Spirit of Friendship
For thirty-nine years the town of Bitola, nestling in the Balkan Hills of Macedonia, has been hosting a Festival to celebrate the art of cinematography. The Festival was established to honour the pioneers of the craft, the Manaki Brothers, cinematographers documenting life in Macedonia at the end of the nineteenth century. The brothers, Milton and Janaki, working alone with their camera, became self-directors editing their own films. To celebrate their contribution to the history of Balkan cinema the Manaki Festival is now established as the oldest in the world devoted to the craft of cinematography.
Although many great cinematographers of the world have graced the Festival few will have been as eagerly feted as Roger Deakins CBE ASC BSC. In the footsteps of the British cinematographers of the past decades, Freddie Francis, Billy Williams, Roger Pratt and Chris Menges, this year it was Roger Deakins turn to receive his Life-time Achievement Award of the Golden Camera 300. Previous International recipients have also included Sven Nykvist, Delli Colli, Raoul Coutard, Vadim Yusov, Vittorio Storaro, Michael Balhaus, Jose Luis Alcaine, John Seale, Dante Spinotti and Guiseppe Rotunno. None managed thirteen Oscar nominations before the final judgement belatedly went his way!
In the absence of the Macedonian President, Dr Gjorge Ivanov, the Camera 300 was presented to Roger Deakins by the Festival Director Gena Teodosievska MA. On the opening night the Special Golden Camera 300 was presented to the legendary Diva, the Tunisian born actress, Claudia Cardinale after her 60-year career. Conrad Hall had described her as “the dream of every cinematographer.”
An overflowing Master Class illustrated with clips from his feature career, was given by Roger Deakins covering his life story from documentaries and feature films from 1984 up to Sicario. It was mentored as customary in Manaki by Nigel Walters BSC vice-president having received considerable support in preparation of clips from Gwyn Evans. So popular was this event that an additional session was arranged on the following day for students, many having travelled the long journey from Serbia.
Building Bridges may be an overused cliché but the work of Imago in the last decade has resulted in close friendship and cooperation between the Balkan societies of cinematographers. Roger Deakins and his wife, James were welcomed by delegates for the opening of the Fourth Balkan Conference. When asked by the conference chairman, Nigel Walters, the value of the Imago Federation to the cinematographers of the region the delegates unanimously agreed that being brought together by Imago had resulted in the nine Societies collaborating effectively to improve many facets of cinematography in the Balkans.
A plea was made from the Slovenian delegates for International Master Classes for the Balkans to be established. The hunger for knowledge is nowhere stronger than amongst the young students of the region. The visit of such cinematographers as Roger Deakins was inspirational but such events need to be organised on a regular basis. Not just annually in Bitola.
An agenda item from Bulgaria on high border tariffs whilst crossings frontiers with camera equipment was withdrawn pending further evidence.
A call for Authorship rights to be regulated in the Balkans was voted unanimously. Many countries have long established co-authors rights which are not respected. The delegates called for support from Imago for cinematographers to be present at the restoration process. This is a struggle being led by the Czech Society with some success in their homeland. It also stressed the importance of cinematographers being present for colour grading. Television companies are specially to blame for disregarding such a basic quality issue.
On a more positive note the Slovenians announced the creation of a new festival to be called balKam, the first edition to be held at the Ljubljiana cinematheque from November 2-5 next month. Initially two representatives each from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo have been funded. Later the balKam is planned to move from country to country and a selection of movies shown in capital cities cinematheques in Sarajevo, Belgrade, Skopje each year. This could be an opportunity for Master Classes to be held in conjunction with the balKam. The most successful Master Classes in the Balkans occurred when the Greek Society assisted by Imago but with little funding, had audiences of almost a thousand students when held in Athens.
Gratitude was expressed by all delegates for the generosity of the Festival Organisers and especially Gena Teodosievska, the Festival director who herself had given an inspired address to open the proceedings. The presence of Imago President Paul-Rene Roestad FNF for his knowledge and advice was also invaluable and appreciated.
The Main Festival Competition itself ended with a triumph for the South Korean cinematographer, Kyong-pyo HONG who received the Golden Camera 300 for his work on Burning. The Silver Camera 300 was awarded to popular Frenchman Eric Gautier AFC for Ash is the Purest White, a realistic “no holds barred” portrayal of life in the Huanxi province.
The acclaimed Polish film Cold War gave cinematographer Lukaz Zal the Bronze Camera 300, a reward for his established collaboration with director Pawel Pawlikowski. His skills on Ida shine on.
The high standard of the final Festival selection continues thanks to the astute judgement of the artistic Director, Blagoja Kunovski-Dore.
Next year will mark the 40th year for this Festival of passion and devotion to the art of cinematography. Cinematographers everywhere have every reason to be proud of the Manaki Festival and be grateful for the continued support of the Macedonian Ministry of Culture.