It may be hard to hear above the din, but the annual Camerimage film festival is under way, and the ongoing debate over the role of the cinematographer in the digital age has risen in volume.
Central to the arguments: Now that so much can be fixed in post, and with the growing sophistication of CGI and visual effects, there’s a danger that the skills possessed by the director of photography will become undervalued, or even lost.
“I sometimes come across an attitude among people doing post-production on films who believe they don’t need a d.p. at all,” says Kazik Suwala, manager of Camerimage, a fest dedicated to the art of cinematography, which runs through Nov. 22, in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
At issue is whether cinematographers should continue working beyond a film’s shooting days and stay on for the post-production process, working with colorists and editors to preserve the integrity of the original images they shot.
Both Suwala and fest director Marek Zydowicz say that lensers have to fight to preserve this right.
Zydowicz adds that a d.p.’s participation in post-production is more than a privilege; it’s the only way to ensure that images captured during a shot aren’t misinterpreted. He compares the filmmaking process to the way the masters of old, like Rembrandt, would work. These artists had workshops where the bulk of the painting was carried out by assistants under the master’s direction.
Zydowicz sees the director and the d.p. as being like these earlier creators of art, overseeing every stage of the production process. There must be someone on set, Zydowicz says, who knows where to put the camera, how to light the scene, and is able to consider a wide range of other aesthetic factors concerning the image, such as composition, color, light and shade, and movement.
Zydowicz points to Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida,” Poland’s foreign-language Oscar entry, as a film in which the cinematography makes a huge contribution. Variety critic Peter Debruge called the movie’s black-and-white composition “striking,” and New York magazine’s David Edelstein said that the picture’s narrative is conveyed by its style, in which “the camera is fixed in place. The feel is desolate, constricted. The characters’ heads are low in the frame. The space above suggests a haunting indifference on the part of the universe.”
Zydowicz points to Canada’s Oscar contender “Mommy,” directed by Xavier Dolan, with cinematography by Andre Turpin, and Finland’s entry “Concrete Night,” directed by Pirjo Honkasalo, with cinematography by Peter Flinckenberg, as other films in which the camerawork is exceptional.
Yet inasmuch as filmmaking is collaborative, cinematography-centric Camerimage embraces all aspects of the process, including production design, editing and post-production. “We want to let people (in the various disciplines) know about the technologies they can use to create their artistic vision,” Zydowicz says.