos, handed out the music-video awards by singling out the other entries he felt were also deserving.

The jury for the main competition issued a statement deploring the violence, particularly against women, in this year's titles. Violence became a catchphrase throughout the festival, with filmmakers sometimes called upon to defend their depiction of war, murder and rape.

An overflow crowd at a "Focus on Diversity in Cinematography" panel heard representatives from the British Film Institute, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the Swedish Film Institute, the Estonian Society of Cinematographers and others explain why women and minorities have so few positions within the industry. John Bailey (ASC), the new Academy president, outlined steps being taken to increase representation, but as some attendees pointed out privately later, there were no women cinematographers in the main competition.

Most attendees questioned didn't want special preferences, just a chance to compete equally. As Rachel Morrison (ASC, DP of Mudbound) put it, "I'm so sick of being referred to as a female DP. Could you imagine if we were like 'my female teacher,' 'my female doctor'? It's so bananas that this is even still a conversation."

Lurking behind some Camerimage panels and workshops was a growing ambivalence towards previsualization. A mainstay in big-budget productions that rely heavily on special effects, pre-viz uses software to pre-plan shots and sequences. Some DPs feel that by dictating how shots should be framed, pre-viz takes away from their creative input. Others argued that pre-viz could be useful as a guide, as long as cinematographers retained the right to modify shots.

Politics inevitably seeped into the screenings. Characters and plotlines in Downsizing, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards seemed to reflect real-world incidents, while titles like The Butcher, the Whore, and the One-Eyed Man, First They Killed My Father and Sweet Country took overtly political stances by commenting upon events in the past.

The Polish film Volhynia (Hatred) became a kind of litmus test. Was the movie's recreation of crimes and brutality against women and Jews in World War II Poland a warning, or did it merely exploit a horrific situation? And what did the screening say about the tens of thousands of torch-bearing, right-wing sympathizers who marched through downtown Warsaw during the festival?

Among the other screenings, mother! drew a typically mixed reaction, while titles like Wonder Wheel, Darkest Hour, Only the Brave, Lady Bird, Molly's Game and Battle of the Sexes slipped comfortably into existing Multikino programming. Coming-attraction posters for Coco and the newest Star Wars stood outside the multiplex.

Retrospectives of works by documentarian Frederick Wiseman, Phillip Noyce and John Toll were accompanied by Q&A sessions and panels with the filmmakers. A tribute to New Wave pioneer cinematographer Raoul Coutard included screenings of iconic movies like Breathless, Alphaville, Jules and Jim and Lola. In addition, special programs covered Polish, Irish and Baltic cinemas.

When the screenings, panels and workshops were over, attendees flocked to late-night parties hosted by Canon, Arri, Hawk, Fuji and others. Most didn't get going until midnight, and featured music, plenty of bars, and buffets of Polish specialties (like sour potato soup, sliced goose breast and smoked duck breast). The most extravagant may have been at the Villa Secesja. The party filled several rooms including a dining area, a candlelit basement and a glass-walled circular bar that spilled out into a neighboring park. Inside a gazebo, an ice sculpture of a swan served double-duty as a luge for flavored vodkas.

For some, the best moments were quieter ones. Israeli-born DP Danna Kinsky, now centered in Los Angeles, and Australian ex-pat Toby Oliver (Get Out) talked for hours at the Restauracja Gregorio over topics ranging from how Blumhouse finances its movies to distinguishing between torture porn and straight horror to how to light different skin tones among African-American actors. Oliver talked about working with first-time director Jordan Peele, and explained the reshoots for the film, an eerily prescient production that should make a splash this awards season. Kinsky wanted to know where Oliver would draw the line when depicting gore, leading to the latter's admission that he "wasn’t always a big long-term horror fan, but now I find it a fascinating genre to shoot."

Conversations like this took place all over Bydgoszcz, in hallways, conference rooms, vendor stalls, theatres, restaurants, hotel lobbies, bars and art galleries.

The hardest-working honoree at Camerimage may have been Lifetime Achievement Award winner John Toll. On Sunday he finished shooting the two-hour series finale for Sense8 in Berlin, drove five or so hours to Bydgoszcz, then participated in daily Q&A sessions, panels and workshops. He introduced screenings of Legends of the Fall, Braveheart, The Thin Red Line, the "Breaking Bad" pilot and others, and reminisced about working with directors like Ed Zwick, Carroll Ballard and the Wachowskis in a seminar that featured a surprise visit from his longtime gaffer, Jim Plannette. In the meantime, Toll spoke with the press and fans about a career that included winning consecutive Oscars for best cinematography. It will be tough for next year's Camerimage winner to match his pace.