REMEMBERING THE MASTERS: KURT WEBER AND TADEUSZ KONWICKI
Since its inception the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography CAMERIMAGE has always focused on distinguishing those brilliant filmmakers who stayed in the shade of actors, directors or screenwriters - the cinematographers. We have shown their exceptional skills and visual sensitivity. We have acknowledged their input in the art of cinema. Together with them we observed the upcoming digital revolution.

The aim of “Remembering the Masters" is to accentuate the craft of all those brilliant cinematographers who passed away, and to provoke a discussion about the cinematic possibilities given by the films which over the years set the standards for what we watch today. Nowadays, with the digital revolution, both mental and technological, it is crucial not to forget about the always-fascinating history of cinema without which such revolution wouldn't come. We therefore invite everyone to watch the work of true masters, and by this remember every lesson they wanted to teach us.

This year we will pay a tribute to the recently deceased Polish filmmakers: cinematographer Kurt Weber and director Tadeusz Konwicki. We will also screen their film Salto.
 
 
Polish Film Archive (Filmoteka Narodowa) is the Partner of  “Remembering the Masters" section
 
 
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Kurt Weber, a prominent Polish cinematographer, died in June this year in Mainz. He was known mainly for his black-and-white movies from the 1960s.

Weber was born in 1928 in Cieszyn. He showed an interest in photography from an early age. During the war he was deported deep into the Soviet Union, where he completed a course for projectionists and worked at an outdoor cinema. In late 1946 and early 1947 he lived in the American zone of occupation in Germany, where he found work at a company producing cinema equipment and at a travelling cinema. After returning to Poland, he attended the National Film School in Łódź (1948–1953), then spent several years working as a cameraman. In 1955 he filmed a short documentary about the Warsaw Ghetto, entitled Pod jednym niebem. The movie earned several awards at film festivals in Karlove Vary, Mannheim, and Edinburgh. In 1958 he created the cinematography for Andrzej Munk’s charming short film Spacerek staromiejski (A Walk in the Old City of Warsaw). The movie was filmed using a Kodak colour negative, which was not commonly used in Poland at the time.

Weber’s cinematographic debut in a theatrical feature film was Czesław Petelski’s stunning black-and-white Baza ludzi umarłych (The Depot of the Dead, 1958). This masculine drama, based on a story by the iconic writer Marek Hłasko, is often compared to Clouzot’sThe Wages of Fear. It is a suggestive depiction of the hardships of everyday life of truck drivers transporting wood on bumpy roads after the war. Weber understood that cinematography should be dependent upon the script and the vision of the director, but he combined that approach with a great dose of creativity. In Konwicki’s Zaduszki (All Souls’ Day, 1961) he intentionally overexposed the retrospective parts depicting the main characters’ past in order to differentiate their faded, memory-like character from the vivid, saturated contemporary sequences. In Salto (Jump, 1965) by the same director, which was filmed and screened in the 4:3 aspect ratio, he used an anamorphic lens to emphasise the uncanny, distorted nature of dream visions. Salto was filmed during the Czechoslovak New Wave (when the early films of Forman, Menzel, and others were shot), which focused on cinematographic realism, sometimes at the expense of technical quality. However, Weber did not yield to this trend and shot Salto flawlessly, and at the same time in a very modern way, as illustrated by the dynamic camera movements in the scenes shot on location. In order to intensify the sunlight (Salto takes place in summer, but it was shot in autumn), he used backlighting.
 
Kurt Weber and Tadeusz Konwicki on the set of "Salto",
courtesy of Polish Film Archive (Filmoteka Narodowa)

In Kutz’s Ludzie z pociągu (Night Train, 1961) he used diffused lighting, which was then becoming a worldwide trend in cinematography. It helped to recreate the atmosphere of a provincial train station and provided even illumination to all the characters, making them equally important in the eyes of the audience, as intended by the director. Weber returned to the more sophisticated lighting in Janusz Majewski’s black comedy Sublokator (The Lodger, 1966), bringing out the mysterious atmosphere of the movie. He also co-worked with Majewski on several TV productions. The last of them, Urząd (1969), was also the last Polish film in Weber’s career. That same year the cinematographer moved to the Federal Republic of Germany.

Before his emigration he contributed his skills to several other films by famous Polish directors, such as Jan Łomnicki, Janusz Morgenstern, Stanisław Różewicz, and Aleksander Ścibor-Rylski. He was an associate professor at the National Film School in Łódź from 1953 to 1969, and the dean of the Director of Photography and Television Production department there during 1968–1969. In Germany he worked with directors such as Axel Corti, Egon Monk, Peter Lilienthal, and Dietrich Wedel. He taught cinematography in West Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich. In 1979 he became a professor at the University of Mainz. After 1989 he visited Poland as a jury member for film festivals or as an artistic supervisor to assist in the digital restoration of his earlier work.
 
In 2014 his diaries were published under the title Dokumenty podróży (Travel Documents).

Andrzej Bukowiecki
 
 
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Salto

 
Somewhere in the provinces a mysterious man who uses two of the most popular Polish surnames—Kowalski and Malinowski—jumps out of a train. Before he leaves, by jumping onto a train at the exact same spot, he tries to play the role of a prophet for the small-town people. By presenting them with various versions of his life, especially by referring to war, he performs exorcisms with characters who are also present in the national mythology.
 
Salto—an intriguing creation of the great writer and director Tadeusz Konwicki (1926–2015)—is an example of an art-house film of the highest quality. Konwicki created his own world of poetry and cinema, governed by the Polish complexes, phobias, neuroses, and traumas which were shaped within its complicated national history and which often return in a grotesque form. Salto echoes with an ironic tone typical of Konwicki’s work.
 
A powerful performance of the legendary Zbigniew Cybulski (Kowalski/Malinowski) is accompanied by the stirring music of Wojciech Kilar’s, and Kurt Weber’s vivid black-and-white pictures, which are described in more detail above in the profile of the recently deceased cinematographer.
 
"Salto", reż. T. Konwicki, 1965 ©SF KADR