It wouldn’t be too hard to imagine that filming schedules around the globe come to a standstill during the third week of November as all the world’s greatest cinematographers descend on Bydgoszcz in Poland for the annual Camerimage Film Festival.
It is like a gathering of the industry’s shaman and visionaries, brought together to celebrate what is arguably the most important part of the moving pictures industry, the moving pictures. Nowhere else are the men and women behind the cameras held in such high esteem. Nowhere else do Directors of Photography receive such tumultuous applause when the credits roll as they do at Camerimage.
Of course cinematography isn’t just an art, it is also a craft with an increasingly complex array of highly technical tools and all the big hitters are there displaying their wares. It’s not exactly your standard trade show as the booths are in the Opera House where many of the screenings are happening, so you can finish watching a film and then get your hands on the cameras and lenses that were used to shoot it.
The competitions make up are large part of the Camerimage festival programme, with juries primarily comprised of fellow cinematographers. Beyond the long-established categories for international and Polish features and documentaries, as well as the more recent additions of 3D and music videos, this year has seen the inclusion for the first time of TV series pilots, indicating how much television has changed and improved in recent years, thanks to the likes of HBO and now the streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. Because the festival is a celebration of the best cinematography, unlike other large international film festivals it does not rely on a programme filled with premieres, and star-studded red carpets do not exist. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find an actor anywhere at the festival (although Giovanni Ribisi, who appears in the First-Time Directors competition film Meadowland, is on the Main Competition jury).
While premieres aren’t a vital part of the Camerimage festival, the second only European screening of the latest Spielberg/Hanks collaboration Bridge of Spies (shot by Janusz Kaminski) was the Opening Gala film, where Spielberg again explores the theme of a seemingly ordinary man doing the extraordinary to save thousands of lives. The Danish Girl (dir Tom Hooper, DoP Danny Cohen, right) also showed as part of the Opening Gala.
During the opening speeches at Camerimage, Festival director Marek Zydowicz spoke about a conversation he overheard between two cinematographers discussing the festival, which one of them described as a “spiritual spa for cinematographers”, a description that Zydowicz wholly endorsed, as did everyone else attending.
On the opening night Polish filmmaker Marcel Lozinski received a Gold Frog for his contribution to Documentary Cinema, and UK designer Eve Stewart was awarded a Golden Frog for Production Designer with Unique Visual Sensitivity. During her acceptance speech, Eve was trying to find an appropriate collective noun for cinematographers, and based on my experiences at this festival I would suggest “a party of cinematographers”, because not a night passes without a huge gathering with copious amounts of food, drink and genial conversation. While the festival may now be officially considered a spa, it’s definitely not the place for a detox. There is never any sense of elitism at these parties, and the conversation is easy as you find yourself talking with the world’s greatest lensmen who are also looking for a surface to put their drinks and plates of food.
Camerimage isn’t just about the moving image, and two accompanying photographic exhibitions are being held in the nearby city of Torun, with a free, daily art bus service provided for those wanting a break from moving images. Sunday night was the opening of internationally renowned photographer Sandro Miller’s exhibition Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, which sees a collaboration between the photographer and the actor to reproduce some of the most iconic photographic portraits from the medium’s history. Not only are they technically perfect, but Malkovich’s interpretations are astounding. The other exhibition is by rockstar-photographer Bryan Adams. This is divided into two parts, a selection of portraits of famous people from the worlds of film, music and fashion, including one of the Queen. In contrast, the other part is a series of portraits of battle-scarred war veterans. The opening night for this was packed as the local people clamoured for a glimpse of an international celebrity in person, and on the gallery walls. Both exhibitions run until the end of January, if you find yourself in Torun.
The festival isn’t exclusively for industry giants and working cinematographers, with film students making up a large part of the attendance, and there are competitions for them to showcase their work, alongside the best works from Poland’s Katowice Film School and Helsinki’s Elo Film School. Students also tend to make up a large part of the audiences at the dozens of workshops on offer, to learn about the latest gear, technological advances and techniques as well as learn from some of the masters of the art/craft.
To stay in touch with what is happening at the festival, follow them on Twitter @CamerimageFest or Instagram @camerimage.festival. The festival runs to 21 November, when the coveted Golden Frog will be awarded.