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23-30 September 2017

The winner of the Special Award "Golden Camera 300" for Special Contribution to World Cinema Art at the 37th edition of the International Cinematographers' Film Festival Manaki Brothers is the American cinematographer and director of Greek origin

 

PHEDON PAPAMICHAEL

 

PHEDON PAPAMICHAEL 1Writing about an artist is like solving a rebus, most of the letters of the syllable are there, yet everything is uncertain when you start heading to where the flashbacks connecting you to them, to their work, take you; especially when it comes to directors of photography, cinematographers. Their skill and knowledge about the overall process of conducting an entire film production are particularly relevant, which is why every director is more than picky when choosing his/her right hand. Cinematographers are always in the background, often imperceptible, but with a clear vision of what is going on in front of their camera. They are the immediate mediators of the magic on the silver screen in anticipation of the silent, intimate half-dark to our own "place where we can feel the butterflies fluttering their wings". Whole worlds depend on those flutters. It is an honor that in our small, yet select world of the "Manaki Brothers" Festival, the name of one of those wizards of cinema, Phedon Papamichael will shine its light. Phedon Papamichael Jr. was born in Athens, in February 1962 and at the age of 54 he has already shot nearly 50 feature films. When he was six years old, his family moved to the USA, at the invitation of their relative, the famous actor, director and producer, John Cassavetes. His father Phedon Papamichael is a famous filmmaker and set designer and has collaborated with Cassavetes on a few of his films as a production designer. His mother's German roots make it possible for Phedon to go back to Europe and graduate from the Photography and Art Department at the Munich University in 1982. His interest in photography took him back to USA and in 1983 he came to New York as a photojournalist, and then to Los Angeles where he completely devoted himself to the craft of cinematography and shot seven films with Roger Corman in the next two years. He won the first award for best photography at the Cork Film Festival in Ireland for the short black and white - SPUD, shot on 35mm film. His first feature film as a cinematographer was the teen-age horror Dance of the Damned in 1988/89 by director Katt Shea with whom he also worked on Poison Ivy in 1992, the drama-thriller with the then young and promising Drew Barrymore, whom he hired the next year as the lead actress for his directorial debut Sketch Artist. Two years later Papamichael directed the romantic thriller drama The Dark Side of Genius where he created an atmosphere of intimacy and alienation at the same time; the painter and his dark illusion and the enticing female nude of the model and her leisurely beauty. In his next directorial endeavor, From Within, Papamichael Junior juxtaposed two worlds caught in a grip, the world anticipating the dark forces and the world of the drowsy tranquility of a small Maryland town. The characters were intentionally not fully defined, which increased the enigmatic direction of the plot. This film had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008. His directorial endeavors Arcadia Lost, 2009 and Lost Angeles, 2012 established him as desirable collaborator, even for the most fastidious directors. While browsing through the output of this prolific filmmaker, we can notice that he self-assuredly steps into projects in various genres, starting from biopic stories, horror drama, romantic thrillers, all the way to film comedy - an underestimated, yet not lesser genre, as, one must admit, putting a smile on the audience faces is becoming increasingly harder. In many of his films, comedy is used as a counterpoint against the romantic love and melodrama, the social drama, as well as serious social issues. Humor as a comic relief from the world gone crazy, in moments of pain, concern and fear. The exception to this attitude towards humor is the film MouseHunt, d. Gore Verbinski, 1997 where Papamichael uses his camera to create an atmosphere of magic realism. The spaces, faces, situations are so skillfully zoomed in, that at times we get an impression of virtual reality. I am certain that his gaffer was given a lot of work under Phedon's instructions during the filming.

Влегувајќи во голем број комплицирани филмски проекти, со режисери како Alexander Payne, George Clooney, Gore Verbinski, Brad Silberling, John Turteltaub, Oliver PHEDON PAPAMICHAEL 2Stone, Nick Cassavetes, James Mangold, Diane Keaton и други, Федон Папамихаил стрпливо, но со голема посветеност го гради својот препознатлив кинематограферски сензибилитет.

By working on large number of complex film projects, with directors such as Alexander Payne, George Clooney, Gore Verbinski, Brad Silberling, John Turteltaub, Oliver Stone, Nick Cassavetes, James Mangold, Diane Keaton, etc, Phedon Papamichael has patiently, yet very dedicatedly built his recognizable cinematographic sensibility. With motion pictures as an inevitable surrounding since his childhood, he creates his personal visual analogies which move at a variable vivid tempo in each of his films: the life inside, the silent storm we don't see, the rain we don't hear. He creates visual energy in the blockbusters such as The Descendants, Identity, Walk the Line, Moonlight Mile, The Ides of March, While you were Sleeping and many others. What words and dialogues fail to express is presented to us by Phedon Papamichel with the most adequate cinema key, powerful enough to open and close many gates: the camera. His eye is the relevant mediator between us and the things beyond, which may be invisible, but are overwhelmingly present. He is always tightly focused on what is behind the actor's face, his/her intimate world, that is why he is so adamant about the selection of light in the close-ups and interiors when there is very little dialogue among the characters, or none at all. In his film photography, the plotline is an additional aspect which he turns into a multilayer visual emotion. The characters of the actors are like etchings on his map, and Papamichael hunts for the hidden treasure deep in their eyes, in the raised eyebrows, in the twitch of the lips, in the sudden pout of the mouth, the blink, the chin drawn down to the chest. All of these small twitches are caught by Phedon's camera/eye and he conveys the real information about the unexpected in the film narration. He leaves all of these natural human gestures take over the frame and "send" us the desired and ready-made mission to our senses. Improvisation and immediacy are the main ingredients of his secret formula when working with some of the greatest actors, such as Bruce Dern, Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman, Peter Fonda, George Clooney, Bo Bridges, John Travolta, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, Andie MacDowell, Nicolas Cage, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Marisa Tomei, Joaquín Rafael Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Christian Bale... He has been a member of the American Society of Cinematographers since 2000.

PHAEDON PAPAMICHAELCinema is often more real than reality and this fact is fascinating, intriguing. This is what Papamichael's camera captures, what we very often pass by, ignore or do not recognize, although it is of great importance for any of us: emotion as a powerful catalyst of a myriad of solutions and the reason for endless defeats.
As a student he was drawn to Italian Neo-realism, the French New Wave and Antonioni's unusual aesthetics, the effect of self-alienation Wim Wenders' films, his favourite - Paris, Texas, as well as the American western movies. It is apparent that he was fascinated by a lot of various film schools, which led to him becoming an exceptional filmmaker. They say, be careful what you wish for, and in Phedon Papamichael's case, it really comes true. He has worked with the great Wenders on the romantic melancholic drama The Million Dollar Hotel, 2000, where from the very first frame he foreshadows the fragility of human nature, symbolically represented as a myriad of shimmering lights opposed to the imposing architectural buildings of our civilization, erected towards the bluish-silver film gamma. Through the slow motion scene focused on Tom Tom's smiling face before he runs to jump from the top of the hotel roof (Jeremy Davies), while he only unconsciously waves goodbye, to the love scene on the bed in the dilapidated room with Mila Jovovich and Jeremy Davies's shining faces. Phedon takes us to the chambers of all those who silently suffer before our eyes, the conscious and unconscious thoughts, which according to the narration, find their way into the every-day decisions we make, lonely, and even maybe happy in this loneliness, abandoned, neglected, together with everyone, yet alone. This dark love drama won the Silver Bear of the Main Jury at the Film Festival in Berlin that same year. 2000 was an exceptionally important year for Phedon Papamichael as a cinematographer. He has worked with the award-winning Georgian director Nana Jorjadze as a cinematographer in the film 27 missing kisses, which opened the selection of Directors' Fortnight in Cannes in 2000. He won the Prix Vision Award for the cinematography of this film at the Film Festival in Avignon. On this film Phedon also collaborated with his father, who was the production designer. His fascination with western movies and the role of the camera in the film 3:10 to Yuma, (d. James Mangold, 2007) are mutually complementary. In this film, Papamichael's photography is attractive, thunderous and complex at times, and it also creates the illusion of being one of the actors, Crow's consciousness, or Bale's suspiciousness. The exterior and interior are so compatible, as if they had been taken straight out of the 35mm from the good old classic westerns, which is especially important since the film is a remake in a modern production package.

PHEDON PAPAMICHAEL 4For his creations in film photography, Phedon Papamichael has won a multitude of awards, led by his Academy Award nomination for best photography for the film Nebraska directed by Alexander Payne, 2013. This film is a black and white elegy, seemingly simple, yet deeply complex due to the subdued emotions silently locked up somewhere deep in all the protagonists, but not forgotten. It is a story about the alienation of the members of a typical American family which is shaken up from its comfortable lethargy by the sudden obsession of the oldest family member with the trip and award he believes belongs to him. In his call for attention, Woody, (Bruce Dern), goes back to his birthplace where most of the members of his family still live, the place where he wants to leave the impression that he done something with his life, the source of all the joys and sorrows from his childhood and youth. Finally the moment when the son and father finally get to know each other and their trip down to the roots of the misunderstandings and beyond, are only some of the emotions that Phedon Papamichael and Alexander Payne offer in this exceptional movie. The alienation, isolation of the elderly, the empty streets, wonderful landscapes of the American Midwest are the atmosphere that Papamichael unfolds before our gaze. The frame when Woody drives his truck down the main, wide and nearly empty street in the city and passes by all those people that he still has a place for in his heart - his brother, his high-school sweetheart and his friend, is a cinematic onomatopoeia of a whole life, the last goodbye of a vain old man whose heart still longs and desires. The quiet serenity sliding off Papamichael's camera comes as comfort in those wide, endless and unreal spaces, assuring that, after all, family is here, as imperfect as it may be. Nebraska will remain an anthological saga about the untold presence of the cruelty of truth, as well as a film about the vitality of emotion and desire, despite the worn-out body they reside in. Phedon Papamichael Jr. did not win the Oscar, but by signing such films as Phenomenon, America's Sweethearts, Sideways, Walk the Line, The Weather Man, The Monuments Men he holds a place in our hearts as a film artist beyond transiency. The idea of the essential is related to the people, to the sun, to the water and everything around them, the spaces, landscapes, and Phedon Papamichael's films are exactly that, a quest for oneself, the essence of life.
He found his own Arcadia in his Leonidio, near the mystic waters of the holy mount Parnonas a long time ago.


Welcome to Bitola, dear Phedon!


Gena Teodosievska
Film critic