Camerimage, the Polish film festival dedicated to the art of cinematography, has become homecoming week for directors of photography from around the globe. And while Camerimage organizers say they have no interest in the American awards season, cinematographers nominate cinematographers for the Oscars — and the 13 films that compete for the Golden Frog for Best Cinematography have become a predictor of the Academy’s Best Cinematography nominees.
The Camerimage 2019 Main Competition includes: “Ford v Ferrari” (DP Phedon Papamichael), “The Irishman” (DP Rodrigo Prieto), “Joker” (DP Lawrence Sher), “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (DP Adam Newport-Berra), “Motherless Brooklyn” (DP Dick Pope), “The Two Popes” (DP César Charlone), “The Painted Bird” (DP Vladimír Smutný), “An Officer and a Spy” (DP Paweł Edelman), “Never Look Away” (DP Caleb Deschanel), “Mr. Jones” (DP Tomasz Naumiuk), “Shadow” (DP Xiaoding Zhao), “Bolden” (DP Neal Norton), and “Amundsen” (DP Paal Ulvik Rokseth).
IndieWire has confirmed that the absence of the Roger Deakins-shot “1917” and Ed Lachman-shot “Dark Waters” — both legendary DPs who were feted at the festival in years past — is due to the films being unavailable to the festival, as they are still being finished.
The Camerimage lineup is large, with a number of categories that will encompass a vast majority of the year’s best films and awards hopefuls, but the 13 films selected by the festival to compete for the Golden Frog is a particularly prestigious honor.
The bigger Camerimage competition films receive marquee screenings that anchor the evenings’ activities. Therefore, beyond the earmark as being one of the year’s best-shot films, being in the Main Competition gives films an invaluable awards-season screening platform where studio strategists can guarantee that busy filmmakers (aka nominating voters) actually see the films. Virtually every American Society of Cinematographers cinematographer at the festival will be in attendance before heading to a late-night dinner party sponsored by one of the major camera companies.
It’s hard to overestimate the value of the DPs presenting their work and discussing their craft with their tight-knit community. Many awards publicists point to cinematographer Claudio Miranda coming to educate his peers about the craft involved in making “Life of Pi” — many of whom were skeptical of the cinematography involved in a film driven by VFX and largely shot on green screen — as being key to Miranda getting a 2012 nomination, and eventually winning the Oscar.
Last year, Alfonso Cuarón faced similar skepticism, as Netflix pushed the beloved director, but first-time cinematographer, in multiple categories including Best Cinematography for “Roma.” To many in the guild it seemed disrespectful, especially after director Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t join the ASC and stayed out of the Best Cinematography race for “Phantom Thread.”
But once Cuarón made the effort to travel to Poland to present “Roma,” the humble, technically astute, and passionate filmmaker quickly won over his new peers, who — most importantly — were impressed by the film itself.
Last year, Cuarón was one of four Best Cinematography Oscar nominees — along with Matthew Libatique (“A Star Is Born”), Robbie Ryan (“The Favourite”), and Łukasz Żal (“Cold War”) — who were in attendance to present their films on the main competition stage in a prime screening slot. The fifth nominee, Caleb Deschanel, will present “Never Look Away” in competition at this year’s Camerimage, presumably because the film wasn’t ready for last year’s fest. It’s an honor cinematographers don’t take lightly.
“I honestly think this screening here on that stage is probably the highest honor for a DP,” said Libatique prior to screening “A Star is Born” at Camerimage last year. “You’re presenting it to other cinematographers, you’re aware of the criticisms, the things that people who are ingrained in our craft will say about your movie. It’s nerve-racking to present here, but I think it’s a step above the ASC events in the U.S. because we’re surrounded by the international cinematography community and that’s really powerful to me.”
Former Academy president John Bailey, a celebrated cinematographer who has been coming to Camerimage since 1994 and will receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award this year, told IndieWire it is impossible to underestimate how important the festival has become for Oscars.
“It’s very clear that the key films that come out of this festival are only going to be regarded for the Academy Awards in a very serious way,” said Bailey. “‘Ida’ was essentially launched here, and ‘Ida’ was not only nominated for the ASC Award, but won. Three years ago, Ed Lachman with ‘Carol.’ I didn’t come that year, then when it turned up as an ASC nomination and I hadn’t seen it, I thought, ‘What?’ Then I realized it had won the Frog and that it had been here.”
The Golden, Silver, and Bronze Frog prizes are decided by a jury of respected filmmakers; recent jurors included Rachel Morrison, Dan Laustsen, Robert D. Yeoman, and Libatique. They take part in serious deliberations, often seen sequestering themselves behind closed doors throughout the festival. This year’s Main Competition jury has yet to be announced.
The 2019 festival will return November 9-16 to the city of Toruń, where the first seven Camerimages were held when current artistic director Marek Żydowicz first founded the festival 27 years ago. Bydgoszcz had been the host city since 2010.