CO-FINANCED BY: KUJAWSKO-POMORSKIE REGION, MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND NATIONAL HERITAGE FROM PROMOTION OF CULTURE FUND AND POLISH FILM INSTITUTE
AND THE CAMERIMAGE AWARD TO PRODUCTION DESIGNER GOES TO…
Friday October 31st, 2014
The art of cinematography, which has been invariably Camerimage's main priority since the festival's inception over 20 years ago, consists of various elements When combined, they are essential to the creation of a sense that the on-screen world is a reality on its own, either formed entirely in someone's imagination, or built with the attention to detail to be a cinematic mirror of one of the eras in the mankind's history. Cinematographers and directors have many different partners in making such impressive film worlds, but production designers are certainly on the top of that list. They are the artists who take the responsibility not only to build all the desired sets, sometimes from the scratch, but above all to create the best possible physical environment for all members of cast and crew to tell a given story. Therefore, it is the job of production designers and their respective departments to customize all locations to projects' requirements, to fill on- screen space with all possible props determining the authenticity of portrayed reality, to support cinematographers in stylizing image and shaping visual continuity, etc. Or, in the words of Jeannine Oppewall, the recipient of Camerimage Award to Production Designer with Unique Visual Sensitivity, “a production designer is responsible for everything an actor walks in front of, sits on, drives through or picks up.”
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Archive
These words do not paint the big picture of how arduous and time-consuming Jeannine Oppewall's work truly is, each project taking even up to 9 months of her life. They do, however, perfectly encapsulate her incredible work ethic. Raised in a Calvinist family, she started her romance with the film industry via the work she had done as a curator and researcher for the famous designer Charles Eames. She is an engaged professional who is wonderfully meticulous in what she does – many viewers might not consciously react to such details as the bandages of right color and material on a wounded horse's leg, but they are there perfectly matching the given era and adding authenticity to the films like Gary Ross'sSeabiscuit. For that film, depicting the United States in the 1930s, she had built such sets as a fragment of the Mexican city of Tijuana and a typical American ranch house of that era, which made actor Jeff Bridges want to buy it after the filming and transport to his property in Montana. During the pre-production period of Curtis Hanson'sL.A. Confidential she personally supervised the set construction and helped finalize the choice of set dressing so important to the overall art design of the interiors. This way, another American classic was made, full of memorable and vivid sets like the police precinct, rich movie stars' mansions and even richer businessmen's villas, and shabby-looking criminal hideouts. L.A. Confidential is a movie so unique in its style that the 1950s Los Angeles depicted there is perceived by many as better than the original.
Still from "L.A. Confidential"
Still from "Pleasantville"
Both abovementioned films brought Oppewall Academy Award® nominations. She gained two more for Gary Ross'sPleasantville, in which she helped to bring to life the 1950s America seen through the looking glass of a reality of a TV sitcom of that era, and The Good Shepherd, a fascinating study of the way the CIA was being shaped in the first few years of its existence. Oppewall is known in the film industry as a production designer who is literally fearless in recreating the specific look of different times, which in turn gives the directors almost limitless artistic possibilities and help the viewers to immerse even stronger in the given stories. Needless to say, one could write an elaborate thesis about her accomplishments. In Scott Hicks'Snow Falling on Cedars her masterful work helped to create a dense atmosphere of uneasiness and prejudice that symbolized the painful blow American-Japanese relations suffered after World War II. In Hector Babenco'sIronweed she painstakingly recreated the reality of life in a Depression-stricken small town in 1930s America. In Clint Eastwood'sThe Bridges of Madison County her work was an important factor in generating a space for the short-lived but captivating romance. And in Catch Me If You Can she was challenged by Steven Spielberg to design and find about 180 sets and locations, and she responded by giving them a precise color arc - from dull and monochromatic (in the beginning of the main character's life), to bright and colorful in the middle of the story (when he is at the top of his game), back to dull and monochromatic again (when he is caught and put to work at the FBI).
Still from "Seabiscuit"
Still from The Good Shepherd"
Adored by the directors whose job she made easier, appreciated by the actors whose great roles she supported with her work, loved by the viewers aware of the fact that without her invaluable input many of their favorite films might have not been the same, Jeannine Oppewall has been continuously an important part of American cinematic landscape for over three decades. Professional on the set, modest in her private life, she is the shining example for both the members of the film industry and all cinéphiles. She is not resting on her laurels, though, as 2015 will see the premieres of two of her latest films – Rodrigo Garcia'sLast Days in the Desert and Warren Beatty's yet untitled project about a controversial romance of the legendary Howard Hughes. We are extremely grateful to Jeannine Oppewall for all the amazing work that she did, and for her immeasurable support of the art of film, and with an immense pleasure we will honor her during the 22nd edition of Camerimage with the Award to Production Designer with Unique Visual Sensitivity.