Camerimage At 30: Cinematographers “Should Be Treated As Artists”

As the 30th edition of Poland’s international cinematography film festival gets underway, creator and director Marek Żydowicz asserts that promoting cinematographers’ artistic contributions in the hopes of expanding authorship rights to their work remains a priority. He also shares an update on the planned European Film Center Camerimage, a cultural center that will be built in host city Toruń.

Planning for the center began in 2019, when Żydowicz signed an agreement with the Polish state and Toruń government. Construction—representing an investment of PLN 600 million (roughly $128.9 million)—is slated to begin next year and expected to be completed by the end of 2025.

Żydowicz says the center will include a main screening room with seating for roughly 1,500, as well as three 200-300 seat screening rooms. “There will be areas for exhibitions, there will be areas for education,” he adds, nothing that the project also would include a 500-square meter soundstage for production (including an LED wall for virtual production) and postproduction facilities.

Three decades ago when he was hatching the idea for the festival, Żydowicz reached out to influential cinematographers Vittorio Storaro and the late Sven Nykvist for support. “In that time people were connecting each other by faxes, and so I sent faxes to both of them,” he remembers. “And funny enough, both replies came in by fax one after another in the same minute.”

At the debut Camerimage, Nykvist received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Storaro served as jury chair, awarding the first Golden Frog to Stuart Dryburgh for his lensing of Jane Campion’s The Piano.

Żydowicz says that in the fax messages, he promised to “create a place that concerns the images and the creators of images—the  cinematographers—who are [not always] being treated as artists. Our aim is to change the [perception] of the cinematographer … so people understand that the work they are doing is a piece of art.”

He says that in Poland, authorship rights for cinematographers’ work is today treated more or less the same as they would for a director or composer, meaning, “you can’t change the image without their approval” and the cinematographer also is eligible to collect residuals. But he adds that this isn’t the case in most countries: “We believe they should be treated as artists. Especially now, when the image could be changed in every way through postproduction in the digital world.”

Over the years, the festival has expanded in scope. Describing filmmaking as “teamwork,” Żydowicz says, “we’ve always been trying to invite [other disciplines including] directors, production designers, set designers, editors.” Honorees this week include cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, Lifetime Achievement; Baz Luhrmann, Special Award for Outstanding Director; Alex Gibney, Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking; and Sarah Greenwood, Special Award for a Production Designer.

Camerimage opens this evening with Roger Deakins-lensed Empire of Light, directed by Sam Mendes, who will be on hand to introduce the film and accept the Special Krzysztof Kieslowski Award for a director. Empire of Light is among the film’s in the festival’s main competition. A complete list of the competition films can be found here.

This year, the Festival also is showing support for Ukraine, hosting guests from Ukraine’s KINOKO cinematography film festival. “They’re coming here to talk about their festival, about sharing films and they will do a seminar on cinematographers at war,” Żydowicz reports.

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