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Europe at Present [Spring 2003]

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Film Festivals in Europe


It will not be a mistaken judgment to call film festivals, particularly those international ones, the events that keep on changing not just the spirit of film art but also the course of world-famous cinematography. This is the fact, that there are no literature festivals running and those devoted to the theatre are rare. To the contrary, film festivals are blooming and multiplying, giving national cinematography a chance to develop.

Those who know festivals from written relations only, disclosing nothing but their official side and those who do not immerse themselves into their backstage and history– they do not know anything at all about their mystery and glamour. Each festival has two faces– the one the spectators can see and admire and the one that exists only in the backstage; where film makers and film producers fight for new opportunities to make their artistic dreams come truth.

The most famous festivals have pioneered the way to international success to several, yet unknown, national cinematography and made rather provincial film makers become prominent and world-famous artists. But for Venice or Cannes, the world would have never known Akiro Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergaman and Andrzej Wajda whose Grand-Prix award for

„Kanał” drew world’s attention to polish cinematography yet mostly ignored.

For such kind of cinema– diverse but undercapitalized– international film festivals should rightly be considered a way of promotion too daring to be even dreamt of. As the festivals expanded after the World War II, the number of participants increased as did the number of films accepted, the festivals have become even more promotion– focused events and tourist attraction. Such a good attendance of the festivals attract encourage the national authorities to support the events in order to promote not just the festival venues but also the whole regions. Thousands of accredited journalists and critics responsible for promotion devote in-depth articles and specials to the festivals and its films. Crowded press conferences organized on a daily basis with the participation of directors and actors from the films presented attract a mass audience to each screening.

Opposite to the Hollywood’s hierarchy of values, paid by show business bosses, festivals have introduced distinctive criteria based on artistic rather than commercial values.

Nonetheless, the participation itself in the festival does not guarantee an ultimate success. A decision about where to show, that is to say, which festival to choose is equally important, since the film has ambitions to leave its rivals behind and eventually win the competition.

Not including around hundred television festivals and film fairs organized at present, there are 165 festivals of film running on an annual basis, 9 of which are classified by IFFP in, so called, group A. However, only three international film festivals- Cannes, Venice and Berlinale– are commonly regarded as „main” or „decisive”. It is worth emphasizing that all those important events are originally held in Europe.

The group A, mentioned above, consists of feature films’ festivals with a competition statute, hence official international juries and Grand-prix awards. According to IFFP’s regulations nothing but „virgin” films, with no former festival experience, that is to say, yet unknown to international audience, can be presented on festivals of such prestige.

This compilation is devoted to the greatest extent to those three, so called, „main” international film festivals run in Cannes, Venice and Berlin and partially to four other, less glamorous, but, in my opinion equally attractive festivals held in Karlovy Vary, San Sebastian, Łódź and Warsaw.

In further parts of this compilation festivals will appear in order of importance, testified by their vivid history and the approval given by the international audience.


The Beginnings

There is no doubt that Cannes has always been the first and the most important film festival. Always increasing number of guests nowadays reaches up to 10000- including 4000 accredited journalists (over 50% from the international press ), and over 1500 media from approximately 75 countries. Remaining 5000 consists of the main actors of the films shown at the festival, official representatives of film institutions and other film festivals, producers and distributors.

Showing a film in Cannes guarantees a maximum number of spectators compared to what the same film could achieve at any other festival or event in the world.

In 1939 the French government decided to create the “Festival International du Film” as a reaction to the growing political influences at the main European film festival in Venice , which at that time began to favour German and home productions. The French chose Cannes “because of its sunny and enchanting location”, however the first festival was postponed due to the war. In 1945 the “Association Francaise d’Action Artistique” was asked once again to organize, for the following year, a Festival that would be held under the aegis of The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education and from 1946 onwards, of the newly founded National Centre for Cinematography. From 26.IX.1946 Cannes has been gaining in fame and has become a major crossroads for the international film scene, reflecting new trends and evolution of the world cinema.

Cannes has kept is original atmosphere of a feast (very strongly emphasized in the 50’s and 60’s), luxurious gala assembling the famous and wealthy from all over the world. Promoters try to attract the maximum number of so called “film stars”, in order to satisfy the crowds of fans awaiting their arrival at the famous red stairs of the palace and in front of TV screens all over the world.

Due to an always growing number of participants the organizers decided to show each film three times. This resulted in separating shows into those for critics (usually taking place one day before an official premiere), and the main gala gathering the producers, film stars and special guests.

The festival has discovered, established and honored directors who, by their presence in Cannes, also contribute immensely to the prestige of the event. Aside from the screenings, numerous cultural and artistic activities (debates, tributes, retrospectives, productions and filmed documents) have enriched the palette of the Festival, thus helping both the art and industry of cinema.

Cannes Official Awards: Palme d”Or, Grand Prix, The Award for Best Actress, The Award for Best Actor, The Award for Best Director, The Award for Best Screenplay.

Cannes’ Palme d’Or is the most important and desired of all film awards. The jury also grants the second Grand Prix, and the Camera d’Or –an award for the best first-time feature film, sponsored by Kodak. In order to satisfy as many people as possible the promoters have also introduced a few other, smaller awards, which often don’t have a big, if any prestige or importance.

A glamorous and snobbish atmosphere of the festival has unfortunately a few negative consequences. One of them is underestimating the East-European cinematography, which does not have so many world famous film directors and almost none equivalent to the western perfectly looking film stars, with their catchy names. It is much more difficult for Eastern films to get through the pre-elimination process, than to compete in the main Festival.

Until 1992 Polish films were qualified to the Festival 27 times, which place our country in the 12th position, right after Mexico. The biggest Polish success in Cannes was Andrzej Wajda’s “Człowiek z żelaza”, which won The Golden Palm in 1981. Furthermore in years 1954, 1957 and 1961 Poland won Silver Palm (“Piątka z ulicy Barskiej”, “Kanał”, “Matka Joanna od aniołów”) in 1973 and 1988 The Jury Prize (for “Sanatorium pod klepsydrą”, ”Krótki film o zabijaniu”) in1980 a prize for direction (“Constans”) and in 1990 and 1991 two awards for the best actors (“Przesłuchanie”, “Podwójne życie Weroniki”).


The Beginnings

The Venice International Film Festival is the world’s oldest festival of film, and was first held seventy years ago, as part of the XIII Venice Biennale (sculpture exhibition), from 6 to 21 August, 1932. The „Prima Esposizione d’Arte Cinematografica” came into being under auspices of Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, President of the Biennale, the sculptor Antonio Maraini, General Secretary and Luciano De Feo, General Secretary of the International Institute for Educational Cinema.

It was Rouben Mamoulian's "Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde" screened on August 6th, 1932, on the terrace of Hotel Excelsior, Lido, which gave birth to the first Venice Festival. 25 film selected, in the first Mostra by its director, represented 7 countries. Foremost films, presented within that 15 day event, became classics in the history of cinema. Italy was represented by Mario Camerini's „Gli uomini che mascalzoni”, whereas René Clair's "A nous la liberté" was outstanding among French films.

As there were no official awards, an audience referendum was conducted which chose the Soviet Nikolaj Ekk for „ Putjovka v zizn” the best director and Rene Clair’s „A nous la liberte” the best comical film.

The second festival was held from 1 to 20 August 1934 and for the first time it included a competition, however, there was no official jury. The „Coppa Mussollini” awards for best foreign film and best Italian film were assigned by the President of the Biennale, after taking into consideration the opinions of both experts and audiences. Not until 1935 did the festival become an annual event under the direction of Ottavio Croze. The official statute it was given testified its granted international success and prestige. Other cities– Brussels and Moscow- started to copy Venice but, at the end of the day, they hosted only single events for the Venice Festival become an annual event. In 1935 the actors’ award was renamed „Coppa Volpi” and a year later, in 1936, an international jury was nominated for the first time.

In the 1930s the Festival screened masterpieces such as „A nous la liberté” (1932) by Rene Clair’s, „La grande iIlusion” (1937) by Renoir, „Un carnet de bal” (1937) by Duvivier, „Quai des brumes” (1938) and „Le jour se lève” (1939) by Marcel Carnè. During the Second World War the Festival was held three times, from 1940 to 1942, with screenings temporarily moved to the cinema San Marco in Venice for safety reasons. They all aroused rather little interest which resulted in a limited audience of the member countries and sympathizers with the Alliance participating. Besides, at those days, the Festival deeply suffered from the fascist regime that took over the Festival, subjecting it to strong propaganda. In result, at the consecutive festivals in 1940, 1941 and 1942 the Grand Prix awards were invariably assigned to German or Italian films.

Following the pause due to the war, the Festival re-opened again in September 1946, which is the year, when the first Cannes Festival had been held in the spring. In spite of the fascist history and the strong competition, Venice managed to play the key festival role later on. Less international and less glamorous than Cannes, Venice maintained though its outstanding prestige of the most artistically focused event. There were two things that the Venice Festival took advantage of: the most prestigious but not sensational jury and the minimum number of awards assigned, ranging from the Grand Prix for best film through the Special Award, to two „Coppa Vipoli” for best actor and actress.

The 1947 Festival had a record audience of 90 thousand spectators and it is said to have been one of the best festivals which gave recognition to the USSR and the new democracies including Czechoslovakia, which won first prize for „Sirena” by Karel Stekly.

In 1949 the Festival was transferred back to the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido and the famous Golden Lion of St. Mark was introduced as a Grand Prix for best film.

In 1950s the Lido was overwhelmed by anything glamorous and soon became an essential part of social life those days. The cinema stars– Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Silvana Pampanini, Claudia Cardinale, Marcello Mastroianni and foreigners Paul Newman, Burt Lancaster, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton– attended on an annual basis. The Fifties witnessed the contrast between commercial formula and cultural formula. In 1956 the qualitative criteria gained the upper hand to the extent that the jury, chaired by John Grierson, did not award the Golden Lion, which became compulsory as of the following year.

The Festival proceeded during the Sixties and extended its broad international project commenced in the post-war years.

When the era of Luigi Chiarini came, filmmakers were given precedence instead of the country they represented. Chiarini imposed a new artistic rigor and confirmed the role of the Venice International Film Festival as an authoritative and innovative; from 1963 to 1968 he renewed its spirit and structure. Chiarini was a coherent and authoritative director who spent six years organizing series of films according to strict aesthetic criteria, regarding selection and resisting the social scene, political pressures and the interference of the film industry. However, the Festival still had a statute dating back to the fascist era and could not release from the general political climate. And then the year 1968 turned out to be the one of a great change.

Starting from '69, and for the eleven consecutive years, the Festival had neither jury nor Lions and was even suspended in 1973. The Festival was opened to a mass audience; most of the screenings were free and they were moved from Lido to the historical city center of Venice. The films selected for screenings were usually, contrary to the Festival held on the Lido, low–budget, half amateur but foremost ideologically appropriate productions. Many films of a desirable, artistic quality were deliberately keeping away from Venice in order to compete in more prestigious and, basically, competitive festivals. To top it up, the date of the festival was constantly changed and, in result, it often collided with the fixed dates of other festivals. It must have been to the detriment of Venice. The festival has thereby lost its position, giving precedence to its main rival- Cannes.

It was not until 1980 when the Venice Festival, under the direction of Carlo Lizzani and later on of Gian Luigi Rondi and Guglielmo Biraghi, regained lost prestige and time. In 1980 the Golden Lion was seen back at the event and along with it came new generation stars. Such influential directors as Fassbinder, Kusturica, Almodovar, Scorsese, Wenders and Moretti, they all have written the history of recent cinema through the Venice Festival.

In the 1990s the Festival has confirmed its international prestige and has seen a series of ingenious directors, introduced with great success, who herald well for the future history of international cinema.

The Venice Festival Today

Contemporary Festival is made of several sections: official feature and short film competitions as well as a number of parallel sidebars.


  • Venice (Venezia) - traditional competitive section for full-length and short films given their world premiere or not yet publicly screened. The Golden Lion Award is assigned for best film.

  • Upstream (Controcorrente) - competitive overview of full-length films, which aim to be innovative and offer creative originality, and which represent various trends and features of contemporary cinema. Films will be given here their world premiere or the first screening outside of their countries of origin or in Italy. The San Marco Award is assigned for best film in this section.

  • New Territories (Nuovi territori) - an experimental workshop, including some remarkable innovations, which is a window on the cinema of tomorrow. Short, medium and full-length films, both documentaries and fiction, realized using traditional or new technology, are presented within this section. Recently produced films in various formats will be presented which have not yet been screened outside of their countries of origin or in Italy.

  • International Critics' Week (SIC - Settimana internazionale della critica) – a non-competitive series of 7 first feature films selected independently by the National Association of Italian Film Critics (Sindacato Nazionale Critici Cinematografici Italiani SNCCI).

  • The Venice Screenings - a projection room and video box are available, thanks to the Industry Office, to producers and distributors to facilitate their contacts with buyers and promoters.

Mostra also includes retrospectives and tributes, as a contribution to a better awareness of the history of cinema. However, their number is limited due to the fact that the infrastructures is lacking on the Lido (the complex of Palazzo del Cinema and only one small cinema are often insufficient). Thanks to the Italian government and local authorities who strongly approve of the Festival, there is a chance to extend the festival complex of buildings and even move the screenings to the historical city center. That will certainly change for better the contents of the festival program.

It seems to be incomprehensible why the unique night section Venezia Notte introduced by Rondi was eventually cancelled a couple of years ago. It was the only section of this kind ever running concurrently with the international festival. It was a non–competitive section made up of the best entertaining films of the very year, that is to say, though representing quite interesting and important category, not usually screened at the festivals. Though questionable, its true diversity was giving the map of the world’s best productions. Such initiative is not continued any longer.

The films compete within particular sections for the following awards:

Venice (Venezia). The International Jury assigns the following awards to full-length films, without any possibility of ex-aequo: Golden Lion for Best Film, Jury Grand Prix, Special Director's Award, Award for an Outstanding Individual Contribution, Coppa Volpi for Best Actor, Coppa Volpi for Best Actress, Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress.

Regarding the short films, the Jury will assign the following awards, without any possibility of ex-aequo: Silver Lion for Best Short Film, UIP prize for Best European Short Film, One Special Mention.

Upstream (Controcorrente) - the International Jury will assign: San Marco prize of Euro 50,000, without any possibility of ex-aequo, to be divided in equal parts between the director and the producer, Jury Special Award, Two Special Mentions.

"Luigi De Laurentiis" Venice Award for a First Film-Lion of the Future-this award is assigned to one of the debut feature-length films presented within the different sections of the Mostra.

The Golden Lion of St. Mark was once only assigned to Poland in 1984 for “Rok spokojnego słońca” by Krzysztof Zanussi. In 1958 the Golden Lion went to “Ostatniego dnia lata” by Tadeusz Konwicki at the parallel festival Mostra Internazionale del Film Documentaire later suspended.

It is worth mentioning that the Venice Festival’s dossier (extensive catalogue, press cuttings) is up to the highest standards, contrary to Cannes.


The Beginnings

Another leading festival is Berlin Film Festival with its unofficial name- the Berlinale. The founding of this festival in 1951 goes back to an initiative of three western Allies in post-war Berlin. The city saw itself as the “Window on the Free World” and there was a general desire to recapture Berlin’s one-time significance as a European center of the arts and film culture. Its intention was to support a better cooperation and understanding between cultures from around the globe by presenting innovative works of merit.

Dr. Alfred Bauer was named a director of the festival. The inaugural film, shown during the first event in 1951, was “Rebecca” by Alfred Hitchcock. The main award from the very first festival was the “Golden Berlin Bear”, which was designed by Renee Sintenis. In the initial years recipients of the awards were decided upon by audience vote. However , after the International Association of Producers officially elevated the Berlinale to the status parallel to that of the festivals in Cannes and Venice, it was possible to appoint an international jury awarding not only “Golden”, but as well “Silver Bear”.

Notwithstanding, the political status of Berlin hindered the participation of films from Socialist states for many years (with the exception of Yugoslavia). At the beginning of 1970’s, together with the improvement of international relations, films from the Eastern Block took part in the Berlinale, which also consolidated position of this festival.

Berlin has also had very good relationships with “majors” from Hollywood. Americans have not usually been keen on showing their productions at the European festivals; however the predominant part of the best Hollywood films has been shown in Berlin.

Neither the Berlinale nor the festivals in Cannes and Venice were left unaffected by the sociopolitical protests of the late 1960’s. In 1970 situation came to a head as the result of screening of a film “O.K.” by Michael Verhoeven dealing with the situation in Vietnam and depicting American soldiers killing Vietnamese children. The jury resigned and the competition was halted. In the ensuing discussions the demand for an additional, independent section arose, with its purpose to be the presentation of new, progressive and ambitious films. It was the reason to establish in 1971 the “International Forum of New Cinema”, which has existed alongside the traditional competition and has had its own jury and awards.

As far as appointing date of the festival is concerned, in 1978 Berlin resigned from organizing festivals in July. Although it was very attractive and touristy date, they changed it into February as to improve its position among two others major rival festivals. And as it turned out later it was really worth it.

In 1979 the participating Socialist countries, including Poland, staged a protest after screening of “The Deer Hunter” by Michael Camino. After that incident an improvement of relations with the Socialist nations stood foremost on the agenda. The Berlinale proved itself once again to be an important cultural and political junction between East and West, this aspect also finding expression after the reunification of Germany.

Numerous directors and actors, that are today part of film history, were "discovered" at the festival. Directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Roman Polanski and Francois Truffaut enjoyed their first successes in Berlin.

Berlin Festival Today

Berlin International Film Festival is divided into several sections, in which different genres of cinema are presented. These are:

  • Competition- presents a board range of internationals films, which were produced within twelve months preceding the beginning of festival and have not been shown outside their countries of origin.

  • Panorama- informative section presenting films not accepted to Competition, as well as distinguished world productions,

  • Children’s Film Festival,

  • Perspective German Cinema- it is kind of platform for young German filmmakers,

  • New German Cinema- recently released German films,

  • Forum- presents new, progressive, ambitious films,

  • Retrospectives- historical section presenting films of one thematic field, for example cinema of the II world war, totalitarian cinema.

As far as awards are concerned, the international jury grants following prizes for feature films: Golden Berlin Bear for Best Film, Silver Berlin Bear for Best Director, Actor and Actress as well as for an artistic contribution and the best film music. Except these, it also awards Blue Angel for best European film and the Alfred Bauer Prize for a work of particular innovation. This year’s newly established International Short Film Jury awards prizes for short films screened in the Competition and Panorama sections as well as a scholarship for the New York Academy for the director. There are also plenty of independent juries granting its own awards as ecumenical jury or the International Film Critics Association (FIPRESCI), which makes Berlin a festival with record number of non-statutory prizes.

Among those films awarded with Golden Bear are:

  • 2003- “In This World” by Michael Winterbottom

  • 2002- “Bloody Sunday” by Paul Greengrass, “Spirited Away” by Hayao Miyazaki,

  • 2001- “Intimacy” by Patrice Chereau,

  • 2000-“Magnolia” by Paul Thomas Anderson.

  • 1999-“The Thin Red Line” by Terrence Malick.


The Beginnings

The most significant film event in Central and Eastern Europe is International Film Festival in Karlovy Vary. One of the oldest festivals in the world was founded in 1946, but had been considered even before the Second World War. After the nationalization of the Czechoslovak film industry in 1945 the Ministry of Information and Culture supported the idea of creating festival, being aware of film’s social importance. The first non-competition festival took place in Marianske Lazne and Karlovy Vary and presented not only Czechoslovak films, but also from Western Europe as France, England and the USA. After the two first years festival moved permanently to Karlovy Vary.

After the Communist takeover in 1948 it was entirely under the control of the current political establishment, which reflected in the selection of films, the conferral of awards and the invitation of guests. In 1948 the festival competition took place for the first time and awarding the Grand Prize Crystal Globe became a permanent part of this event. The Grand Prize went then to the Polish film “The Last Stage” by Wanda Jakubowska. The festival was used as a propagandistic tool in the ideological struggle against the West. Films, included in the program, had to present the victory of socialism and the struggle for independence from colonial and imperialist dominance. If any of the films from capitalist countries wanted to find its way to the program, it had to deal with class conflict and the difficult life of working people.

An international jury was selected for the first time in 1951, although it consisted of excessive number of unknown people from Socialist countries. In 1956 a new slogan was given to the festival: “Towards a more noble relationship between people, and a lasting friendship between nations” as to emphasize its political character. The numerous number of awards also bore predictable names: the peace and work awards, the award for the struggle of freedom or social progress, the award for friendship between nations, the award for the struggle toward a better world and many, many others of the same kind. What is interesting all these awards were regarded as the main ones, but the award for the best director was only ninth in terms of its importance. Very popular and true, at the time, was the statement that in Karlovy Vary each film was granted an award, except for the best ones (usually Western). The jury tried to ensure than no film from socialist or developing country would lose and recognized socialists’ efforts in competition films.

In the middle of fifties the festival program begun to include films from so-called third world. Thanks to the great international interest in such films, many major filmmakers from Western Europe, especially from France and Italy, were invited. The festival prestige also grew, when in1956 FIAPF designated the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival as a category A-“non-specialized festival with a feature film competition”. Unfortunately, due to the founding of the Moscow International Film Festival and the political decision to organize only one “A” festival per year among socialist countries, Karlovy Vary was forced to switch off with Moscow between 1959 and1993.

During the sixties, less restrictive era of Communist propaganda, the program of the festival was able to include films of the latest artistic trends in internationals cinema and of the Czechoslovak new wave. Films stars from around the world visited the festival every year and top filmmakers came as members of the festival jury. The festival greatly elevated its standing among others international festivals.

In a year of so-called Prague Spring (1968), the organization of the festival fundamentally changed. Festival regulations were reworked: the tradition competition was not held and in place of international jury three independent juries were set up.

In the seventies ideology came first again and Karlovy Vary became a festival of slogan films from socialist countries. The system for evaluating films once again went back to that one from the early fifties with a variety of juries conferred as many as forty awards at each festival. The quality of the festival fell together with the public’s interest. Standards were only maintained in the informative section where viewers had still the opportunity to see key international movies as well as films awarded at other festivals.

The great social and political changes that took place after 1989 finally freed the Karlovy Vary festival from political pressure. During the event in 1990 the public enthusiastically welcomed a collection of Czechoslovak films, which had been locked up for years in storage vault.

In 1992 the festival faced financial problems and nearly ended its long tradition.

Happily, nothing like that happened and the Karlovy Vary festival in 1994 inaugurated an entirely new tradition .An independent foundation, responsible for the preparation and organization of future festivals, was instituted and distinguish film actor Jin Bartoska was asked to be the president of the foundation. Besides, after forty years of alternating with Moscow, it was decided that festival in Karlovy Vary once again would be organized on a yearly basis. The program was divided into several sections that became the basis of the program for the future.

In 1996 the category A of this festival was given to the new Prague International Festival for that year, although crowds of young people filling cinemas in Karlovy Vary quickly quelled the disappointment after that incident. The festival’s popularity was on the rise with thousands of spectators watching films and hundreds of journalists and foreign guests arriving. Thanks to this success Karlovy Vary was once again designated as a category A festival, while Prague IFF died after its second year.

Karlovy Vary Festival Today

The festival program is comprised of the following sections:

  • Official Selection-Competition- includes films made during past 18 months that have not been previously shown in the competition section of another international film festival,

  • Documentary Film Competition- is divided into two parts-films less than 30 minutes and films longer than that,

  • Horizons- informative section presenting important films from last season international festivals as well as many premieres,

  • Another view- specially chosen collection of experimental films, along with lesser-known film productions, and those with uncommon and creative approach,

  • East and West- presents contemporary films from former Socialist block countries,

  • Forum of Independents- productions from the world of recent independent film,

  • Variety Critics’ Choice- magazine’s critics introduce in cooperation with European Film Promotion a special collection of European films,

  • Czech Films- an overview of Czech productions made during the past year,

  • Retrospectives ad tributes- several thematic retrospectives presenting the work of a certain world-renowned film personality or a particular period,

  • Special Events

According to the Competition section jury grants awards: Grand Prix-Crystal Globe for best feature film, Special Jury Award, Best Director Award, Best Actress and Actor Award. As far as Documentary Competition is concerned, there are two awards for Best Documentary Film of each category. Every year the festival also presents the Crystal Globe for Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema. Additionally there is Philip Morris Freedom Award, designed for film directors from Central and Eastern Europe, whose films are included in the “East and West” section and awards granted by non-statutory juries as FIPRESCI, FICC and Ecumenical jury. The official jury, however, is not the only one voting, because audience is also able to choose their own best film.


The Beginnings

International Film Festival in San Sebastian in Spain is one of the oldest festivals in the world and has been held in September each year since 1952. It is not so important as the other mentioned already, but has also an international recognition and is renowned for its high artistic level of productions presented at the festival.

Its main intention is to introduce Latin American Cinema to European public. Its Grand Prix is called Golden Shell. San Sebastian Awards are probably the highest prizes in the world-around 120 000 USD-to up-and-coming directors and producers. It is very interesting and unprecedented that the award for debutant is higher than for the best film. The reason for that, according to organizers, are problems that beginners have with collecting funds for the next film and the festival wants the award to serve as a contribution to completion of new projects.

September, when the San Sebastian festival is held, is not favorable date in terms of competition for premieres and festival films. It is the most crowded four weeks of the festival calendar, which precede (follow) festivals in Venice and Toronto. That is why San Sebastian has often opted to avoid direct competition with its main rivals by programming impressive sidebars and retrospectives as to create a deceptively rich and busy festival. For this reason, film stars in particular are deliberately courted by the festival, and many are drawn to its beautiful seafront setting.

Notwithstanding, in order to obtain better access to films, while there was a harsh rivalry among international festivals, directors of San Sebastian festival appointed in1991 fourteen ”delgados generales” all over the world, whose task was to observe productions of world cinematography. Such a delegate in Poland was for a long time Jerzy Płażewski.

Polish films were awarded several times at this festival. In 1958 Golden Shell went to “Ewa chce spać” by Tadeusz Chmielewski. 1992 was also very successful for Poles with three awards for “Zwolnieni z Życia” by Waldemar Krzystek and special mentions for a debutant Marcin Ziębiński for “Gdy Rozum Śpi”.

San Sebastian Festival Today

There are four kinds of films presented at this festival: Documentary Films, Feature Films Cinema, First and Second Films and Short Films. They are evaluated in accordance with sections:

  • Official Section- the competition of recent world productions not show at others international festivals,

  • Zabaltegi-this is an informative section, which offers a complete overview of newly released films and the best films that have been presented at others international festivals

  • Retrospectives- divided into classic, thematic and contemporary, dedicated to classic directors different active filmmakers

  • Made in Spanish- films from Spain or Latin America or those featuring the Latin community throughout the rest of the world

  • Films in Progress- includes fictional feature films, which have difficulties with post-production stage. Its aim is to facilitate the completion of films by presenting them to the group of professionals who can contribute to their completion.

As far as awards are concerned, the international jury has the obligation to grant the following awards: Gold Shell for the best film, Silver Shell for the best director, actor and actress, Jury Prize for the best photography and screenplay. Additionally, there are New Director Award, Made in Spanish Award and A Youth Prize (awarded by over 200 students).

The audience is the one who grants Pearl of the Audience Award by choosing a film from among those in the Zabaltegi section already shown at other International Festivals. In 1986 the Festival created the Donostia Prize, awarded to a great film personality in recognition for their work and career.


The Beginnings

The history of Camerimage goes back to year 1993 when a small group of Toruń film enthusiasts decided to invite two of the most famous cinematographers, Sven Nykvist and Vittorio Storaro. To their delight (and astonishment of Polish film world), these two distinguished artists accepted the invitation to a brand-new festival. No one doubted that the inaugural Camerimage Festival should focus on the legendary camera virtuoso, Sven Nykvist and his artistic partner, Ingmar Bergman. Although in subsequent years the idea of the Festival attracted attention of many cinematographers, Sven Nykvist has remained its greatest enthusiast and ardent supporter by annually celebrating his birthday during Camerimage.

From its debut in 1993, the Festival has been an ever-growing event, which is nowadays attended by over 220 cinematographers, representing some of the most influential societies from all over the world.

Within the last ten years, the organizers succeeded in achieving their stated goals of providing a forum for meetings and discussions about the art of cinematography, and establishing a venue, where opinions and aesthetic impressions regarding contemporary filmmaking could be debated. This aspect of the Festival also proved attractive to many directors and actors, who also became frequent guests at Camerimage.

In the process, Camerimage became an exceptional meeting place, where guests and audiences have a chance to see the latest achievements in filmmaking by attending numerous screenings, workshops, seminars and panel discussions.

In 1997 the promoters decided to create the Student Competition Section, which apart from giving young filmmakers a great opportunity of showing their achievements, plays an important educational role as well. This section includes student film competition (judged by the main competition jury) as well as numerous workshops, seminars and group meetings with master cinematographers and directors. In a few short years, this part of the Festival became very popular, attracting over 800 students from all corners of the world. Foreign students participating in the Festival also benefit from Polish families' hospitality through a specially created Homestay Program, where visiting students are lodged in private housing.

The Festival also relies on a large amount of volunteers, recruited from local schools and colleges, who are fluent in one or more foreign languages. They assist the Camerimage team during the Festival and serve as translators, guides and assistants for international guests. For seven years the Festival took place in Toruń, however in the year 2000, Camerimage moved to its new headquarters in Łódź, Polish film capital and cradle of national film industry, as well as the site of world-famous Film Łódź School. For three years now, the Festival was held in the Grand Theatre, located in the heart of the city.

Every year Camerimage Film Festival Jury honors authors of the best films of the year with regard to their visual values with Gold, Silver, and Bronze Frogs as well as film students with Gold, Silver, and Bronze Tadpoles for the best film etudes. Recognizing important aspects of teamwork during the process of filmmaking, directors of photography created honorary awards for directors with special visual sensitivity and for director–cinematographer duos. Outstanding film personalities like David Lynch, Peter Weir, Roland Joffe, Norman Jewison, Jim Jarmusch, John Schlesinger, Carlos Saura, Bernardo Bertolucci, Mike Leigh, Joel Coen and Andrzej Wajda were among the recipients of such honors. Camerimage Golden Frog is also granted to an Actor for Extraordinary Contribution to the Development of Movie Artistry.


IMG, Dynamiczna i statyczna historia kina, „Kino”, 2003, nr3(430)

Kuczok Wojciech, Nigdzie, czyli w Europie, „Tygodnik powszechny”, 2002, nr 30(2768)

Olszewski Jan, Ze ściągą i bez, „Kino”, 2002, nr12(427)

Płażewski Jerzy, 75 najważniejszych, „Film na świecie”, 1992, nr1(392)

Płażewski Jerzy, 75 najważniejszych, „Film na świecie”, 1992, nr2(393)

Płażewski Jerzy, 75 najważniejszych, „Film na świecie”, 1992, nr3/4(394)

Płażewski Jerzy, Berlinale 2003: Nie było nudno, „Kino”, 2003, nr4(431)

Płażewski Jerzy, Nietolerancja niejedno ma imię, „Kino”, 2002, nr9(424)

Płażewski Jerzy, Pierwszy po 11 września, „Kino”, 2002, nr4(419)

Płażewski Jerzy, Z polskiej perspektywy, „Kino”, 2002, nr7/8(422-423)

Sczepański Jerzy, Camerimage 2001-zapiski operatora, „Kino”, 2002, nr 2(417)

Sobolewski Tadeusz, Berlin, 16 lutego, „Kino”, 2003, nr3(430)

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