Brothers Milton and Janaki Manaki moved to the city of Bitola in 1905. Bitola was an important administrative and cultural centre in what was then still the Ottoman Empire. Back in those times, it was often referred to as the “city of consuls”, on account of the many diplomatic missions it hosted.
The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, attended the military academy and spent part of his youth there.
It was there that the Manaki brothers opened their Art Photography Studio at the onset of the 20th century. As recalled by the older Manaki, Milton, it was the same 1905 when his brother Janaki bought a film camera from London. The camera was produced by the Charles Urban Trading company, and Janaki had bought the Bioscope brand, serial number 300. That camera is said to have marked the beginning of cinematography in the Balkan region.
The first moving pictures, be it of weddings, customs, but also of struggle and violence, were made by the Manaki brothers. A century later, Golden Camera 300 is the grand prize of the Manaki Cinematographers’ Film Festival held annually in Bitola. The Festival which took place 26 September – 3 October this year, marked its 30th anniversary.
Said to be the “greatest of small festivals”, Manaki has its focus not on actors and directors like most other film festivals, but on directors of photography.
Many of them showed up in Bitola, venerable professionals, as well as young and upcoming. This year the festival’s award for life achievement went to a couple of renowned British directors of photography, Billy Williams and Peter Suschitzky. Williams is known for his collaborations with Ken Russell, John Schlesinger, and Richard Attenborough. He won the Oscar in 1982 for his work on Gandhi. Suschitzky has, in addition to involvement in many globally famous movie hits such as the Empire Strikes Back episode of the original Star Wars series, or more recently the Mars Attack, for years worked with director David Cronenberg. He also chaired this year’s jury.
The festival also gave a special award for particular contribution to international film to Anthony Dod Mantle. Dod Mantle, who just received an Oscar for his work on the film Slumdog Millionaire, has for years worked with famous European director Lars Von Trier and he has signed some of his greatest hits, including also his latest, the controversial Antichrist. Dod Mantle, who is said to be currently engaged on a film, flew in for one day to make a special appearance at the festival. The major international acting star who came to Bitola was Spanish actress Victoria Abril.
In addition to screenings, the festival comprised many surrounding events, press conferences, and concerts. Festival guests took part in a round table on the digital camera vs. the classical 32 mm, chaired by the director of the European Film Academy, Marion Doring; local bands played in front of the Cultural Centre in Bitola which hosted the screenings; film students from the country itself but also from the region engaged in talks with the senior cinematographers.
The main programme of the festival has been supplemented with several supporting programmes, such as the New Vision, which presents the works of alternative, independent authors; the documentary programme, as well as the short film competition. In addition, film tributes to the winners of the life achievement awards have been presented. Several international film funds were also presented, including European Euroimages.
Bitola, one of the most beautiful cities in the country, literally glowed during the eight days of the festival. The festival's new director, actress Labina Mitevska, who became famous with Before the Rain, the first film (Venice laureate and Oscar nominee) of the country's best known director Milco Mančevski, had obviously done an excellent job. The festival has suffered from the usual financial problems for some time, and last year it was even relocated to the capital Skopje at the objection by many artists from Bitola. “The festival has returned where it belongs: in Bitola, and only in Bitola”, the city’s mayor Vladimir Talevski said.
The festival’s grand prix, the Golden Camera 300, went to the young director of photography Natasha Braier, for the Peruvian film Milk of Sorrow, directed by Claudia Llosa. The jury said Braier was rewarded for her particularly brave and original aesthetic point of view. Milk of Sorrow is this year’s winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.
The Silver Camera 300 was given to American director of photography Tom Stern for his work on the Russian film Tzar, directed by Pavel Lungin. The Bronze Camera 300 went to Stefanie Fountaine, for her work on the photography of French movie A Prophet by Jacques Audiard.
A small Golden Camera 300 for best director of photography in a short film was awarded jointly to Nicolas Bolduc for “Next Floor” and Pedro Pires for Dance Macabre.
The award from the audience was given to Arauco Hernandez for his work on Gigante.
The jury also decided to give a Special Mention to Márk Gyõri for his photography in Hungarian film Katalin Varga, directed by Peter Strickland.
In cooperation with the Macedonian Film Fund, the festival also comprised a panorama of the works, documentaries as well as motion pictures, of young local authors. The panorama was marked by the premiere of the documentary See Life with My Eyes of young director Marija Džidževa, about the isolation and seclusion of a small rural community which if close to the capital Skopje, is at the same time endlessly remote.
** The European Commission does not accept or recognise in whatever form or content a denomination other than “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. All references, direct or indirect, to this country used in this article are those of its author.