The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry

Report from Plus Camerimage

by David Heuring

December 5, 2007
Day One: Sunday, Nov. 24

The 15th Annual Plus Camerimage International Festival of the Art of Cinematography was officially opened on Nov. 24 in Lodz, Poland, by Lech Kaczyński, president of the country. The ceremony included the presentation of awards recognizing the achievements of Miroslav Ondricek, ASC, ACK; Adam Holender, ASC; and Manuel Alberto Claro.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Holender, who was born in Krakw, Poland, and graduated from the national film school in Lodz before migrating to the United States. He went on to a distinguished career, notching credits that include Midnight Cowboy, The Panic in Needle Park, The Seduction of Joe Tynan and Sea of Love. Of his time in Lodz, Holender said, “I cannot imagine a more exciting, stimulating and rewarding five years in a student’s life. I will be forever thankful for that experience.”

Two screenings introduced by Janusz Kaminski, another native of Poland, kicked off the festival. The first was Hania, a film Kaminski directed and shot, and the second was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which he shot for director Julian Schnabel. Diving Bell was screened in competition for the festival’s Golden Frog.

Wrapping up the opening night was a non-competition screening of Far North, directed by Asif Kapadia and photographed by Roman Osin, who regularly attends Camerimage.

This year’s jury for the main competition is headed by director Brett Ratner and includes Oscar- and ASC-nominated cinematographer Pawel Edelman, PSC; journalist and author Lawrence Grobel; Oscar-nominated production designer Lilly Kilvert; cinematographer Pierre Lhomme, AFC; and cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub, ASC, BVK.

This year’s festival honors Stephen Goldblatt, ASC, BSC with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Several projects from Goldblatt’s wide-ranging career will be screened over the course of the week, including the features The Hunger, Close and Rent; the miniseries Angels in America; and the telefilm Conspiracy. Goldblatt will also conduct a lighting seminar during the festival.

The other films in competition for the Golden Frog this year are Across the Universe (shot by Bruno Delbonnel, AFC); Caravaggio (shot by Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC); Control (shot by Martin Ruhe); Elizabeth: The Golden Age (shot by Remi Adefarasin, BSC); I’m Not There (shot by Edward Lachman, ASC); I Served the King of England (shot by Jaromir Sofr); Love in the Time of Cholera (shot by Affonso Beato, ASC, ABC); Lust, Caution (shot by Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC); The New Man (shot by Jarrko T. Laine); Opium: The Diary of a Mad Woman (shot by Tibor Mathe); Sleuth (shot by Haris Zambarloukos, BSC); Time to Die (shot by Artur Reinhart); Tricks (shot by Adam Bajerski); and Ulzhan (shot by Tom Fährmann, BVK).

That’s just the beginning. There are also competitions for student films and films made in Poland, a Federico Fellini review, a cellphone-movie competition sponsored by Nokia, editing and camera seminars, many premiere screenings, and an animation festival.

Day Two: Monday, Nov. 25

The festival got underway in earnest today. Director Mike Figgis, a Camerimage regular, began a project he plans to complete and screen at the end of the week. It’s a documentary that asks cinematographers for their opinions on a variety of topics, including the impact of digital technology on their craft. Figgis’ first interviewees were ASC members Stephen Goldblatt, Adam Holender and Robbie Greenberg.

As part of the festival’s tribute to Goldblatt, an exhibit of his still photographs was mounted in the main theater. He began his career shooting for Fleet Street newspapers and magazines in Great Britain and gradually worked his way into portraiture. Goldblatt shot many now-classic images of The Beatles in their prime. Prints of many of these images are included in the exhibit, along with more recent photos Goldblatt shot in Southeast Asia.

At nearby Opus Film Studio, a workshop was held on the Arri 416 camera. In the main theater, director Ang Lee was on hand to introduce Lust, Caution, his espionage thriller set in China during World War II; the picture was shot by Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC. “This film is about two topics that are forbidden in my culture and therefore very exciting for me: patriotism and female sexuality,” said Lee. “The film is a phenomenon in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. I hope you like it as well.”

Pierre Lhomme, AFC, the great French cinematographer whose credits include Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows, is attending Camerimage for the fourth time. “I think of this festival as a family reunion,” he said. “Cinematography can be a lonely job, but here is an opportunity to meet with colleagues and discuss our hopes and fears. We keep track of each other through images, but there’s a certain joy that results when we can gather and celebrate our art. Only a cinematographer can truly understand what’s behind another cinematographer’s images.”

In keeping with Camerimage tradition, festival nightlife began to ramp up early in the week. At the cocktail lounge at the Centrum Hotel, revelers were still going strong as the sun rose on Tuesday. Among those on hand was Audrey Kovacs, the widow of Laszlo Kovacs, ASC; later this week, she and Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC will present the top prize in the student competition, the Golden Tadpole, which has been renamed the Laszlo Kovacs Student Award-Golden Tadpole in honor of the late cinematographer’s longtime support of the festival. (Silver and Bronze Tadpoles will also be presented to student filmmakers.)

Also spotted with the revelers were Dana Ross of Technicolor, Phil Radin of Panavision, Joe Dunton of Joe Dunton Cameras, and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, PSC.

Day Three: Tuesday, Nov. 26

About 250 students and filmmakers packed a soundstage at the Opus Film Studio today to observe a lighting seminar hosted by Panavision and led by Haris Zambarloukos, BSC. Zambarloukos lit and composed a simple scene to illustrate the characteristics of anamorphic (’Scope) photography. He sketched the history of anamorphic photography, beginning with The Robe (1953). He set up a rack-focus shot to show how astigmatizers in the lens alleviate unflattering distortions.

“James Joyce said mistakes are the portal to discovery,” noted the cinematographer. “I find that the imperfections introduced by anamorphic tools can be controlled and put to use as storytelling tools. Anamorphic has some similarities to black-and-white in that the reduction or elimination of extraneous details tends to emphasize and direct attention to the contours of the face. Cinematography is not rocket science; it’s the result of a process. The image is built, just like a painter makes a sketch and builds on it.”

Later in the day, Zambarloukos’ film Sleuth, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Michael Caine and Jude Law, was shown in competition. At a press conference afterward, the cinematographer and Tim Harvey, the film’s production designer, discussed how their disciplines melded in making the picture.

Tuesday’s events also included an editing workshop led by Larry Sider, a basic introduction to 4K technology by Arri, a presentation by Framestore CFC, a hands-on Artemis demonstration by Sachtler, and a meeting between students and unit still photographer Murray Close where the topic was “The Role of the Still Photographer in Modern Cinema.”

The day’s scheduled events ended with a non-competition screening of American Gangster, which was introduced by its director of photography, Harris Savides, ASC.

Day Four: Wednesday, Nov. 28

Wednesday at Camerimage is traditionally given over to the student film competition. Judging this year’s contest is a jury led by Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC and comprising Billy Williams, BSC; animation filmmaker Witold Gierz; photojournalist Chris Niedenthal; still photographer Murray Close; Kazakhstani filmmaker Zhanabek Zhetiruov; and German cinematographer Rüdiger Laske. The field includes 31 student films from 13 countries.

A sampling of the student films revealed a wide range of subjects, including a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel tale with horror-film effects, a story about a kidnapped child who begins to identify and emulate his captors, a story of a teenaged girl who learns self-respect after mistreatment by a boyfriend, and a wistful story that traces an old woman’s reminiscence of her childhood love for her father.

“The skill and sensitivity of the student filmmakers never fails to astonish us,” says Zsigmond. “There are a surprising number of entries this year that were photographed in the anamorphic format. Choosing a winner is difficult, but we’re cheered by the notion that the future of filmmaking is in good hands. Camerimage helps to emphasize that while technology evolves, a well-trained eye will always be essential to good cinematic storytelling.”

This year, the top student prize, the Golden Tadpole, has been named for Laszlo Kovacs, ASC, in recognition of the late cinematographer’s dedication to education and longtime association with Camerimage. Silver and Bronze Tadpole prizes will also be given.

Wednesday’s final event was a party hosted by Panavision at Piotrkowska 97, a restaurant on the main street of Lodz. This pedestrian mall stretches more than 3 kilometers and is said to be the longest in Europe. The street is lined with 19th century mansions built by textile magnates. Piotrkowska 97 is such a mansion that has been converted into a restaurant. Despite the formal surroundings, the party was informal and relaxed. An amazing international collection of renowned cinematographers mingled. Around midnight, Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC made a grand entrance, and some attendees enjoyed the hospitality until 3 a.m.