Report from the regular IMAGO Annual General Assembly, Copenhagen, 11 and 12 February 2006-2010.

 

Denmark today is in the focus of global controversy set off by the publication of cartoons that incited a series of protests around the world. With no notable echoes of the distant, yet threatening events, it welcomed to its peaceful daily life the representatives of the cinematographer profession from 19 European countries, providing its inherent hospitality and flawless organization by the Danish Association of Cinematographers and thus enabling the regular Annual General Assembly to be held. For nearly two days at the pleasant premises of the Danish Film School, members of the European Federation of Cinematographers, which is composed of representatives of national cinematographers’ associations, worked through a comprehensive agenda, and the intention of this report is to bring the high points of this work closer to you.

The basic intentions of IMAGO are to preserve and uphold the highest possible standards in the cinematographer profession. This is constantly done through exchange of experiences, aimed to advance and expand this extremely specialized segment of culture, on which long-term technical and artistic qualities are based, acting together as the cornerstone of the entire European film industry.

Like any other assembly, it included formal components related to various reports on the budget, membership payments, participation in the Assembly etc. The most discussed issues, those in the sphere of acting to improve the position of the director of photography, were also present in the preceding Assemblies, and in spite of the clearly stated demands for change, little or no improvement was made as to the following:

•Recognition of the director of photography as the co-author of a motion picture

•Excessively long working hours

•Authorship contracts

The western European countries, with the exception of Germany, largely do not acknowledge the director of photography (author of photography, as suggested by representatives of the Italian association) as a co-author of film, which resulted in a number of activities that led to the First Congress on Authorship Rights of Cinematographers, held in Spain’s Huelva in November 2004, resulting in a clear message to competent institutions:

“The cinematographers gathered in the 1st International Congress on Authorship Rights of Cinematographers in Huelva, claim the specific recognition of our status as full co-authors of cinematographic and audiovisual works, and we require from the public authorities to provide for all necessary means to guarantee our protection and effective participation in any and all benefits generated by these works.”

The cinematographer is in an invidious position. On his shoulders falls the responsibility to maintain a schedule regardless of what disasters might befall a production whilst maintaining the quality of image making for which he was hired and which (not least of all) gives him his own personal satisfaction. At the same time, he is head of the shooting crew and it is this responsibility which is perhaps the most onerous and most important in human terms.

This issue was present in any discussion when cinematographers are brought together in one place. Thus, at the recently held meeting in Lodz, during the Camerimage Festival, the following declaration was adopted:

Declaration on Working Conditions  Lodz 2005

During last year’s Camerimage Film Festival in Poland, a full-day meeting of cinematographers was held, with two important topics on the agenda. The first was the issue of working conditions in film production, while the second was dedicated to the issue of cinematographers’ authorship rights.

Under the first topic, some examples of poor relations were brought to light, not only in terms of long working hours, but also in terms of a lack of respect towards cinematographers themselves. This includes cases from several countries where the numbers of professional workers in camera crews were reduced and where conditions for high quality and professional work of cinematographers on film projects increasingly worsened. This situation has become the usual practice in a large number of countries.

The conclusion is that there are no generally accepted standards and prescribed rules for these relations, which is reflected in significant differences from country to country, from one continent to another. The only representative who stated a positive opinion on the whole matter was Robert Alazraki AFC of the French association. He claimed that despite the loss of certain rights the situation in France was rather good. Compared to some other countries, France seems like paradise when it comes to this issue. To the surprise of all those attending, the example of Germany was presented as the country which had recorded a major decline in the quality of cinematographers’ work in the previous five years. Kay Gauditz, BVK, described the example of German producers who produced a large number of TV films compared to a small number of fiction films intended for cinema distribution. In such an environment, directors of photography are under direct pressure from producers not to hire professionals, but rather trainees as their assistants (loaders). This leads to repeated catastrophic errors when loading raw film stock etc. Still, even loss of recorded material in such cases does not seem to be a sufficient reason for producers to rethink and hire professionals for these positions in camera crews.

What comes as a result of long hours and last-minute schedule changes is the surely devastating fact that the general quality of cinematographers’ lives declines as well. A cinematographer from Germany, Sybille Grunze, stated an alarming fact. She mentioned that social life and relations of film workers have been dangerously disrupted in general. There is a growing number of singles in our profession, disproportionately more than elsewhere. Why is it so?

When it comes to the United States, the ASC is more diplomatic regarding the issue. Kees Van Oostrum ASC brought forward the example of the tragically deceased camera assistant Brent Hershman, who was killed in a car accident when he fell asleep at the wheel while driving home from a demanding shoot. After his death, things have improved slightly, but not enough. ASC’s standpoint is that concrete steps should be taken by cinematographers’ associations, as they are the only ones in the position to discuss the facts and take concrete action relating to those facts. In Kees’s opinion, perhaps it’s time to start looking for a solution among attorneys, stating his own personal example when he fell from a platform on a set and filed a lawsuit against the studio. Not long after the lawsuit was filed, the set was flooded with warnings pointing to danger from fall.

IMAGO president Tony Costa rated the situation as very difficult in terms of finding a solution. The problem has grown beyond the borders of individual countries to the global level, and no country can find and implement the solution on its own. The reason for this is that those who do it without the consensus from all the others may find themselves out of work, as they would be unable to offer lower-standard, less safe working conditions. A certain degree of solidarity is a way to overcome this issue. In fact, it is the only way. There is a growing feeling, which has slowly been turning into a rule, that people in the film business have lost their sense of togetherness, that everyone today is driven by self-interest and therefore they act on the market as individuals. This can and must be stopped if film workers solidarize and form a group. Tony Costa additionally clarified why IMAGO decided to intervene in a matter that appears to be a problem for unions and associations to handle: “…Those bodies failed exactly because there was no solidarity in the first place. A fear from losing jobs, a fear from missing out on a job, those are the reasons condemning professionals to accept work without any set rules.” Tony Costa proceeded to emphasize: “The only way to overcome fear is for all of us to unite.”

The representative of IMAGO also stated the fact that in the current situation politicians’ top priorities are no longer issues like social rights, “today’s hot topics are terrorism and globalization”, and at the end of his address he brought forward the idea that “…we are also dream-makers, so we dream too. We can start a boycott or a strike that would last only a day, this strike would start in Australia and end in America. It would be the first global strike in the history of the world. At least that day might be the only time we end up on the front page of daily newspapers.”

The afternoon part of the meeting and the discussion on the topic of authorship rights was kicked off by Jost Vacano, BVK, ASC, who raised the issue of cinematographers’ copyrights over projects they participate in fifteen years ago in Germany and other countries.  He explained what has transpired up to this point regarding the matter in Germany. Cinematographers in Germany get a certain percentage from the media and recording device taxes. Other than that, the entire issue has come no closer to a concrete solution, a law that would regulate the whole matter at the highest level.

The example of France was used to note that there is much misunderstanding regarding the issue of authorship recognition. The AFC has even issued a document called “Image Charter” (!??!), which is a significant step towards defining the rights and responsibilities of directors of photography. But there is a deep divide among French cinematographers. One group strongly advocates defending the right to authorship, while another opposes it. To make things worse, directors in France have shown no willingness to respect cinematographers’ wishes.  All these problems together make an almost unsurmountable obstacle to enacting a new law that would be more receptive to the idea of allowing authorship to cinematographers.

In complete opposition to the aforementioned examples is the case of Bulgaria, where no similar issues arise because cinematographers are considered authors by law. The fact is that this is the case in many other countries in Eastern Europe, but the issue here is somewhat different. The issue is not the existence of a law, but rather its strict application in order to provide support to other cinematographers within the European Union.

Michael Neubauer, the director of BVK, opened and closed the discussion. In his opening speech, he offered a strategy to face the problems and help solving them. The discussion was to end in the adoption of a declaration on working conditions. After a lively and successful discussion, the final text of the declaration was accepted.

Declaration

On November 30th 2005 the International Assembly of Cinematographers at the Camerimage Film Festival at Lodz/Poland stated the following declaration to be communicated to National Government Departments, Labour/Social Security Authorities, Production Companies and to all relevant groups and professional organizations internationally.

1The working conditions on many Film and TV Productions around the World have deteriorated to such a critical degree that immediate action is imperative.

2We condemn the unnecessarily long working days and unsafe working environments to which film and television professionals are exposed, frequently violating existing laws.

3We urge the international film and television industry and governments to support cinematographers in resolving these issues.

4We expect representative film organizations to encourage relevant authorities to cease these exploitative practices and restore acceptable working conditions.

One of the agenda items that sparked interest and a discussion was the presentation of Kommer Kleijn, SBC, who talked about the proposals for digital cinematography standardization. Since this is a highly specialized topic, each association was given two weeks to submit its opinion for the purpose of reviewing the technical presuppositions for digital cinematography that Kommer Kleijn SBC intends to present on IMAGO’s behalf at the IDIFF meeting in Los Angeles in March.

Over the course of two days, the IMAGO General Assembly mostly worked in accordance with the set schedule through short discussions and ensuing conclusions. Some topics were left mostly open, with questions raised on important segments of general interest, but unaddressed due to a lack of expertise, which ensues from inherently specific and complex legal (cinematographer as a co-author of film) or technological matters (digital cinematography). Some of the legal issues were addressed by IMAGO’s legal advisor, Dr. Christine Busch from Spain. Since the Croatian Act on Copyright and Related Rights recognizes the author of photography as a co-author of film, a translation of the said Act was given to our colleagues at the level of IMAGO, as a means to help their efforts in becoming legally recognized.

Report prepared by:

Željko Sarić, HFS Secretary

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