Camerimage Results Could Signal What's to Come in Oscar Race

Festival attendees are keeping an eye on 'Roma,' for which director Alfonso Cuaron is also the credited cinematographer.
Alfonso Cuaron

The winners of the Camerimage cinematography film festival — which will be revealed Saturday in Bydgoszcz, Poland — could help put this year’s cinematography Oscar race into focus. There's a lot to watch, as the competition lineup includes some best picture candidates, up-and-coming directors of photography and legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.

One aspect of the lineup that has been generating a lot of discussion is the unusual fact that this year's fest, which celebrates the work of cinematographers, has included two films for which the director is also credited as the cinematographer: Alfonso Cuaron with Netflix's Roma and Paul Thomas Anderson for 2017's Phantom Thread. "They were both included in EnergaCamerimage main competition on the strength of their cinematography alone," festival office manager Kazik Suwala, speaking on the two films' selection, told The Hollywood Reporter. "We always try to select films that use the cinematic language to its fullest, and while we value the collaboration between the cinematographer and the director, it has never been said that one filmmaker cannot be both."

Cuaron was on hand for a well-received screening of his film — in fact, when seats filled up, many more guests sat on the floor in order to catch the movie. During a press conference, he said his decision to serve as cinematographer was based on his close friend and collaborator Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki being unavailable. “Chivo was going to do this film, I designed this film for Chivo,” Cuaron said, adding that he wanted to give this very personal film plenty of time (he says it was a roughly 100-day shoot) in production and post. "The schedule extended so much that Chivo couldn’t do it any more. I ended up inheriting his job. His DNA is in this. I think a lot of my creative process is informed by Chivo, the same way Chivo's creative process is in some ways informed by me.”

But even though they might applaud the film's cinematography, are cinematographers — who will eventually decide Oscar nominations — likely to reward a director encroaching on their territory?

At the festival, opinions varied about how to view a director-cinematographer.

“I like idea that a director, like a painter, can make a movie on his own,” said Benoit Delhomme, who lensed Julien Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, which is also in competition here. “I understand why [a skilled filmmaker] like Alfonso Cuaron can make a film as a director and DP. When you work with a digital camera, you can look at what you get. With film, you have to light first. It’s a new era.

“Maybe this is great for some directors," he added. "I’m not scared.”

Stephen Lighthill, a past president of the American Society of Cinematographers and senior filmmaker in residence at AFI Conservator, commented: “Cinematographers are artists, technicians and managers. If a director wants to take away part of the job, the director is taking the artistic part of the job. But the technical and managerial parts become something that a camera operator or first assistant or gaffer does for the director. So they are not really cinematographers. Directors are completely reliant on a team to support them in doing this.”

Lighthill noted that that there’s a healthy number of ASC members who are also DGA members. “Do they do both at once? No. Almost never. But we are all filmmakers and the line between jobs is not a black line. It’s a gray line. Some directors want and expect a lot of help from their cinematographers. Some may want a little bit less help. But when you combine the two roles, you either need more time or something isn’t getting done.”

The awards results at Camerimage could be telling, since it has emerged as a bellwether for what's to come during Oscar season. In three of the past five years, the winners of Camerimage's Golden Frog, the top prize in the main competition, have gone on to earn Oscar nominations in cinematography. Those films include 2013's Ida, 2015's Carol and 2016's Lion. (The 2014 Golden Frog winner, Leviathan, and 2017 Camerimage champ, On Body and Soul, were each nominated for a foreign-language film Oscar.)

Led by jury president and production designer David Gropman (Life of Pi), this year's main competition jury includes production designer Lilly Kilvert (Valkyrie), and cinematographers Jean-Marie Dreujou (Two Brothers), Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water), Florian Ballhaus (The Book Thief), Arthur Reinhart (Crows) and ASC president Kees Van Oostrum (Gods and Generals).

The complete lineup for this year's Camerimage main competition is below.

22 July Director: Paul Greengrass Cinematographer: Pal Ulvik Rokseth

At Eternity's Gate Director: Julian Schnabel Cinematographer: Benoit Delhomme

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen Cinematographer: Bruno Delbonnel

Cold War Director: PaweĊ‚ Pawlikowski Cinematographer: Lukasz Zal

The Favourite Director: Yorgos Lanthimos Cinematographer: Robbie Ryan

First Man Director: Damien Chazelle Cinematographer: Linus Sandgren

The Fortress Director: Dong-hyuk Hwang Cinematographer: Ji-yong Kim

Peterloo Director: Mike Leigh Cinematographer: Dick Pope

Phantom Thread Director-cinematographer: Paul Thomas Anderson  

A Prayer Before Dawn Director: Jean-Stephane Sauvaire Cinematographer: David Ungaro

Roma Director-cinematographer: Alfonso Cuaron 

A Rose in Winter Director: Joshua Sinclair Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro

A Star Is Born Director: Bradley Cooper Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique