I’ll drink to that
If Camerimage didn't exist it would have to be invented. Because, what would you do without it? How else could we gather a clutch of cinematographers together in one venue? How would you create a place for students, professionals and enthusiasts to all come together – to share, to argue and to enjoy the diversity of cinematography?
Camerimage is a need, not a desire. Something that strikes me most is the honesty of the festival. It is not a festival of the popular, nor is it led by "star" status. It simply reflects, in the selection of the films, and especially in the winners of the Golden Frogs over the last 22 years, the best of cinematography. I'd like to think that if you added up the entire budgets of all the winning films, that collectively that budget would not come to the bill for the Starbucks for the executives of, say, Prince Of Persia or Assassins Creed. The truth is that a festival that loves cinema must love cinematography and brilliance doesn't have a price. That's what Camerimage is.
There are, of course, other great festivals of cinematography, but not that many. Maybe it’s because we are probably such a difficult tribe to muster. Getting a conspiracy of cinematographers together is not an easy job. So I must applauded the Manaki Brothers Film Festival in Bitola, Macedonia, and now the new Bristol International Festival Of Cinematography, on their recent events in September. I wish them all well.
But, at Camerimage the standard has been set. The desire and ability shown by Marek ?ydowicz and his team, in bringing together some of the world’s best examples of our art, and combining this with debate and celebration, is a triumph of organisation and an expression of love.
I say this despite my rare attendance in Poland. Yet each year around March or April, I still
receive an e-mail from Kazik Suwala asking if I'm planning on coming over. Occasionally, we even meet up for a chat over a pint, as the festival team passes through London on their travels in preparation for the big event in November. And every year I reply, “Yes, this time, I'm really going to try and make it.”
Obviously it is a great honour to be asked but, to be honest, this has become a kind of ritual.
Inevitably, I fail to keep my promise and end up working on a film. My loss, each year
that goes by, is that I miss out on what is probably the most honest and heartfelt celebration of any art form – the annual celebration of the art of cinematography – and I promise myself once again… “Next year!”.
Now, I have to imagine you might well be reading this at Camerimage itself. You're actually there,
in Poland. Suffering in the icy, misty, dark, wintery, vodka-driven nights in Bydgoszcz. You are lucky people. Lucky because Camerimage is such a great place to be.
I can say this because I did once make it there. I managed a flying visit, back when the festival was in Lodz, wait for it… in 2002. A long time ago, but my recollections are still fresh. Fresh enough to remember a festival which immerses you in cinema; talking, drinking, sharing, eating and sleeping cinematography. That's what Camerimage is and long may it last.
It was on that fleeting visit to Lodz that I received the honour of the Cinematographer-Director Duo Award, given for my collaboration with director Ken Loach over many years. What I recall is being tired from the travelling, but then inspired by the reception we got. Then there was the questioning and the discourse with participants. Describing shots, answering difficult questions, about how and why, about our approach to shooting, our likes and dislikes. Time seemed to collapse. It was more than a festival. Even the masterclass went well and I have to admit that these are things that I always find difficult, but rewarding. For me, it's always easier to do something rather than to explain it. But it's explaining things that helps you to understand what it is and how you do it. It makes you realise how to achieve results.
For me the experience was more than enlightening and it was, of course, genuinely rewarding. After all, I now have one of those precious golden amphibians. Though it was kind of tough. But isn't that what we, as cinematographers, like? What with the vodka and the lack of sleep? Hey, isn't that normal?
Long may it last. I wish Marek and Kazik and the entire team the best of luck. Thanks also to the sponsors, to those who develop the tools of our trade, and to the participants there in Bydgoszcz. Stay sober. Keep calm. Get some sleep. Love film.
And to those who will be holding their Golden Frogs, congratulations. This is probably the greatest honour.
Hope to see you all next year.
Barry Ackroyd BSC
British Society Of Cinematographers