Where Cinematographers Are the Stars ; Annual Festival in Poland Puts the Spotlight on Those Behind the Camera

By Rapold, Nicolas | International New York Times, November 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

Where Cinematographers Are the Stars ; Annual Festival in Poland Puts the Spotlight on Those Behind the Camera


Rapold, Nicolas, International New York Times


Annual festival in Poland puts the spotlight on the people behind the camera.

Once a year, a small city in Poland 300 kilometers northwest of the capital acquires an unexpected distinction in the world of cinema. For one week, the streets of Bydgoszcz have perhaps the highest per capita concentration of cinematographers anywhere in the world. As many past attendees have put it: if they're not shooting a film in mid-November, they're probably in Bydgoszcz.

The subject of this pilgrimage is Camerimage, an international film festival that focuses not on directors or stars, but on cinematographers. The 23rd edition opened last Saturday and closes this Saturday after the annual infusion of films, which attract about 70,000 people. The throngs, mostly from out of town, consist of film professionals, students, the general public, vendors seeking the attentions of the hundreds of cinematographers, technicians and other filmmakers.

Camerimage has attracted those at the top of their field, including the Coen brothers, David Lynch (who lent his support to an aborted attempt to build a new center for the festival), Bernardo Bertolucci, and classical masters of cinematography like Conrad Hall ("In Cold Blood") and Sven Nykvist ("Persona"). The festival's contingent of big names this year includes the multiple Academy Award winners Vittorio Storaro ("Apocalypse Now") and Chris Menges ("The Killing Fields") among those receiving special honors.

The festival has been likened to a class reunion, or (more playfully) a "pagan ritual festival," in the words of the cinematographer Tom Stern, who works frequently with Clint Eastwood. People come to talk shop, hang out and learn about new gear straight from the source. Despite its placement in the fall season of attention-getting prestige cinema, festivalgoers are less focused on jockeying for exposure than on honing their craft (and having a good time).

"I don't feel like there's any other festival like it," Ed Lachman, the cinematographer of "Carol," said in an interview from Bydgoszcz. "We all find out we have the same problems and the same needs and we get to share what our love for filmmaking is and how we create our images." ("Carol," directed by Todd Haynes, was screened here on Friday, the same day it opened in the United States; it opens next week in Britain and throughout the winter in other parts of the world.)

The cinematographers, who also include newcomers and lesser- known names, hail from the major guilds across the world: the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), the Federation of European Cinematographers (IMAGO), the British Society of Cinematographers (BSC), and others.

The high concentration of working cinematographers also makes Bydgoszcz an essential stop for companies selling cameras and other tools of the trade. That also goes for cinema's best-known professional group.

This year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has been trying to spread the word about a new standardized digital platform (ACES) it hopes will be adopted for filmmaking and preservation. The current edition of the far-flung Polish festival was chosen as an essential destination thanks to its elite constituency.

"Camerimage is 'the' place as far as film festivals go to talk about that," said Andy Maltz, managing director of the Academy's Science and Technology Council. "Not to say the other ones are not good, but this one is unique." The Academy's presentation of the digital platform on Friday marked the biggest official presence it has had there. …

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