Menges grew up in post-war England, and like many great filmmakers of his generation, he learned his craft in British television. He started this adventure thanks to Alan Forbes, American documentary filmmaker who was one of his first role models. Menges worked his way up the ladder as an assistant editor, soundman and camera assistant, honing his skills with each and every job. His life was changed forever when he joined, as cameraman, the crew of a TV program World in Action. During the next couple of years he traveled the world, going to places of social and political upheavals and shooting in extremely dangerous conditions. On one of such trips Menges went to Apartheid-torn South Africa and came back with illegally obtained behind-the-scenes footage. On another, he left with director Adrian Cowell to Burma to shoot The Opium Warlords; they became isolated from the outside world and were forced to live guerilla life for over a year. Rest assured, these were the times and places that shaped him as an artist and as a human being.
But not all of Chris Menges' adventures were connected to shooting documentaries. He started working on features in 1967 as a camera operator on Ken Loach's debut Poor Cow and Lindsay Anderson'sIf.... The former helped him in being promoted to the rank of cinematographer – on Loach's Kes – and began one of the most important artistic collaborations in his career, lasting to this day. In 1970s and 1980s Menges worked with a number of rising British directors (Stephen Frears, Bill Forsyth, Neil Jordan), integrating in his cinematography his love for authenticity with a wonderful eye for details and artistic sensitivity shaped while shooting documentaries. Then, he tried working on bigger projects (he supported Peter Suschitzky on Irvin Kershner's Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back) and started looking for new challenges and different means of describing the surrounding reality. That led him to Roland Joffé with whom Menges made The Killing Fields and The Mission, both awarded with Oscars for cinematography.
Both The Killing Fields, made with a strong sense of authenticity in each and every shot, and The Mission, the look of which was inspired by classical Spanish paintings, were enormous challenges, but Menges never betrayed his instincts and used his skills to enhance the stories being told. Being a great humanist and a filmmaker who preferred shooting from a distance to create “a freedom space” for actors or non-fiction protagonists in front of the camera, Menges helped the director to shape his poignant tales about the different sides of human nature. Having such rich experience in film, and knowing how to handle difficult projects, Menges decided to shoot his own movies. His directing debut, A World Apart (cin. Peter Biziou), was a powerful statement about South Africa in 1960s, which he came to know personally in his documentary days. It won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and was respected by critics and viewers alike. Nevertheless, the subsequent directorial outings did not bring Menges what he hoped for, thus after almost a decade of absence he re-ignited the old flame with a film camera, and shot Neil Jordan's Michael Collins and Jim Sheridan's The Boxer.
Both IRA-themed films became another proof of Chris Menges' mastery in using light and camera movement to show human emotions, obsessions and traumas. The new millennium brought him a few opportunities to work with his long-time friends and collaborators (with Stephen Frears on Dirty Pretty Things, with Ken Loach on Route Irish), but also a number of new artistic challenges. He immersed himself in the Western imagery in Tommy Lee Jones' The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. He helped William Monahan to create alluring vision of England's capital in London Boulevard. He supported Stephen Daldry on the sets of The Reader (Menges shared the credit for cinematography with Roger Deakins, both were nominated to Oscar for this film) and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. And it was Deakins, widely regarded as one of the best cinematographers of our times, who said later that he considers Menges' use of natural light second to none, and that he was one of his first inspirations after film school.
“My personality is not ever to fight for a style. My feeling about all work is, it's not about style, but about what it's trying to say, what it's worth”, said Menges in one of his interviews. In another one he stated that “you do things that make you grow and make you learn, and I've always been interested in things that teach me something”. Chris Menges BSC, ASC is a legend, a wonderful human being, a true artist who is conscious of his skills, a masterful storyteller with many words of wisdom to share. Soon, he will come to Bydgoszcz to receive Camerimage Lifetime Achievement Award, which he earned not only with his immense contributions to the art of filmmaking, but also by sticking to his instincts and rules for over fifty years of his career. Chris Menges will also introduce the screenings of his films and will meet with the Festival's audience on a number of occasions.