Sam Mendes was the guest of honor at the opening of the 30th EnergaCamerimage Film Festival Saturday evening, where he picked up the Krzysztof Kieslowski career award and introduced a special screening of his latest film, Empire of Light.
Accepting the award in Toruń, Poland, Mendes praised the festival for its dedication to celebrating the art of cinematography and paid tribute to the cinematographers he has worked with throughout his career, describing them as the key to his success.
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Mendes gave special mention to Conrad Hall, who shot his first two films, American Beauty and Road To Perdition. Hall won the best cinematography Oscar for his work on both films.
“Conrad was my guide, and ever since Conrad, cinematographers have always been my guide,” Mendes said before paying tribute to veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins. The pair have worked together on five films over 15 years, including Skyfall and 1917.
Mendes said their partnership had given him “more pleasure and joy” than any collaboration he has had while working in the film industry.
However, Mendes began his remarks by saying he found it “difficult to speak of celebration” after witnessing the speeches of two Ukrainian activists at the start of the ceremony. The powerful speeches were followed by a short and graphic documentary that was shot from within Ukraine and showed the devastation of the violence on the ground.
Mendes linked the war in Ukraine to the response he received following the release of his previous film 1917, a WW1-set drama.
“I made a movie with Roger Deakins about two young men caught up in a senseless war. And the question I got asked over and over again is: ‘Is this relevant?’” Mendes said. “I’m afraid to say it is, and it will always be. We stand with everyone in Ukraine.”
There were several tributes to the people of Ukraine throughout the lengthy opening ceremony, including a video montage featuring the names and images of former Ukrainian film industry professionals who have joined the country’s armed forces and are currently on the front line.
In addition, it was also announced that this week Camerimage will support the OKO International Ethnographic Film Festival and the KINOKO Film Festival, two Ukrainian-based festivals displaced by the war, with a dedicated festival sidebar here in Poland.
The opening ceremony ended with Mendes introducing a screening of his new pic, Empire of Light. The film debuted at Telluride in September and is a lowkey but philosophically ambitious period piece about love, mental health, and race in Thatcherite Britain set against the backdrop of a cinema on the south coast of England.
Drawing a line between the current climate and a specific frame in the film, Mendes said: “On the wall of the cinema, right at the beginning of the film, is written: Find Where Light in Darkness Lies. That is all of our jobs. It’s the work of the cinematographer, and it is my great pleasure to have shed some tiny light in the dark.”
Empire of Light is among the 12 titles in the main competition at Camerimage. Other titles include the Netflix war drama All Quiet On The Western Front and Alejandro González Ińárritu’s Bardo. The main competition jury is headed by Lech Majewski who is joined by jury members Fred Berger, Markus Förderer, Arthur Reinhart, and Jan Roelfs.
The festival runs through November 19.
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