Crafting an image

Poland's Cameraimage film fest brings the art of cinematography into focus.

A hidden gem on the global film festival circuit, Poland's annual Camerimage International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography is one of the few film events in the world to focus exclusively on the craft of cinematography.

The list of Cameraimage's Lifetime Achievement Award winners since the event's launch 13 years ago reads like a hall of fame of world cinema: Tonino Delli Colli, Laszlo Kovocs, Sven Nykvist, Vittorio Storaro, Vilmos Zsigmond -- to name just a few.

They might not be household names to those outside the movie business, but the films they worked on -- including 1969's "Easy Rider" from Dennis Hopper, 1978's "The Deer Hunter" from Michael Cimino and "The Serpent's Egg" from Ingmar Bergman, 1979's "Apocalypse Now" from Francis Ford Coppola and 1986's "Ginger & Fred" from Federico Fellini -- have helped change the way millions of people the world over think and feel about film.

But that probably isn't why so many great cinematographers, directors, producers and other industry professionals fit a visit to Camerimage, running Nov. 25-Dec. 3, into their busy schedules.

The chance to spend time in the company of like-minded professionals and filmmaking aficionados in an atmosphere that is both intimate and relaxed -- there are no red carpets here -- is a more likely explanation.

"The festival is an enclave where artists meet with creators of film techniques and technologies," festival director Marek Zydowicz says. "Outstanding cinematographers, directors, actors, editors, production designers meet with film students from all over the world."

The first Camerimage, held in 1993 in the medieval city of Torun -- birthplace of Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus -- was inspired by Nykvist, one of the world's greatest cinematographers, who left an indelible mark on the art form, primarily through his collaborations with Bergman.

In 2000, the festival moved to Lodz, the home of Poland's internationally renowned film school, and following Nykvist's death in 2006, Camerimage was formally dedicated to Bergman's master director of photography, whom organizers say embodied the "very idea behind the festival."

Described by many as "the Rembrandt of film," Nykvist was a master of the use of light in movies, the key to understanding a festival that now encompasses a main feature competition (for the best "visual" films of the past two years), along with student, European-debut and Polish competitive sections -- all within the overall framework of film as a quintessentially visual medium.

The power of technology to aid and abet the skill of the cinematographer is reflected both in the festival's main sponsors -- Arri Group, Kodak, Panavision and Zeiss -- and the film-equipment market hosted at the festival center, Lodz's Grand Theatre.

"Because Camerimage is not a trade fair, it is a venue where the future of cinema is discussed, and (as a result), we let buyers realize that their work has an influence on the creation of new ideas as well as on cultural development," Zydowicz says.