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Roman Polanski Joins EnergaCamerimage’s Emotional Tribute to Lenser Witold Sobocinski

Europe’s mainstay fest for cinematography, newly rechristened EnergaCamerimage, launched its 26th edition and a week of 241 film screenings in the Polish town of Bydgoszcz on Saturday with a guest appearance by Roman Polanski.

The controversial but seminal director of classics such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown” took the stage to honor a longtime colleague, cinematographer Witold Sobocinski, with a lifetime achievement award for his luminous lensing. The pair, who shared stories from film school in Poland under the former communist regime, worked together in 1988 on “Frantic,” the Paris-set thriller starring Emmanuelle Seigner, now Polanski’s wife.

The master lenser also filmed “The Wedding” and the Oscar-nommed “The Promised Land,” both directed by Andrzej Wajda.

Fest director Marek Zydowicz credited Sobocinski with influencing a generation of cinematographers, noting he continues to teach at the Lodz film school that has set dozens of future directors and camera people on their professional paths.

The emotional tribute to Sobocinski, now 89, included recorded messages of congratulations from Ron Howard and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, prompting the opera hall audience to rise to their feet with applause.

The gala evening at the city’s soaring Opera Nova kicked off with an introduction by John Bailey, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who boasted that half of the members inducted in the last year are international filmmakers. Bailey, taking note of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended WWI on Nov. 11, congratulated Poles on the birth of an independent nation, an event also born out of the close of the Great War.

Recalling his visit to the fest in 1993, when it was based in the nearby city of Torun, Bailey recalled the place as gray and immersed in coal smoke. “There were no McDonald’s,” he said, observing that now the fest brings in filmmakers from around the world to a city that celebrates film art created with the leading edge of technology.

The fest also honored Emmy winner Carol Littleton with its prize for editor with “a unique visual sensitivity” for her work on films such as “E.T.,” “The Big Chill” and “A Walk in the Woods.” Littleton, who thanked cinematographers for inspiring her best work, said, “They create the worlds of our imagination.”

Carol Littleton

Carol Littleton (Photo: Dima Kutz)

The fest’s 10 competitive sections were also introduced, along with the 48 film professionals who will adjudicate them, covering ground from music videos, short and feature-length documentaries and commercials to TV pilots, feature debuts and the best of Polish film.

Another prize, for outstanding work by a cinematographer-director duo, went to French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud and his longtime DP Jean-Marie Dreujou. The two, who have turned out a host of films over a decade including “Two Brothers” and “Wolf Totem,” noted after seeing a short tribute film to their work featuring several sequences with tigers that they had forgotten “how many animals” they have filmed.

Zydowicz, arguing that filmmaking has its origins not in photography but in painting, also announced an exhibition in nearby Torun that will feature the art of Picasso, Matisse and Miro among others, titled “Painting Still Alive…On the Path to Modernity.”

The evening wrapped with a screening of a main competition film at the fest, Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate,” the Willem Dafoe-starring story of impressionist Vincent van Gogh, lensed by Benoit Delhomme, followed by David Lowery’s “The Old Man & the Gun,” the true crime story of career bank robber Forrest Tucker, shot by Joe Anderson.

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