Camerimage celebrates the art of cinematography


Now celebrating its 25th year, Camerimage is acknowledged by many in the film industry as the foremost festival in the world devoted to cinematography. Running in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Nov. 10-18, the festival attracts hundreds of cinematographers from all over the world.

Events take place in a half-dozen venues around the city, including Multikino, a commercial theatre with eight screens; Miejskie Centrum Kultury—Orzel Cinema, an arts center and auditorium; and Opera Nova, a modern complex on the Brda River with six floors of restaurants, conference rooms and vendor space.

According to Kazik Suwala, the festival office manager, some 640 DPs from 45 countries are expected to attend. Accessibility is key, and one of the attractions of the event is the chance to mingle with peers in a supportive environment.

"We're not a sales festival, we're not a place where filmmakers are trying to push product," Suwala says. "We don't have a red carpet and the glamour, we focus on the artistic side of movies."

Gritty but appealing, Bygdoszcz, the fourth-largest city in Poland, has a compact downtown, which means most events are within walking distance of one another. Attendees can be spotted at theatres but also in bars, restaurants and hotel lobbies, all easy spots to strike up conversations and renew friendships. Tuesday night almost a hundred women cinematographers met for a celebration and dinner.

The festival has grown significantly since it started in nearby Toruń in 1993. Suwala says the selection committees now view some 3,000 submissions vying for ten different competitive categories. These include awards for emerging cinematographers, short and long documentaries, music-videos and features. In the running this year are titles like Wonderstruck, First They Killed My Father, Brimstone/Wendeta and Sweet Country.

Each year, Camerimage honors a cinematographer with a lifetime achievement award. John Toll, this year's winner, won consecutive Oscars for Legends of the Fall and Braveheart. He has worked with everyone from Francis Ford Coppola and Edward Zwick to the Wachowskis and Ang Lee, and is known for providing the superior visuals on television series like "Breaking Bad" and "Sense8."

With a retrospective of his films and a series of panels and seminars, Toll has been a strong presence throughout the festival. (In fact, the panels can be livelier than some of the movies.)

The festival has broadened its scope to honor other filmmakers—directors, editors, production designers who help contribute to the image. This year, Paul Hirsch, who won an Oscar for editing Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, received the Camerimage editing award. Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel, 12 Years a Slave) was honored for production design; Wayne Isham for music-videos (for The Rolling Stones, Whitney Houston, Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson); and Frederick Wiseman for documentaries.

Wiseman has been attending Q&A sessions after screenings of many of his works, including Law and Order, Welfare and Ex Libris: New York Public Library. The chance to ask one of the world's premier documentarians how he works is one of the aspects that sets Camerimage apart from other film festivals.

The festival opened with Murder on the Orient Express, introduced by director and star Sir Kenneth Branagh and his director of photography, Haris Zambarloukos, a friend and longtime collaborator. Both accepted the Cinematographer-Director Duo Award. They were followed by a special screening of Downsizing, introduced by director of photography Phedon Papamichael.

Most if not all of the events have been sold out, and lines can get chaotic. Fans thronged outside closed doors after a screening of the first two episodes of "Twin Peaks," hoping for a chance to hear David Lynch's Q&A. (Lynch was in typically cryptic form, answering questions by repeating them, offering aphorisms like "Love drives the boat.")

Those who couldn't get in mingled with attendees window-shopping past exhibitor booths from the biggest names in the industry: Arri, Canon, Panavision, Hawk, RED, Zeiss and many more, all offering the chance to play with the latest camera technology.

Lukasz Zamaro, a Polish-born cinematographer who works in Oslo, has been attending Camerimage since he was sixteen. (He shot a music-video in competition, "Gos Leat Don?" for director Egil Pedersen, working above the Arctic Circle with the indigenous Sami.) Zamaro remembers a smaller festival, one where he could walk up and talk to people like Sven Nykvist and Vittorio Storaro. Now he feels the crowds have made it more difficult to spend time with professionals.

But for Anthony Dod Mantle, whose career stretches back to the Dogme 95 Celebration through work with Danny Boyle and Oliver Stone, "This festival is about being approachable. I practice that. There is a car waiting for you and you get moved along sometimes. But what I see are DPs experiencing people on a candid, single level who are very interested in what you do. They come to you. This festival is good for that.

Currently in the world there is no better place to go, there is no better cinematography festival than this," he declares.

For Victor Capiz, a producer and cameraman whose short The Last Light was shown at this year's New York Film Festival, Camerimage was his chance to ask Ed Lachman (Wonderstruck) to screen his film. "This is different from other festivals," he said at a panel featuring Lachman, Dod Mantle and Chris Doyle. "You not only learn a lot, but you get to meet people."

One big drawback to Camerimage is that films are only screened once, and the schedule is so packed that conflicts are inevitable. Want to see Foxtrot, the Israeli submission for Best Foreign-Language Film? That means missing Wonderstruck, the Irish feature South, "Game of Thrones" and a Panavision workshop.

"You can't see everything," Suwala says. "It's always a choice. But for me, Camerimage is really about the connection between the professionals and young, emerging cinematographers."