Cinematographers in focus at film festival

LODZ, Poland — In Lodz, Poland, a city that has its own walk of fame with sidewalk stars bearing the names of Krzysztof Kieslowski, Roman Polanski, Agnieszka Holland and Krzysztof Zanussi — cinema, and particularly cinematography, is taken very seriously. Thousands of film students, cinematographers and directors flock to the city each year from all over the world to rub elbows with top talent at the Cameraimage Film Fest.

Guillermo Navarro, d.p. of Mexican entry “Pan’s Labyrinth,” took the fest’s biggest competitive prize, the Golden Frog, announced Dec. 3 during the closing-night festivities.

“The festival made a huge impression on me,” said Navarro. “There’s nothing like it in the rest of the world. It’s a place where cinematographers can come together. And it’s not a rivalry but a camaraderie.”

Past lifetime honorees have included Sven Nykvist, whose recent passing prompted a retrospective of his work with Ingmar Bergman, Vittorio Storaro and Vilmos Zsigmond — all treated like rock stars in this former textile capital that’s a mixture of 19th century elegance and Communist-era industry.

Milling about the festival’s main venue, the well-equipped Grand Theater, festgoers could easily bump into David Lynch, lifetime achievement honoree Robbie Muller (the Dutch d.p. associated with Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier and Jim Jarmusch), juror-lenser Michael Chapman (“Raging Bull”) or Hungarian director Istvan Szabo (“Mephisto,” “Being Julia”), given a special award for his “unique visual sensitivity.”

Fest attendees, many of them wide-eyed wannabes, lapped up the nonstop menu of press conferences, seminars and master classes, packing into conference rooms to hear Szabo instruct aspiring cinematographers to “love the light” or Irish d.p. Seamus McGarvey (“World Trade Center”) talk about the challenge of matching the skin tones of Nicole Kidman’s face with her prosthetic nose in “The Hours.”

According to festival organizers, 360 lensers from 36 countries were in attendance, along with 1,250 film students. The total of 55,000 festgoers repped more than a fivefold increase over the event’s first year in 1993, when it was held in the Polish medieval town of Torun.

Attendees point out that the intimate fest gives students a chance to talk to famous d.p.s, directors and actors in an nonexclusive atmosphere.

Lynch, whose “Inland Empire” was screened out of competition, held court everywhere from the fest’s main venue to cocktail soirees at the Hotel Centrum, where a majority of the talent was put up. In Lodz, Lynch has become a sort of grand patron of the arts. He filmed part of “Inland Empire” here, using local talent, and is the catalyst behind a film/arts center that will be built in his name in a 75,000-square-foot former electrical factory adjacent to the railway station.

The compound will eventually house the festival as well as museums devoted to technology and contemporary art. The project is being funded by a combination of private investors, city and state funds and European union funds, according to fest director Marek Zydowicz. Target date of completion is two to three years.

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