CamerImage 2004

This year marks the 12th annual Camerimage International Festival of the Art of Cinematography, which includes competitive and non-competitive screenings, student films, seminars, and an awards gala where an international jury selects the most artful cinematography of the year.

Reporting from Poland is David Heuring. Heuring served as editor of American Cinematographer Magazine from 1990-1995, and has been writing about cinematography, filmmaking and postproduction ever since.


Friday, December 3:

Summit meeting: Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC called a meeting of top cinematographers to discuss issues of global concern. Cinematographic societies from nine different countries were represented.
Friday is the final day of the festival proper, with Saturday reserved for jury deliberations and the awards ceremony. The day began with an impromptu summit meeting called the night before by Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC with the help of IMAGO, the association of cinematographic societies. Zsigmond called for the meeting because he perceived a need for cinematographers to reach out across international boundaries and to work towards solidarity on issues being raised by changes in technology and in the realm of artists’ rights. More than 35 top cinematographers from nine different cinematographic societies were present. Zsigmond urged them to speak freely and relate their various experiences, opinions and concerns with the assurance of confidentiality.

Friday also saw part two of the Christopher Doyle seminar. Doyle broke the ice by remarking, “I always had the dream of being the Mick Jagger of cinematography. But now many people tell me I am the Keith Richards.”

He continued in a humorous vein but was serious about his point. “I think that music is a form that cinematography should aspire to,” he said. “When you hear music you sense the integrity, intent, energy and spirit of the voice. Most people seem stuck in or tied to the word, or the script. I think our job is to celebrate the possibility and the poetry of the image. So how do you that? It’s difficult because so many people, especially in the west, are based in the text. I am asked this question every day. Do you really think the image is more important? Yes, I do. I feel the reality of the film is contained in the images. I hear so many cinematographers saying that the job is to translate the words into images. But images are also ideas.

“The great pleasure of what we do is that we inform our eye every single moment of every day,” he continued. “How many people can just look around the room and have the pleasure of really seeing? Cinematographers have that pleasure. We must be this way in order to give what we can give to a film.”

Phedon Papamichael, ASC discussed the cinematography of Sideways during a two-hour seminar/Q&A session. The film, directed by Alexander Payne, screened at the festival outside the competition
On Friday afternoon in the Grand Theater, Kodak introduced its new daylight stock, Kodak Vision2 250D color negative film 5205/7205. Two brief demonstration films were shown. Wit Dabal, PSC was among those who watched the demo.

“I’ve already used this new stock on a commercial I shot just before the festival, and I’m very pleased,” said Dabal. “It’s absolutely a great improvement, especially, as we saw in the demo, in the latitude. With the latitude, I could deal much more easily with overexposure, and maintain shadow detail. It was a beer commercial. There were a lot of tight shots, macro stuff, product shots. I achieved the results that the demo was promising and I was really, really pleased.”

Later that night, Kodak hosted its annual Camerimage cinematographers’ dinner, held as always on an elaborately dressed soundstage at Opus Film Studio.

At the Grand Theater, the film demo was followed by Alexander, the epic Oliver Stone-Rodrigo Prieto collaboration. The final screening of the festival was outside the competition: House of Flying Daggers, a Chinese-Hong Kong production photographed by Xiaoding Zhao. Festival goers, looking forward to Saturday’s awards ceremony, left the theater and made the short journey to the Evergreen Club for one last night of revelry.


Thursday, December 2:

Competition screenings on day six of the festival included The Educators, a German-Austrian production photographed by Daniel Knapp and Matthias Schellenberg, and Zatoichi, a Japanese entry photographed by Katsumi Yanagijima, JSC. Seminars were led by cinematographers Pierre L’homme, AFC, Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, Christopher Doyle and Polish writer Andrzej Zulawski.

Kodak’s Nhon Chu and Thierry Perronnet hosted hands-on demonstrations of the Kodak Look Management System (KLMS). Meanwhile, across town on a packed soundstage at the Opus Film Studio, Prieto lit a scene for daylight and then relit the same scene for evening conditions, all the while explaining his approach and answering questions. This lighting seminar was sponsored by ARRI.

Lodz’s Grand Theater, a converted opera house where most of the festival’s screenings, conferences and exhibits take place.
Prieto explained his use of KLMS on Alexander. “You can use the system to approximate how you want the images to look and then send concrete examples to the lab. They’ll have a calibrated monitor, and they can see which steps you took to get the image the way you wanted it,” he said. “On a film like Alexander this was a big help to be able to email a concrete example of how you wanted something. Also, the visual effects people could send me scanned images from the negative, and I could look at the scanned image on a calibrated monitor, adjust it the way I wanted it, and then send it back to France, so that some of the visual effects shots would have an approximation of my intended color. It was a good way to help control my images and communicate my intentions.”

Isi Sarfati is a young cinematographer based in Mexico attending Camerimage for the first time. “You get a great chance to meet amazing people in a very relaxed way,” he says of the festival. “You have a chance to share friendly moments with them. There are 10,000 things going on every day, and you can stay busy from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., but at the same time the feeling is relaxed. You get to have one-on-one experiences with everyone from students to top-notch directors of photography, and there’s no other place I’ve had that kind of interaction.”

Thursday ended with the Kodak Student Party, held this year at the Evergreen Club at the Hotel Centrum. The party featured entertainment by a popular Polish act called Sistars, a group led by twin sisters.


Wednesday, December 1:

Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC and Laszlo Kovacs, ASC, seen here at the BSC get-together, are longtime friends of the festival. This year, Kovacs is on the main competition jury and Zsigmond is on the student competition jury.
Wednesday at the festival is reserved for the student film competition. Twenty-three films screened as part of the non-competition Student Panorama and 24 others screened in competition. Competition films were viewed and evaluated by a separate jury that included Michael Chapman, ASC, Javier Aguirresarobe, AEC Alain Choquart, AFC, Pierre L’homme, AFC, Seamus McGarvey, BSC, Michael Neubauer and Jost Vacano, ASC, BVK.

The Happiness Thief, for example, was a Tim Burton-esque fractured fairy tale with a dreamlike look and professional quality makeup effects. Shot on the Thomson Viper FilmStream camera, it was made by a student at the National Film and Television School in the United Kingdom. Loose Contact, about a child’s attempt to keep her aging grandmother hidden from the object of her schoolgirl crush, was an entry from the Hochschule fu(umlaut)r Gestaltung und Kunst in Zurich, Switzerland. From a student at the Escola Superior de Cinema y Audiovisuals de Catalunya in Spain came The Natural Route, which traced back to the origins of a tragic ending (in this case the beginning) by playing filmed images backwards. Winter was a wordless mediation on youth and age, played in unfussy yet elegant black and white. Winter was made by students at the Polish National Film School here in Lodz.

Kodak’s Bob Mayson chatting with past Lifetime Achievement honoree Billy Williams, BSC at the BSC function.
The British Society of Cinematographers (BSC) and ARRI Great Britain hosted a friendly gathering of directors of photography. Many of the biggest names in cinematography were in attendance, including at least three previous Camerimage Lifetime Achievement honorees: Billy Williams, ASC, Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC, and Laszlo Kovacs, ASC. The BSC hosts encouraged those in attendance to discuss issues of of importance to cinematographers around the world, and one hot topic was control over the images in light of fast-changing digital technologies. One point often made was that camaraderie, solidarity and communication of the kind encouraged at Camerimage -- across international boundaries – would be crucial to success. One cinematographer noted that control is not being sought for its own sake, but rather with the goal of better films.


Tuesday, November 30:

Day four of the Camerimage festival began with a non-competitive screening of Paradigma, the story of an idealistic young man whose integrity is compromised by a series of life choices. Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, PSC and director Krzysztof Zanussi followed the screening with a seminar in which they revealed the thought processes behind the making of the film.

Cinematographer Oliver Stapleton leads a Q&A session with students. Stapleton addressed a wide range of issues, including the cinematographer’s evolving role, the qualities of an ideal camera assistant, and how to maintain a healthy family life while pursuing a filmmaking career
Cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, BSC led a well-attended Q&A session in the Grand theater atrium. He discussed the career choices that led to his becoming a cinematographer rather than a director. “Part of it was that people began offering me jobs as a cinematographer,” he recalled. “When people ask me why I don’t direct, I ask them if they have a directing job to offer.”

Stapleton continued to compare directing and shooting. “People on the set often tell me I have the best job in filmmaking,” he says. “In some ways it’s true. I am incapable of ‘doing lunch.’ There are years of lunches that have to happen before a film begins. The job of cinematographer goes with the actual making of the film, can be incredibly interesting and very, very satisfying. But – and it’s a big but – it’s not yours. It is not yours. In certain regard, my garden at home, which I have created myself, is more important to me than any film I’ve worked on, because it is mine. On a film, you can contribute the pictures, and give tremendous support to the director. But you are contributing to the director’s film. Ten years ago, I might have been a little sad about this fact, but today, at 56, I’m quite content. I will make another film or two of my own, but at this point, I we become a lifetime director.”

A question came from the audience about what makes an excellent camera assistant. “We just shot 600,000 feet of film without one scratch,” he replied. “Not a single scratch. That’s obviously a tribute to a good lab, but it’s also the result of a superior camera assistant. We were in Venice and we were on and off of boats all the time. It was a very difficult situation, but the assistant kept the whole crew absolutely meticulous about the cleanliness and handling of the cameras. There was half an hour of prep in the morning and an hour at wrap for cleaning. That’s why you don’t get scratches.

Lifetime Achievement honorees, including several ASC members, are enshrined in Lodz’s equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“On this shoot my assistant religiously ran tape eye focus tests on every single prime lens every morning,” said Stapleton. “One morning he determined that something had gone wrong internally with a Cooke 21 mm lens. If he had not caught that, we would have had two or three useless shots that day, which would have cost huge amounts of money to redo. So maintaining the equipment is an incredible crucial and important job.”

Later on Tuesday the film The Great Water screened as part of the main competition. The film was well received by the packed house. Cinematographer Suki Medencevic grew up in the former Yugoslavia and is now based on Los Angeles. In a Q&A session after the film, he explained that coming back to the Balkans to shoot a feature film was an emotional experience. The story is told through a dying man’s memory and includes bold use of color to delineate time periods. A digital intermediate process was performed at a facility in Copenhagen.

“It was a very, very difficult shoot in many ways,” he said. “For me it was like going to fight a war. I lost 20 kilos making this picture. When I ordered the film it often took ten days to pass through customs. When it was time to shoot, we had to use any kind of film stock we had on hand. We must have used every kind of stock there is. The digital intermediate helped to compensate for the differences. We were working with children, which meant that often we didn’t get our lead actors until noon. Although the local crew people used were enthusiastic, there was definitely a degree of teaching involved, especially in terms of efficiency and speed.

“In many cases we had to improvise solutions,” he said. “One example is the helicopter shot that opens the film. We had a huge old Soviet helicopter and no modern mount was available or adaptable. I hung the camera with several bungee cords and tried to hold it steady as we shot through a hole in the floor. All these challenges make me very proud of what we accomplished, especially considering the small budget. I’m happy to say that the finished film is exactly the film we envisioned at the beginning.”


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About CamerImage:
The Camerimage International Festival of the Art of Cinematography was launched in 1993. Festival founder and director Marek Zydowicz says that the founders chose to focus on cinematography because it is a universal art form that doesn’t get the attention it deserves at many other festivals. In addition to inspiring and recognizing excellence in the art of cinematography, they envisioned a global forum where filmmakers from around the world could meet to discuss issues and exchange ideas. The festival moved from Torun to Lodz in 2000, where the Polish national film school is located.



© 2004 American Society of Cinematographers.