I am embarking on a journey to Poland to visit a rather unusual festival. Camerimage 1)See www.pluscamerimage.pl in Lodz is, to my knowledge, the world’s only major film festival to shine the spotlight on the cinematographer. I am curious; as the editor of DOX, I am used to placing the emphasis on the documentary’s content rather than its form.
I arrive safely at Warsaw airport from Norway. As an invited guest, I am met by a chauffeur, but told to wait three hours for a few other people. Habitually impatient, I decide to take the bus to the festival city Lodz. In the bus I unexpectedly discover that the passengers are film students from Denmark and Norway on a mandatory study trip. Small world. One of them has just filmed Blood in the Mobile 2) See latest edition of the magazine DoX. www.dox.dk, and bloodinthemobile.org in Eastern Congo, travelling to the mines, located in inaccessible areas, guarded by armed paramilitary groups – where children dig for the metal that ends up in our mobile phones. Admirable indeed, but most violence and poverty – stricken areas are witnessed by the majority of such students on TV- screens. I ask them: what is it like being film students? They are so young that it is really a question of experience in “seeing” reality – as graduation films are often regarded as the world from an exclusively “grown-up” perspective. On the bus, they agree that you have to travel around and experience things … The enthusiasm is there, and headphones on, they gaze out of the bus windows at Poland’s grey, impoverished landscape. Two hours later we arrive in the film city, Lodz.
But whereabouts in the actual city are we? I hold the map at an enquiring angle, pointing at our current location. The bus driver points to somewhere far beyond the map’s edge – he cannot speak a word of English. The festival must be miles away. I go to take a taxi but here the driver points stammeringly towards the street corner; the festival building is just 300 metres away! Polish turns out to be impossible to learn – I remember “dzień dobry” (good day), but have to give up on “dzięki v… ” (thank you) after the fourth attempt.
CAMERIMAGE IS AN impressive festival; the atmosphere is rooted in Eastern Europe, the professional level high. Here it is typically the cinematographer who is applauded when the end credits roll. The festival seminars focus on lighting, editing, camera use, and panel discussions, but also more theoretically on the relationship between word and image.
Here in Lodz, awards are conferred for the lifetime achievements of directors like Terry Gilliam (Monty Python …), Volker Schlöndor ( The Tin Drum, Homo Faber) and Terry Sanders ( The Legend of Marilyn Monroe and the Iraq film, Fighting for Life). Inside the festival building large honorary portraits of photographers such as the Swede, Sven Nyquist (1993) and Pierre Lhomme (Camille Claudell, Cyrano de Bergerac) are hanging. Scenography and cinematography charts also cover the walls. Down the street, the city’s film museum 3)See www.kinomuzeum.pl is showing the exhibition Roman Polanski Actor. Director. Polanski, known for amongst other things, Chinatown and The Pianist is presented through the use of new archive material – they have hung 200 international film posters, as well a multitude of photographs from film takes or friends. The festival is also showing the film Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired by Marina Zenovich – the documentary believed by many to have led to the world famous filmmaker’s arrest in Zurich, and subsequent hand-over to the US. Polanski had previously found himself in a grey area, where he developed an obsessive interest in adolescents – whether or not he drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old at the peak of his career in the US in 1977 is currently under deliberation.
“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” is the documentary believed by many to have led to his arrest.
Directors like Martin Scorsese and David Lynch defended him. I turn a couple of corners and arrive at Lodz’s renowned film school, where the aforementioned Polanski, Andrzej Wajda and other famous directors were educated. In fact, the first year is devoted to learning Polish. A previous student from Denmark (now the director of a film being shown at the festival) tells me that one starts from scratch; it’s really tough – many “welfare” Scandinavians have had to give up their studies and go home. Her professor (and “saviour” as she calls him) tells me that they most definitely do not distinguish between documentary and fiction – quite simply you learn how to make quality films. They talk about film rather than TV journalism and reportage. He recommends the film From Dusk Till Dawn, the school’s project on student films that uncover Lodz as a city. The project is in the process of turning into a collaboration whereby several film schools lm their city throughout the course of a day.
Well, how do you make your name as a filmmaker today? It can be down to luck: the famous film editor Thelma Schoonmaker tells us, in a seminar here at the school, how she met Martin Scorsese at a summer school in 1970s New York. She had not really thought about working in film but became his permanent editor from Raging Bull (1980) and over the following 16 films (including Goodfellas, The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York and The Aviator). Personally, I wonder what made Scorsese choose Pietro Mascagni’s melancholy music for the accompaniment to Robert De Niro’ role as boxing world champion – the music gives us a premonition of his fall from grace. She tells us that they used the roars of both elephants and lions in the background of the soundtrack during the boxing ring scenes, and also that Scorsese often had five musical alternatives for each individual scene! Then she goes through the world of silent film, from Eisenstein onwards, to demonstrate how talented filmmakers must look to film history to gain knowledge. You learn filmmaking only by seeing what others have done before you.
I MAKE MY WAY BACK to the festival area, taking Schoonmaker’s advice I watch several films, but I also meet people; well-known filmmakers who keep coming back here. For many, the meeting-place aspect is the most important. Volker Schlöndor tells me with a smile of his films’ parasitic relationship to Günther Grass, and about how he and his previous wife, director Margarethe von Trotta, used to work together. It gets late; there is an overloaded banqueting table and dancing. Later on that night, I wander between the dilapidated buildings back to the hotel. A couple of hours later in the night, another Norwegian starts making his way back to the same hotel, loses his bearings and asks three men for directions. They chase after him, knock him to the ground, steal his passport and money – and threaten him with a gun before taking his jacket and melting back into the night. The next day, thanks to the gracious assistance of the festival and a couple of hospital visits, the cinematographer manages to introduce his Norwegian film, albeit with somewhat swollen features.
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