Sissy Reyes, recipient of the 2018 Drew Llewelyn ACS Camerimage Scholarship, reports back from Poland – by Sissy Reyes
The International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography, Camerimage, is the greatest and most recognised festival dedicated to the art of cinematography and cinematographers.
I was very fortunate to be able to attend the last festival as the 2018 recipient of the Drew Llewelyn ACS Camerimage Scholarship. This was the first time I had ever attended, and so arrived with no other expectation than this was a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience.
The main festival venue is Opera Nova where all films in competition are presented alongside workshops and seminars. Competition films included First Man (cinematography by Linus Sandgren FSF), The Favourite (cinematography by Robbie Ryan BSC ISC), Capernaum (cinematography by Christopher Aoun), The Fortress (cinematography by Ji-yong Kim who picked up a Golden Frog for his work), Roma (cinematography by Alfonso Cuarón), Phantom Thread (cinematography by an uncredited Paul Thomas Anderson), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel AFC ASC), When the Bull Cried (cinematography by Karen Vazquez Guadarrama) and Cold War (cinematography by Łukasz Żal PSC) to name a few.
Outside the screening rooms ARRI, Panavision, Red, Panasonic, Sony, Cook Lenses, DoPchoice, Rosco and Leitz, amongst others, presented a scrumptious suite of tools, gear and toys to tempt. From students, professionals, film and gear buffs, connoisseurs to mere aficionados, it becomes very clear very soon that the festival will offer no respite for the wicked.
The Opening Ceremony surprised attendees when director Roman Polanski walked onto the stage to deliver the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of Witold Sobociński PSC and his legendary legacy as cameraman, artist and mentor of Polish cinema.
It is very difficult for me to account for all the activities, films, workshops and seminars presented and attended without even getting into the legendary party schedule. I will only attempt this time to present my top ten highlights of the festival in no specific order:
1) The Imago Diversity & Inclusion Panel discussion on the lives of cinematographers. The panel included Elen Lotman ESC, Rachel Morrison ASC, Claire Pijman NSC, Jendra Jarnagin and Sophia Olson FSF. It was a terrific and honest conversation on the challenges of ‘joining the circus’ of a filmmaker’s life.
The main discussion was around the consequences of living in financial distress, future work uncertainty and making tough personal decisions for our careers – moving countries, having/not having children, loosing friends, etc. – and how all these effect our mental, emotional and physical health. There was a deeper conversation regarding the way the industry works and the need to change systemic mechanisms and structures within it to empower ourselves as artists, technicians and parents/carers.
2) Claire Pijman’s poetic documentary on Robby Müller NSC BVK, Living the Light. Pijman’s film is an ephemeral and evocative look at the artistry and work of a legendary cinematographer. It is a unique look into his life through his own video camera documenting the happiness, beauty, melancholy, loneliness and success.
3) Having a ‘Fan girl’ moment while chatting to Rachel Morrison ACS. Power to the people!
4) Seeing Roma on the big screen and listening to Alfonso ‘El Maestro’ Cuarón talk about the film. Roma is simply a masterpiece of cinema, reminiscent of Tarkovsky, Truffaut and Fellini but purely Cuarón. The execution of cinematic language, symbolism and the film plane with its foreground and background storylines and intricate sound are a triumph of the cinematic experience. Roma to me was a visual and auditory echo of the great Mexican poet/philosopher Octavio Paz’s Labyrinth of Solitude and a triumph for diversity representation in Mexican and world cinema.
5) Meeting Bruno Delbonnel who, generously, shared with me beautiful words of wisdom. The festival could have ended there and I would have been a happy camper but thankfully there was more.
6) ‘The Language of Cinema is Images’ hosted by Australian ex-pat cinematographer Christopher Doyle alongside Ed Lachman ASC and James Laxton. In all his eccentricity and borderline excess, the Shaman of cinema Chris Doyle – aka Du Ke Feng – brought us back to the essence of what it means to be an artist of frame, colour and light.
With an almost philosophical approach, the panel talked about what cinematography was for them. In short, cinematography is about darkness and mystery. It is about collaboration and generosity, transcending the camera and the ego to be present and find emotion. Cinematography is about commitment and objectivity while being open and critical.
7) The massive pancakes at Mannequin. I over-ordered.
8) Nerding-out with Cold War cinematographer Łukasz Żal over legendary Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa and his iconic black and white films which galvanised Mexican identity to the world… whilst being my Nan and I’s favourite Sunday mornings films.
9) Hanging out with the London gang and making new friends.
10) And finally, loving the parties, all of them equally. Though that last party with the chocolate fountain where we hijacked the piano and the whole place sang David Bowie and The Beatles was pretty memorable.
Top Frogs for the main competition were: Golden Frog went to Ji-yong Kim for his work on The Fortress, the Silver Frog went to Łukasz Żal for Cold War, and the Bronze Frog to Alfonso Cuarón for Roma. As part of this list I have to include Farshid Akhlaghi from Australia via Iran, who won the Special Mention in the Documentary Shorts Competition for Pain Is Mine which he shot and directed. Bravo!
Before finishing, I have to address one of the biggest pieces of news this year regarding the festival itself. During the festival week there was an overall sense of concern amongst regular attendees regarding scheduling and venue capacity for the festival. The number of people attending each year has increased, yet the capacity to accommodate audiences and retain the sense of intimacy has fallen short according to regular attendees of the festival.
These themes were eventually addressed in a resounding manner by the Festival’s long standing director Marek Żydowicz at the closing ceremony when, along with the entire festival staff standing on stage, Żydowicz told the audience about the tremendous funding gap between last year and this year’s Festival. In a passionate and defiant delivery Żydowicz criticised the local government for its ‘petty politics’ and announced that the location for Camerimage 2019 is moving from Bydgoszcz and it is yet to be confirmed.
He urged the attendees to suggest new locations for the now ‘homeless’ festival. Needless to say the news astonished attendees as the thought of this year’s festival possibly being the last Camerimage held in Poland hit home.
Finally, learning about the passing of Witold Sobociński, the legendary Polish Cinematographer who had just received the EnergaCamerimage lifetime achievement award less than a week before, was quite surreal news. I still have memories of Witold at the festival surrounded by students and peers talking about films and life. He attended the whole week, then went home for a day before his passing. This news framed my now remembered experience of the festival through a contemplative lens of what is important in life.
I returned from Europe inspired and clear to reconnect with that creative focus that ignites itself through a framework of possibility. Seeing so many creators from all over the world from diverse ethnic and gender backgrounds tackle storytelling from their very own inimitable eyes, painted a rich and vast picture of what is possible in beauty, emotion, story, artistry, technology and awareness.
This openness not just reflected itself in the richness of the multicultural storytelling experience, but in a yearning to enables a more generous way of working, a thirst to improve the current structures and opportunities for all who form part of the film and media industries. I left the festival inspired, awed and empowered.
I want to thank again the ACS Queensland Branch and National Executive for this ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ as well as Scott Llewelyn and the Llewelyn Family for their generous contribution in making the Drew Llewelyn Camerimage Scholarship possible.
Sissy Reyes is a producer, cinematographer and visual artist who is passionate about cultural and gender diversity.