by Nigel Walters BSC
The World’s oldest Festival devoted to the craft of Cinematography returned to its grass roots in Bitola, Macedonia for its 37th year edition despite minor Balkan tremors en route, both for upheavals in administration and a genuine earthquake felt by some delegates in transit through Skopje airport. A period of flirtation with thespians of International standing (who could quarrel with the glamour of Juliette Binoche, Catherine Deneuve and Daryl Hannah, or even Bruno Ganz?)
gave way to the formidable presence at the Manaki Brothers Festival of John Seale ACS ASC and Phedon Papamichael GSC ASC. The core of this unique Festival, the cinematographer, has returned. The President of Macedonia, Dr Gjorge Ivanov, spoke of his country building bridges of cultural cooperation between people and nations at the packed opening ceremony.
The Festival has pledged to retain its focus on cinematographers to celebrate “their precious artistic contribution.”
The charming town of Bitola, nestling in the Balkan Hills, was further enriched by the presence of representatives from Imago’s 24 Societies, including delegates from Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico and Turkey . The Annual Conference, the IAGA ,was held for the first time in Europe and Bitola since Imago became a truly Global organisation in Jerusalem last year.
Imago delegates expressed their admiration for the selfless gesture of the Macedonian Professional Association in travelling earlier to Amsterdam to present a Lifetime Achievement Golden Camera 300 to Robby Muller BvK NSC. Despite his total incapacity he managed to beam a smile of gratitude from his wheelchair. The Award was presented by the Festival Director Blagoda Kunovski Dore, accompanied by its Artistic Director Gena Teodosievska. The two film critics and selectors have been the powerhouse behind the success of the Festival in recent years. A Master Class on the work and life of Robbie Muller was given at the Festival by his close collaborator, cinematographer Claire Pijman NSC. Unforgettably illustrated was Robbie’s pioneering use of multi cameras on Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” scenes filmed using a hundred cameras.
To the many illustrious names who have received the prestigious Golden Camera 300 Lifetime awards including Francis, Ondricek, Nykvist, Yusov, Storaro, Ballhaus,Coutard, Carvalho, Alcaine, Pratt, Spinotti, Suschitzky, Zsigmond and Menzes , can now be added those of Muller and Seale. John Seale is the first Australian to be so honoured by Manaki. He and his wife Louise had undertaken the long journey from Sydney to a 20th Anniversary celebration in Rome of the launch of The English Patient, his Academy Award success from five nominations including Witness, Rain Man, Cold Mountain and Mad Max, Fury Road. No stranger to Master Classes his appearance in front of a packed audience, including the Imago delegates, was adjudged by the organisers the highlight of the Festival. At the close he mentioned that the week had been his most uplifting experience at any Festival for many years.
The presence of Phedon Papamichael ASC, GSC as Jury President and recipient of the Golden Camera 300 Award for an outstanding contribution to world cinema art, further enhanced the stature of the cinematographer at the Festival. Phedon can claim Greek, German and American connections. His father hails from Macedonia and he was fulfilling a promise to visit the Manaki Festival. He thanked Robert Naskov, President of the Macedonian Film Makers Association by saying “our unique opportunity as cinematographers is that we can transcend boundaries through visual storytelling”. In an emotional address he praised the warmth and friendship he had experienced in Bitola and the importance of the Festival to cinematographers.