Camerimage is an intimate gathering for cinematographers and cineastes

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Both a part of and separate from the film festival season, Camerimage is a chance for cinematographers around the world to show and talk about the movies they think matter. This year marks Camerimage's 26th year of films by, for and about cinematography. (In October, the festival announced a name change to EnergaCAMERIMAGE, but for convenience we'll stick with Camerimage.)

Running Nov. 10–17, Camerimage takes place in Bydgoszcz, a Polish city that dates back to the 13th century. The striking Opera Nova is the centerpiece of the festival, a place for screenings, panels, workshops, and a two-story market for vendors. Additional screenings take place at Multikino, a multiplex, and MCK-Orzeł Cinema, which specializes in independent film, theatre and music. Both are within walking distance of the Opera Nova.

In fact, just about everything in Camerimage takes place in a small radius in the center of Bydgoszcz, including the festival's renowned parties, where it's possible to bump into an Oscar-winning cinematographer waiting for drinks at the bar.

According to Kazik Suwala, the festival office manager, the availability of guests sets Camerimage apart. "I will risk saying we are the most accessible festival in the world," he said by phone. "We try not to limit access to anyone. Of course, some guests are on a tight schedule and can't stay around, but in general the only problem you will have is finding out what the cinematographer looks like. You will see them at screenings, in the audience, at dinners, in hotels."

Veteran cinematographers seem eager to meet younger colleagues, and it's easy to overhear conversations about equipment, working with directors, and how to solve problems before and after screenings.

Arri sponsors a more formal program called "Any Questions?" Attendees submit questions to a panel including chair Oliver Stapleton and Amy Vincent, David Gropman, Dick Pope and Philippe Rousselot.

Vendors are a big presence at Camerimage, both with booths at Opera Nova and with after-hours parties. All the expected names show up: Arri, Canon, Fujifilm, Hawk, Leitz, Panasonic, Panavision, RED, Sony, Zeiss and many more. Professionals and enthusiasts alike can get their hands on the latest equipment.

This year the selection committee received some 3,000 entries, whittling them down to 240 titles in ten competitive categories. The Main Competition includes several titles that are destined to receive Oscar nods: Roma, Cold War, A Star Is Born, etc. Cinematographers in the Main Competition are among the world's elite: Vittorio Storaro, Matthew Libatique, Bruno Delbonnel and Ji Yong Kim, all of whom will be attending.

Suwala admits that the festival has grown so much that several titles cannot fit into the competitive categories. If Beale Street Could Talk and Destroyer, for example, are being highlighted at the closing-night gala. Destroyer's DP Julie Kirkwood will introduce the Nicole Kidman vehicle. Beale's DP James Laxton will be a presence throughout Camerimage, taking part in a seminar and presiding on the jury for the Polish Films competition.

The Opening Night films are director Julian Schnabel's At Eternity's Gate, introduced by cinematographer Benoît Delhomme, and David Lowery's crowd favorite The Old Man & the Gun, shot by Joe Anderson.

The sidebar series Contemporary World Cinema includes Paul Dano's Wildlife by DP Diego Garcia; Ari Aster's striking Hereditary by cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski; the Korean Foreign Film Oscar contender Burning, directed by Chang-dong Lee and photographed by Kyung-Pyo Hong; and Billie August's 55 Steps, shot by Filip Zumbrunn. Pogorzelski will be attending.

Suwala points out that in all, the festival includes 25 different series or categories. Many are devoted to works from film schools or by emerging cinematographers. TV pilots and music-videos are also recognized.

A special editing award will given to editor Carol Littleton, who will be speaking with her husband John Bailey, the noted cinematographer and current AMPAS president, after a screening of Silverado. Another award highlights the collaboration between director Jean-Jacques Annaud and cinematographer Jean-Marie Dreujou for their work on films like Two Brothers and Wolf Totem.

Each year Camerimage pays tribute to departed cinematographers. For this edition, the festival is honoring Michael Ballhaus, a frequent collaborator with R.W. Fassbinder and Martin Scorsese, and Robby Mueller, the extraordinary Swiss visualist, with screenings of titles like Breaking the Waves.

"Robby was here many, many times," Suwala recalled. "I would say ten times, starting probably in 1995 or 1996. He was always surrounded by young people. We're also showing two films by Michael Ballhaus, whose son Florian is on the Main Competition jury."

Another frequent visitor is Ed Lachman, who screened Wonderstruck last year and who is currently prepping Greta Gerwig's Little Women. Lachman's freewheeling panel with colleagues Chris Doyle and Anthony Dod Mantle was a highlight of last year's festival, and this year he and Doyle are teaming up for two talks that are guaranteed to sell out. In addition, Lachman will be reminiscing about Robby Mueller with Claire Pijman, and is a jury member for the Music Videos Competition.

Lachman has been championing Hu Bo's An Elephant Sitting Still since he saw it at this year's Berlinale. Fan Chao's cinematography is among the most dynamic of the year. "Ed was determined to get it shown here," Suwala said. "He helped us find a print, and will be introducing it."

An Elephant Sitting Still is part of the "Special Screenings" series, which also includes BlacKkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians (with DP Vanja Cernjul in attendance), Incredibles 2 (followed by a discussion with cinematographers Mahyar Abousaeedi and Erik Smitt), and the blockbuster Black Panther, introduced by Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison.

Documentaries, both feature-length and short, make up a significant part of Camerimage. Directed by Luiz Bolognesi and photographed by Pedro J. Marquez, the Brazilian documentary Ex-Shaman examines how technology is affecting the formerly isolated Paiter Surui tribe. The Swedish entry The Deminer (directed by Hogir Hirori and Shinwar Kamal, and photographed by Firas Bakrmani, Shinwar Kamal, Erik Vallsten) follows an Iraq armed forces veteran who is trying to disarm mines left behind after the war. Documentaries from Israel, Poland, Hungary, Germany and other countries will also be screened.

Last year diversity, and the lack thereof, dominated conversations. This year's festival picks up the thread with another discussion by the IMAGO Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

New to the festival is a series called "Advocate for Our Rights," which uses films with political themes (The Children's Act, Sweet Country, I Am Not Your Negro, etc.) to spark talk about human rights and other civic values.

Another much-debated issue last year was how younger, inexperienced filmmakers can find work. Festival organizers responded with a two-day Brokerage Event, where freelancers can network with agents and producers about international partnerships.

The opportunity to explore state-of-the-art equipment, to discuss work and social issues, to consult with experts, to bond with friends new and old, and to see some of the best visual work of the year makes Camerimage a unique and essential festival.