By Marek Wieniawa-Żebrowski
Without a doubt the celebrations accompanying the granting of the Lifetime Achievement Award to its annual recipient are the highlight of every new edition of the Plus CAMERIMAGE Festival. For each of the past eighteen years one outstanding cinematographer was recognized for his body of work, invited to visit the Festival, and encouraged to share his professional experience with a variety of friends, colleagues, and film students. The crescendo of scheduled events-that also includes a retrospective of selected films photographed by the laureate-culminates at the Festival's closing ceremony, when the chosen director of photography is presented with the famed Golden Frog Award.
In 2011, the Plus CAMERIMAGE Festival will celebrate and honour the exceptional achievements of John Seale, ACS, ASC, an Australian-born cinematographer whose long and distinguished career is marked by such mileposts as Witness, The Mosquito Coast, and Dead Poets Society (directed by Peter Weir), The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold Mountain (directed by Anthony Minghella), or The Perfect Storm and Poseidon (directed by Wolfgang Petersen).
Even before the nominations and laurels (including the Academy Award, the ASC Award, and BAFTA Award for The English Patient) started accumulating in the 1990s, John Seale had shown his prodigious talent and an uncanny eye for composition as camera operator in his early career days, working in the 1970s with Russell Boyd and Peter Weir on such iconic Australian productions as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, and The Year of Living Dangerously.
By the early 1980s, John Seale began to imprint his highly personal style as director of photography on such films as Goodbye Paradise and Careful, He Might Hear You, two well-regarded Australian features directed by Carl Schultz. The successes of John Seale's Australian films and the 1985 Academy Award Nomination for Witness in America provided an excellent springboard and laid the foundation for John Seale's subsequent stellar career in the United States. Only a few years later, Seale teamed with Randa Haines to photograph Children of a Lesser God in 1986 and The Doctor in 1991. Working with Barry Levinson's on his celebrated 1988 feature Rain Man, was followed in 1993 by John Seale's very successful collaboration with Sydney Pollack on The Firm, a screen adaptation of John Grisham's bestselling novel. Other notable films-George Miller's Lorenzo's Oil (1992), Ron Howard's The Paper (1993), and Rob Reiner's The American President (1995)-filled up John Seale's busy working schedule throughout the decade. Still in the 1990s, John Seale teamed up with John Boorman for Beyond Rangoon (1994), Brad Silberling for City of Angels (1997), and Irwin Winkler for At First Sight (1998).
The twenty-first century began for John Seale with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001). Together with director Chris Columbus' vision, John Seale's cinematography contributed to the establishing of a conceptual foundation for the entire Harry Potter film series. Other titles recently photographed by John Seale include Larry Kasdan's Dreamcatcher (2001), James L. Brooks' Spanglish (2004), Mike Newell's Prince of Persia (2008), and Florian Henckel von Donnermarck's The Tourist (2010).
Besides the considerable excitement of hosting John Seale at the 2011 Plus CAMERIMAGE Festival, following a well-established custom the organizers will also publish a book highlighting John Seale's filmic achievements. Whilst generally less-well known, each year the book about the Lifetime Achievement Award recipient is the other important highlight of CAMERIMAGE. After nearly two decades, the Festival can be seen on the pages of exquisitely-made, limited-edition book series that spotlight the Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award recipients. These volumes, covering such legendary directors of photography as Sven Nykvist, Vittorio Storaro, Witold Sobociński, Conrad Hall, Haskell Wexler, Vilmos Zsigmond, László Kovács, Giuseppe Rotunno, Billy Williams, Owen Roizman, Freddie Francis, William Fraker, David Watkin, Tonino Delli Colli, Robby Müller, Stephen Goldblatt, Pierre Lhomme, Dante Spinotti, and Michael Ballhaus are a veritable treasure trove of the Festival, and are based on archives of private and rarely seen photos and documents relating to the process of making some of the greatest films in the history of modern cinema. The newest installment in this exclusive book series-the publication on the life and films of John Seale-will be introduced in Bydgoszcz, Poland, on 26 November 2011, the opening day of the 2011 Plus CAMERIMAGE Festival.
Another surprise-still in the book category-will be a completely new edition of the book spotlighting the 1997 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Vilmos Zsigmond. This legendary director of photography and author of images in such illustrious films as McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, Images, The Long Goodbye, Cinderella Liberty, The Sugarland Express, Obsession, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, Heaven's Gate, The Witches of Eastwick, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Maverick, and Assassins, has had a prodigiously busy decade since he received his Golden Frog at the 1997 edition of the CAMERIMAGE Festival.
In 2002 Zsigmond was nominated for the Emmy Award for The Mists of Avalon, and collaborated with the producer and director, Irwin Winkler, on Life as a House, a touching story of a man dying from cancer. Returning to his native Hungary shortly thereafter, Zsigmond expertly photographed Bánk bán, a famous national opera and, back in the United States, worked on three of Woody Allen's films, Melinda and Melinda (2004), Cassandra's Dream (2007), and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010).
In the meantime, in 2006 Zsigmond joined director Brian De Palma for their fourth filmic collaboration and the result was The Black Dahlia, a stylish, neo-noir feature, based on James Ellroy's novel. Finally, during the past two years Vilmos Zsigmond collaborated with the first-time director, Dan Pritzker on a two-film project: Louis-a story of the famous jazz musician, Louis Armstrong, and Bolden!-an account of the life of mythical "cornet king of New Orleans," Buddy Bolden. With such notable additions to the accomplishments of the Festival's 1997 laureate, the new edition of the Vilmos Zsigmond book doubles the size of the previous publication. It adds new information and stills not only from his latest films but also includes an extensive, first-person narrative, about Vilmos Zsigmond's early years in Hungary, his dramatic escape to the West, and his first steps in Hollywood. The new volume dedicated to Vilmos Zsigmond's work will be introduced to the public side-by-side with the John Seale's album when the Festival opens its doors in late November.
As usual, this year's edition of the Plus CAMERIMAGE Festival will feature fascinating selection of films from all over the world that will be screened in several competitions. The Main Competition-and the flagship of the Festival-usually screens about fifteen feature films selected from among the several hundred that are submitted each year to the organizers. The other important component of every Festival is the Student Film Competition, with one day of the week devoted exclusively to screening etudes by young cinematographers and student directors. This part of Plus CAMERIMAGE has a great and very dedicated following, including many Hollywood industry professionals who are always keenly interested to spot the budding talents. The Polish Films Competition presents about half a dozen features produced in Poland during the past year. It is also quite popular with the audiences and foreign guests, since it showcases films that aren't always widely distributed around the world.
Documentaries-features and shorts-will also be screened at this year's Festival. Recent additions to the rich offerings on several screens in the Festival Centre and satellite cinemas throughout Bydgoszcz will include films entered in the competitions of debuts for directors and cinematographers. Music fans will certainly be interested in the quick-paced screenings in the Music Videos Competition, another aspect of the Festival that enjoyed much success with the public during the past few years.
The week of the 2011 Plus CAMERIMAGE Festival in Bydgoszcz will be rounded up with a great variety of accompanying events that include workshops with cinematographers and directors, meetings with filmmakers present at the Festival, press conferences, panel discussions, and exhibits of film equipment by dozens of participating vendors, including Plus, ARRI, Kodak, Panavision, Discovery, and Zeiss, among others. The City of Bydgoszcz, Poland's Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and Polish Film Institute are also important and longstanding partners and supporters of the Festival. All of these factors add up to a truly unique celebration of filmmaking. Mark your calendars and save the dates of November 26 through December 3 for an unforgettable week of film-related activities in Bydgoszcz. Please visit the Festival website (www.pluscamerimage.pl) for up-to-date listings of films selected for competition and for details regarding all other Plus CAMERIMAGE events. See you there!