Will Your Shoe Box be Empty – IMAGO President’s report

An intriguing question arrived from the American Society of Cinematographers some weeks prior to the recent International Summit in Los Angeles: Is Imago a Trade Union?
The answer is not as simple as it would first appear. A motley collection of 47 Societies, including associates, are gathered under an umbrella which supports the main purpose of the founders almost twenty years ago -to establish a Federation to maintain and improve standards of cinematography in Europe. You can add to that a universal desire that cinematographers be respected and rewarded as authors of their creativity, plus a passionate belief in the value of education to ensure the future quality of the image. The fundamental “raison d’être” has simply not changed since being established in 1992. Imago is not a Trade union but that does not prevent the aspiration to be our brothers’ keeper and through friendship help one another.

However just as the bible tells us that in my father’s house there are many mansions so Imago’s Societies have adopted differing priorities in their search for their individual search for the golden road to improve the efficient running of their Society.

As far as the four founding Societies are concerned on the one hand there is what may be described as an exclusive “elitist” approach as practised by the British, French, and Italians who restrict their membership to a hundred or so. Then there is a more “inclusive” approach as practised by the Germans whereby larger numbers of film workers are admitted. There the enthusiasm of the young rubs shoulder with the experience of the old. It could be argued that the financial economy of scale enables inclusive societies to more effectively represent their members with the increasing demands of the digital era. The Japanese, Australians and Israelis adopt similar systems to enable them to work effectively for their members. All share a common desire to maintain the highest standard of cinematography in their Societies. However it would do no harm to ask where our individual societies are heading and how best to organise ourselves to serve our members. There is so much that could be improved especially on the educational front.

When called upon to make contentious decisions, the “elitist” response of some Societies is often to mumble “we don’t do politics.” How ridiculous! If the conditions of work are being eroded by an influx of technicians from outside Europe by short-sighted or ignorant Government policy are we as responsible organisations not entitled to lobby our politicians to point out an injustice? The courage of Wally Pfister ASC in making his controversial “political” acceptance speech at the Oscar ceremony was admired and respected. If we do not stand up for ourselves no-one else will and that occasionally means “doing politics”!

The principle of reciprocity, pension rights, social security, conditions of work, holiday pay, insurance etc. are of equal interest to all film workers whether belonging to the AFC, BSC, AIC, BVK or the Trade Unions. These are all too easily blamed for all our ills, mostly by freeloaders who contribute nothing either financially or morally to the greater good of our industry. The answer to the mysterious query posed by the ASC is unequivocal: Imago is far from a Trade Union. It exists to encourage and stimulate improvements in the standards of cinematography practised by the members of the 47 Societies. Imago nevertheless encourages a close relationship with our Trade unions and guilds many of whose interests are held in common.

Imago remains totally organised by volunteers; there are no paid employees. We depend entirely on the generosity of our sponsors and the contribution of our 27 European Societies.

Therefore as the “silly” season draws to a close, a revitalized Imago embarks on its prime function of improving standards of cinematography. A programme of Master Classes is being set up by the Danish Society, the DFF, in conjunction with their National Film School from November 18th to 20th in Copenhagen and days later in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Thanks to the cementing of friendships at the ISCS in Los Angeles some distinguished ASC members have generously confirmed their presence at these “inspirational” classes including Haskell Wexler ASC.

By participation in European Festivals on the journey to Bydgoszcz, Imago reaffirms support for the youngest and oldest Festivals devoted to the craft of Cinematography. The youngest such Festival is that in the Czech Republic at Ostrava and the oldest, the Manaki Festival in Macedonia, an experience which never fails to recreate the enthusiasm and simplistic magic of its founders over thirty years ago in memory of the pioneering Balkan cinematographers, the brothers Milton and Yanaki.

Imago’s successful collaboration with the eDIT Festival continues to be one of the most significant in our calendar. It enables our craftsmen and women to interact with fellow artists from the visual effects, editing and animation fields as well as presenting the art of cinematography to a wider audience. The Festival is supported by the American editors, ACE, and Visual FX Society. A specially invited panel in Frankfurt will discuss the creative role of the cinematographer in the world of the digital intermediate. On the Gala opening night the Imago Tribute will be presented to Pawel Edelman PSC who needs no introduction as one greats of cinematography for his collaboration with a fellow child of Lodz, Roman Polanski on such films as The Pianist. The Ghost Writer and the recent Carnage.

The greatest unifying event since the publication of the Imago Directory (to be updated for the launch of a new publication in Bydgoszcz) has been the first international survey on Working Conditions for Cinematographers. Gratifyingly there has been an encouraging response with over one hundred completed questionnaires in the first week after its launch on IMAGO.ORG. This will remain available to be completed on the web site until late autumn but please make our task easier by playing your part by filling it in as soon as possible. The results will be analysed and presented initially at a special working conditions forum at Camer image before being distributed to the EU Commission in Brussels. The replies from our 20 Associates outside Europe will also be analysed to collate an international picture of conditions. The Polish magazine FilmPRO has been so impressed by the questionnaire that they have offered to facilitate its translation into their language.
Along the rocky road to establish Authors Rights Imago has been accustomed to many setbacks. These only serve to harden our resolve by inspiring in us fresh determination to continue.
The latest “political” disappointment came recently when the Spanish Minister of Culture formally rejected the request of the Spanish Collecting Rights Society AISGE to change its statutes in order to admit cinematographers as new members. The decision had been based on the fact that, according to the Ministry, cinematographers are not recognised by Spanish Intellectual Property law as co-authors of their audiovisual work.

The Spanish National (Criminal) Court is investigating the executive board of another Collecting Society, the SGAE. This represents musicians and editors, their President being currently in prison on fraud charges. The AISGE, (Collecting Society) which includes cinematographers along with the Spanish Society of Cinematographers (AEC) have started a public campaign assisted by Imago’s legal advisor, Dr Cristina Busch and are appealing the cultural minister’s decision. Imago is working, miracles take longer!

The Spanish struggle illustrates the importance of the role of the Collecting Society in helping cinematographers achieve their goal. They do not exist merely to distribute money! However, the newly established British Collecting Society, SCR (Screen Craft Rights) has over £250,000 to dish out to qualifying members. Incidentally any European Cinematographer working for a British production is entitled to payments when applicable.

Looking ahead the IAGA for 2012 will be held in Paris on February 11thand 12th dates which coincide with the AFC’s popular Micro Salon. Optimistically Imago’s representative on the AFC, Richard Andry is appealing to Societies to declare their intentions of attending before the end of September. The IAGA will be facing a decision of its future constitution. There will be an election of a new Board.
Rioting and looting has not been confined to Athens and London. A click on the STOLEN list on the Imago web site will reveal a sorry tale of thievery. Earlier this year a rental house Tunafilm, of Zagreb, Croatia was contacted by a London Company giving the name of All Together Films. They required a package of two Red cameras and a set of Ultra primes for a two week shoot at the American Embassy in the city. Company policy is always to rent equipment with one of their technicians but they were informed it was impossible to obtain clearance for him from the Embassy at such short notice.

The equipment was duly collected from Tunafilm Rental which was the last the General Manager, Mr Davor Tunukovic and his staff caught sight of the haul. This theft devastated a small company in a small country. The thieves later took a flight to Gatwick, London under the names of Darren Oliver Raymond Charles Defoe, Geoffrey Michael Arthur Norris and Micheal Nietzsche. The numbers of the Red One cameras were 1958 and 4990. Perhaps you know the thieves of can help trace the haul which will probably be on the market soon?

The STOLEN link on the Imago.org web site is incredible and well worth a visit. Astonishingly Duclos of Canoga Park, California had no fewer than 43 lenses lifted in one night in July which makes even the Cooke theft last year in IBC Amsterdam look small fry. Please be vigilant and help track down stolen equipment. Included in the Duclos list were two such distinctive lenses as the Canon Century 600 C18140 and 300 C3078 and a Cooke 20-100 7892202. They could turn up anywhere such is the global market.

Speaking of this Global industry one surprising suggestion from the Los Angeles summit was that it would be a splendid idea to form a World federation of Societies of cinematographers! Some disbelieve from Imago at such an original idea ensued! Korea subsequently applied for Imago associate membership which will be also discussed in Paris next February when there exists a probability that Imago will be 50 to mark its 20th birthday. Some celebration!

Luciano Tovoli ASC AIC and the Board of the Italian Society are involved with legal advisers in drawing up optional constitutions for establishing a new Imago International which would enact a more positive role to our twenty “associate” member Societies around the world. Australia and Israel have made valuable contributions to Imago in recent years. Frontiers no longer protect Europe anymore for the film industry than it does for the financial world, as we are all discovering to our cost.

An issue which arose in debate at the Imago Digital Forum in Oslo was the deteriorating quality of images projected on the 3D Silver Screens. To highlight and clarify this issue of concern to all cinematographers, the PSC of Poland and the FNF of Norway are planning a joint Imago/filmPRO initiative at a Forum to be held in Bydgoszcz.

A tradition in many European countries is to use old shoe boxes to store family photographs, handed down from one generation to another. In future if you wish your great-grandchildren to have any idea of how you looked it would be wise to make prints now. An historical record is being lost by carelessness, abused computers or by the inability of technology to keep up with technology. There is still no satisfactory solution to this conundrum which also applies to all digital film production. The unsolved digital dilemma remains in archive preservation. The lemmings heading for the pixels precipice should stand up now to ensure that future generations will be able to view the magic of their artistry, either on a screen or in a shoe box.

No country will be more pleased to see the passing of the 2011 summer than Norway. Scandinavia has a special place in every cinematographer’s heart as an example of imagery and idealism to which all civilization should aspire. The flags of Sweden, Denmark and Finland all hung at half mast in a display of shared grief at the recent tragedy which somehow put all our problems in true perspective.

Nigel Walters BSC
Imago President


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