CO-FINANCED BY: KUJAWSKO-POMORSKIE REGION, MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND NATIONAL HERITAGE FROM PROMOTION OF CULTURE FUND AND POLISH FILM INSTITUTE
CAMERIMAGE WILL AWARD A DISTINGUISHED PRODUCTION DESIGNER
Thursday October 27th, 2016
If you love cinema, it is entirely possible that among your favorite films there is at least one on which Dennis Gassner worked as a production designer. It is our pleasure to announce that this distinguished filmmaker with forty years of industry expertise will come to Bydgoszcz this year to accept the Camerimage Award to Production Designer with Unique Visual Sensitivity. Gassner, who is a laureate of Academy Award® for Barry Levinson's Bugsy and two-time BAFTA winner for Peter Weir's The Truman Show and Sam Mendes's Road to Perdition, has worked on almost thirty features, both independent, more artistic projects, and massive tent-pole movies with enormous budgets.
Despite the common perception of what the function really demands from an artist, a production designer is tasked not only with creating the whole world, physical or virtual, for the actors to delve into, but he or she also has to work with other departments' heads to establish texture, light, and color of everything visible on a set. Films on which Gassner put his signature are undeniable proofs that he is an artist in full control of each and every detail of his work. We are honored that we will soon be able to thank him personally for all the years of cinematic excitement and emotions he gave us throughout the years. Therefore, we invite everyone to participate in the 24th edition of the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography CAMERIMAGE which will be held between 12th and 19th November 2016.
Starting with the 1980s, when he received his first sole production designer credit for his work on Robert Harmon's cult-classic The Hitcher, Gassner has grown a reputation of a creative, disciplined professional who is always perfectly prepared and is able to compliment the overall vision of the directors he is working with. No wonder, his true love with cinema began with an admiration for everything that David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia is, and young Gassner was always somehow connected to the world of art. Once, he could have become a professional football player, but he chose to continue studying architecture and film design instead. This in turn helped him start his adventure with the film industry after moving to Los Angeles – Gassner met Francis Ford Coppola, then on the verge of shooting Apocalypse Now, who gave the ambitious boy a job as a production assistant to the film's production designer Dean Tavoularis.
Coppola also hired Gassner for his American Zoetrope studio, where the future production designer worked as a graphic and title designer on promotional campaigns and film posters (including the re-release of the restored version of the silent-era masterpiece, Abel Gance's Napoleon). Later, Gassner reminisced that his five years under Tavoularis's guidance was a great apprenticeship – an opening into the film industry, and how not to make movies. He has worked with the famed production designer on such films as Wim Wenders's Hammett and Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish. The latter became Gassner's true breakthrough. Since that time he has made films with numerous great filmmakers, including Stephen Frears on The Grifters and Tim Burton on Big Fish. For the former Gassner complimented the director's efforts in creating an attractive and deceptive world of small-time con-men, for the latter he made the imagination-infused, fable-like romance of two adamant dreamers as a true feast for the eyes and emotions.
However, Gassner based his career on delving into long-term collaborations. For over a decade he crossed his artistic path with the Coen Brothers, beginning with Miller's Crossing for which Gassner designed the Prohibition-era world of morally devious gangster power-struggle. Their next project was Barton Fink, with its famous “hellish mind-hotel” set-piece which inscribed itself in the imagination of many viewers. For this film Gassner got his first Academy Award® nomination (that same year he won the statuette for his work on Bugsy). With the Coens, he has also made The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Man Who Wasn't There, and The Ladykillers, each time supplementing the directors' vision with his skill and imagination.
At the same time he met the director Sam Mendes, for whom he returned to the gangster-era in Road to Perdition, and a few years later immersed himself and the viewers in an American military base in Iraq that became the basis for Jarhead. Their subsequent world-building adventures were two James Bond movies: Skyfall and Spectre, while Gassner was also the production designer on the previous installment of the series, Marc Forster's Quantum of Solace. Working with the Coens and Mendes allowed Gassner to enter another fruitful collaboration – with the cinematographer Rogers Deakins. The two are working currently together on Denis Villeneuve's follow-up to the legendary Blade Runner.
Both Skyfall and Spectre gave Dennis Gassner the biggest challenges of his career as a production designer. Time commitment included, as while working on the former he spent over a year and a half on planning and implementing his and Mendes's vision, going on as many as 75 airplane trips to nine countries all over the world. In one of the interviews he stated: jetlag is my lifestyle – I live in perpetual jetlag. It would seem that, apart from the Bond movies, Gassner is at his best when working on a project's set in some distant past, but the production designer is also eager to accept different kinds of challenges. He received two out of his five Academy Award® nominations for building from scratch truly incredible and imaginative fictional worlds. In Chris Weitz's The Golden Compass he brought to life the series of beautifully cinematic fantasy lands, while on the set of Into the Woods Gassner not only created the titular darkly attractive forest, but also designed the fancy Prince's ball after which Cinderella loses her slipper.
In turn, while working with Peter Weir on his The Truman Show, Gassner created the enormous set-like world, filled with hidden cameras and voyeuristic ambitions of its creators, which was real, natural, believable and simultaneously somehow artificial and fake, representing the main theme of technology slowly conquering the human understanding of the surrounding reality. Whether he built his wonderful sets from scratch (as in Kevin Reynolds's Waterworld), or based his designs and work on real-life elements (Phill Alden Robinson's Field of Dreams), Dennis Gassner has always infused his films with a little bit of cinematic magic. I’m an artist: a designer, a storyteller, a film-maker, said Gassner in one of his interviews, in another he emphasized that what he hopes the most is that his work brings people real joy when they see the movies.
They certainly have that power, to which millions of viewers, who had found emotional or visual fulfillment, can attest. We are overjoyed that Dennis Gassner will soon come to Bydgoszcz to accept Camerimage Award to Production Designer with Unique Visual Sensitivity, and share his extensive knowledge from the world of film with the festival's participants.