Establishing an identity and a focus is always the biggest challenge for film festival organizers not affiliated with marquee events like Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and Sundance — even if they’ve been at it for a while. But despite its placement on the calendar just as the holidays are kicking into high gear and awards season makes inordinate demands on talent, Poland’s cinematography showcase Camerimage has fulfilled its mission statement from day one back in 1993, when it was held in the medieval town of Torun, the home of Copernicus.
Arts programmer, fest founder and director Marek Zydowicz took early encouragement from the late, great d.p. Conrad Hall (“Road to Perdition,” “American Beauty”), whose generous spirit, he says, “presides over the festival and inspires us all.”
Now situated in Bydgoszcz, the festival’s remoteness — the journey from Los Angeles can be arduous — contributes to its character, and the large international student contingent adds a youthful exuberance not found at other festivals.
“It’s such a terrific, warm event, and cinematographers love it because they are truly appreciated and treated like artists,” says Phedon Papamichael, a fest regular whose “Nebraska” screened in competition last year. “It’s great to see cinematographers getting the rare opportunity to catch up, admire each other’s work, and socialize in a relaxed setting. That just doesn’t happen — at least to this extent — anywhere else.”
The weeklong 22nd edition of the Camerimage Intl. Festival of the Art of Cinematography runs Nov. 15 with a competition screening of “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” photographed by Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who won the fest’s 3D prize last year for “Gravity.”
Initially conceived after an offhand conversation between Zydowicz and d.p. Vittorio Storaro, Camerimage continues to thrive, growing in attendance and importance. More than 350 movies will screen, up 10% from last year.
Although the fest’s previous location in Lodz, where it moved in its eighth year, boasted the built-in advantage of being home to Poland’s film industry and national film school, the shift in 2010 to Bydgoszcz on the Brda River offered a picturesque contrast to Lodz’s drab industrial air and a more modern facility, the town’s Opera Nova.
The dates were also moved up a couple of weeks to avoid the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. and Canada, and the harsher weather of the oncoming Polish winter. “Last year, there were about 460 cinematographers in attendance, many of them top names, and 800 students from 126 different schools, representing 31 countries,” says fest organizer Kazik Suwala. “This year we expect those numbers to grow.”
Among the big-name cinematographers slated to make the trip are Vilmos Zsigmond, a fixture at the fest since its earliest incarnations, Stephen Goldblatt, Ed Lachman, Matthew Libatique and Intl. Cinematographers Guild president Steven Poster, who will present screenings of the winning films of the 18th ICG Emerging Cinematographer Awards.
The British contingent is traditionally strong, and participation by the Russian, Japanese and Chinese cinematography communities has been growing.
Juries will be chaired by Roland Joffe, Roger Spottiswoode and Albert Hughes, among others.
Documentary film has been given more attention in recent editions of Camerimage, which last year became a qualifying festival for the Oscars doc short subject category. Films compete in a wide range of categories including student films, directors’ debuts, cinematographers’ debuts, music videos, Polish films, and 3D films, a category added last year.
Zydowicz is looking prescient in light of the growing popularity of similar events like the Manaki Brothers Intl. Cinematographer Film Festival in Macedonia, also founded in 1993, and Golden Eye, the Intl. Festival of Cameramen, which takes place in Tbilisi, Georgia, and is now in its sixth year. In the d.p. community, however, Camerimage is recognized as the premier festival dedicated to the craft.
“We started as a way to turn the spotlight on these great, under-appreciated artists,” says Zydowicz, “whose work reaches across cultural boundaries and reminds us of our common humanity.”