Europe’s leading festival of cinematography, Camerimage, kicked off its 25th edition Saturday with Kenneth Branagh praising what he called “the magnificent seven” DPs he’s worked with in his career.

The lensers “made me work harder and better and more comfortably,” Branagh said, adding that Haris Zambarloukos, who shot his “Murder on the Orient Express,” is a “cinematographer of rare grace and power.” The adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie tale screened in its Polish premiere following the fest opening gala.

Camerimage fest director Marek Zydowicz summed up the spirit at the packed Opera Nova screening hall in Bydgoszcz, noting that in Poland before the Iron Curtain opened, cinema was “a symbol of beauty and hope sheltering us from the difficult surroundings.”

Branagh, who was honored along with Zambarloukos for the actor-cinematographer duo prize, called himself “the junior partner” with his collaborator. The actor was also given the Krzysztof Kieslowski prize, while director Volker Schlondorff (“The Tin Drum”) took home a lifetime achievement honor for “great aesthetic sensitivity.”

Veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman, also feted with a prize for outstanding achievement, noted that his four decades of work, which often explores how well government institutions function, was only possible because of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

That guarantor of free speech “is now threatened by a fascist who probably doesn’t even know what the word fascist means,” Wiseman told the audience, prompting cheers.

In announcing the films competing in the Camerimage Polish section, gala host Grazyna Torbicka also expressed hope that filmmaking in Poland will not soon be politicized in the wake of the recent Polish Film Institute shake-up forced by the country’s right-leaning government.

Alexander Payne’s consumerism parody “Downsizing,” shot by Phedon Papamichael, also screened at the hall Saturday.

The fest, which runs through Nov. 18, features several workshops by cinematic masters, industry events on new filming technology, and sections for debut DPs, music videos and best work from film students.