Impressions of the 2019 Camerimage Festival

A contribution by Hovig Hagopian, student at La Fémis Film School

[English] [français]

Because students from the ENS Louis-Lumière and La Fémis attended Camerimage this year, the AFC offered them the opportunity of contributing in one way or another to the articles that are published on our website and broadcast via our newsletters. After relaying his general impressions of the festival, Hovig Hagopian, of La Fémis, goes more into depth on two selected short documentary films which left a mark on him, since this is the topic of his final project for his degree.

As part of my last year at La Fémis, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Camerimage Festival, which is held every year in Poland, and this year in the city of Toruń. The festival is a goldmine for cinephiles and especially people who are interested in image. A trade fair is open for the entire duration of the festival, and it features stands from the major manufacturers in the cinema industry, such as Arri, Zeiss, Sony, Panasonic, Hawk, Angénieux and others. There are also many talks by exceptional guest speakers, and screenings of the films selected in the various categories.
Of all the events, the one that particularly interested me was the selection of short documentary films, because I am making one myself this year for my final film project. The aesthetic issues that arise on this type of shoot interest me, and this was the opportunity of discussing them with some of the operators and directors who presented their work.

The subjects portrayed in these films were very different : Far Away, directed by Begim Zholdubai Kyzy, featured a wolf hunt in the snowy plains of Kirgizstan ; City of Children, by Arantxa Hernández Barthe, depicts a deprived neighbourhood in the north of England where children of all ages occupy the streets.
The films are formally distinct on several levels. Some opted for an extremely clean – almost – aesthetic, whilst others displayed strong formal experimentation to the point of almost being experimental. In this selection, two films particularly left an impression on me because of their original visual experimentation and their transcription of the intimacy between the person filming and the person being filmed.

The Watchman tells the story of a father-son relationship in present-day China. The 14-year-old boy has just been accepted into music conservatory in Beijing. His father is the watchman of that school and attentively follows his son’s musical education. The director, Lou Du Pontavice, shows us a sincere and shy tenderness between the characters. The structure is simple, essentially composed of fixed shots, which are often long takes, and the viewer gradually becomes attached to this touching and funny duo. Quickly, the viewer forgets the presence of the camera and gradually gains access to these characters’ intimacy through their everyday gestures. When the father washes himself in his little staff bedroom, or when he shares a meal with his son in a restaurant, these are moments that are captured with great sensitivity.
This short film was made as part of an exercise at the Insas (regards croisés) where a duo (director-operator) travels for five weeks to a foreign country where they create a short documentary. Cinematographer Victoire Bonin used a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and Zeiss CP2 lenses. Lots of work was required in postproduction to change the colourimetry of the backgrounds in the night scenes. The final result is surprising, especially when you know that shooting took just two of the five planned weeks. The suspicion of the locals and the difficulty in communication were obstacles that had to be overcome to make this project a success, and in the end it honestly and delicately portrays this father-son relationship.

I’d also like to mention the documentary The Six Degrees of Freedom, directed by Sergio H. Martín. It depicts the physical and psychological progress of Olympic swimmer Africa Zamorano during her intensive training sessions. Pablo Lago Dantas, the cinematographer, films the athlete’s movements with great ingenuity. The work on the image and the sound have created an impressive fresco, where the viewer can take part in an exceptional visual experience. The rhythm and the abstraction of the shots highlight the beauty of her movements while confronting us with the nearly unbearable physical suffering of this athlete. Various visual regimes are used, sometimes top shots with an Alexa Mini on a Cablecam, and at other times, the use of shots from a scientific camera that analyses the swimmer’s body movements and takes note of her progress. This contrast leads viewers to rethink their relationship to their own body and to the expression of movement. This is a film which has taken a clear aesthetic and narrative stance.

This article’s thumbnail image shows a still from Watchman, cinematography by Victoire Bonin.