Cinematographer and director, born 25th January 1945 in Katowice.
Idziak's choice of career was not a matter of chance: his maternal grandfather, Józef Holas, was a valued photographer already before World War I. He headed the atelier of Pieperhoff, was photographer-in-residence of Emperor Wilhelm II, then ran photographic studios in Lvov, Poznan and Konin, to finally settle down in Katowice in the 1930s. Also Idziak's parents, Halina Holas-Idziakowa and Leonard Idziak, have been involved in artistic photography. Both are members of the International Photographic Art Federation (FIAP) and are recognized for their technical mastery.
In 1963 Idziak passed the entrance examinations and became a student of the Łódź Film School. His dormitory roommates were Marek Piwowski, Andrzej Jurga and Marek Piestrak, while Andrzej Jaroszewicz, Edward Kłosiński and Grzegorz Królikiewicz were his fellow students. The Łódź Film School was a spot of colour in the grey of communist Poland of the 1960s, and this is how Idziak remembered it years later:
"The School was then a small centre of independent culture. All of Warsaw would come to the School balls and, more importantly, you could see there films which could not be seen anywhere else. Besides, owing to the cross-border reputation of the School, we were visited by all the famous actors and directors who came to our country. We felt that the School was a bridge between Poland and the West." (Anna Draniewicz, "Ten facet, który szybko pracuje", "Kino" 5/2002)
The technical skills which the School taught were just as important. Idziak, who graduated in 1969, admits:
"As a cinematographer I do not feel a maker of the world, just someone who fulfills the dreams of others. Every time I seek to understand the literary origins of the world which I am supposed to co-create as well as the director's obsessions, also the visual ones. I have to combine them all into a coherent picture. The wonderful thing about this job is that you can find a colleague with whom you will work for years and your relationship, which will sometimes start as a master-and-servant one, turns into a partnership. It is quite often the case in the Polish cinema that the script which is produced through the cooperation between the director and the cinematographer will often become a new version of the screenplay." (Sławomir Idziak, "Z doświadczeń operatora", "Kino" 6/1986)
Having photographed several etudes by his roommates while at the School, Idziak debuted professionally with photography for the 1968 puppet film Wesoła Ludwika ["Happy Ludwika"]. This was followed by the jobs of assistant cinematographer on films by Jerzy Kawalerowicz and Janusz Majewski and of cinematographer on Andrzej Wajda's Wesele / The Wedding (1972). Meanwhile he also worked on television films by his friends from the School: Wojciech Marczewski's Podróżni jak inni / Travellers Like Others (1969), Marek Piestrak's Cicha noc, święta noc / Silent Night, Holy Night (1970) and Krzysztof Zanussi's Góry o zmierzchu / Mountains at Dusk (1970). Idziak's debut as a stand-alone feature film cinematographer was on Mieczysław Waśkowski's Jeszcze słychać śpiew i rżenie koni / You Can Still Hear the Singing and the Neighing of the Horses (1971). His work as a television cinematographer earned him a prize at the Polish Film Festival in Gdańsk in 1974 for Wojciech Marczewski's Odejścia, powroty / Departures, Returns (1972). Two years later his photography for Janusz Zaorski's Partita na instrument drewniany / Partita for Wood Instrument (1978 ) won another award in Gdańsk.
The mid-1970s were still too early for Idziak, who combined cinematographic projects with successful directing efforts, to finally define his place in filmmaking. His fascinating documentary about Werhnyhora and his role in Wesele / The Wedding (Pan... Dziad z lirą ["The Old Man with a Lyre " aka "Old Bloke with a lira"], 1972), his award-winning Papierowy ptak / Paper Bird (1972), Nauka latania / Learning to Fly (1978) - an interesting look at growing up, deemed the best debut of the season by the faculty of the National School of Film, Television and Theatre, and - last but not least - Seans / A Performance (1978), a television-produced study of attitudes of young intelligentsia, made the critics see him as a promising representative of young cinema who could combine rational thinking with a poetic vision of the world. Yet Idziak refused being pigeonholed and clearly articulated his views on the social role of the cinema:
"I do not believe in the missionary function of the cinema, although I do believe it can stimulate our thinking, make us ponder over things and reflect on the realities, on Poland, on ourselves. This is the cinema, with its roots in documentary filmmaking, which seems the most worthwhile to me. It was documentaries which fuelled the most captivating stream in filmmaking, including films by Łoziński and Kieślowski. Such cinema has the most interesting social role and it has always interested and moved me. This is not to say that only such films should be made. Healthy filmmaking should accommodate all kinds of films." ("Młody film polski: próba sondażu: Sławomir Idziak", "Kino" 8/1978)
In the same contribution to the magazine "Kino" Idziak said he would resume working with Krzysztof Zanussi. To Idziak, theirs was one of the most important artistic meetings, resulting in him doing photography for all of Zanussi's various 1980-4 films, from the philosophical Constans (1980) to ironic Kontrakt / The Contract (1980), epic Z dalekiego kraju / From a Far Country (1981), ethic-probing Imperatyw / Imperative (1982) to metaphysical Rok spokojnego słońca / A Year of the Quiet Sun (1984), which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Festival. Says Idziak,
"Zanussi allows a lot of artistic freedom on set. I can say that I am the maker of the visual aspect of his films. His films are more about a conflict of ideas than psychology or stories and this makes them targeted at a special audience. Zanussi admits that he is interested in 'his' audience, he believes that such audience exists. [Indeed], there is a kind of audience which responds only to such films. If someone asked me how Zanussi's seeming coldness affects my work, I would answer: it does not. Simply, I too believe in such cinema. Zanussi sees the world very precisely, the way it is built. All of his films take place in a very concrete reality, yet all of them contain things which transcend another dimension. My job is to choose such imagery as will emphasize this extra dimension." (Sławomir Idziak, "Z doświadczeń operatora", "Kino" 6/1986)
Idziak's first meeting with Krzysztof Kieślowski, on whose debut, the 1973 documentary-like television feature Przejście podziemne / The Underground Passage, he was the cinematographer, was just as fruitful. In 1976 Idziak did the photography for Kieślowski's Blizna / The Scar and ten years later Kieślowski asked him to be the cinematographer on the fifth part of Dekalog / The Ten Commandments [aka "The Decalogue"]. Each part had a different cinematographer and the fifth part was then edited to become one of Kieślowski's most reverberating films, Krótki film o zabijaniu / A Short Film About Killing (1987), the winner of the first-ever European Film Award. The worldwide fame of the film made its cinematographer famous, too, and Idziak has become globally recognized as a high-class expert on the use of filters, a producer a innumerable shades of blue and a builder of unique moods.
Idziak worked with Kieślowski two more times: on Podwójne życie Weroniki / The Double Life of Veronique (1991) and on Trzy kolory. Niebieski / Three Colours: Blue (1993). The latter, which won the Golden Lion and Photography Award at Venice, is arguably the most important film in Idziak's career, and its making was a true mystery. Idziak reveals some facts about the process in one of his interviews:
"There is colour in the title. The film could have been made predominantly blue, but it seemed to me that it would be more interesting to use the colour so that it would build the drama. For years I have looked at colour from more than just an esthetic perspective. After all, there is more to colour than that. Blue is associated with cold, with death, it is a dangerous colour, a colour of night. It obviously has some psychological significance. That's why I believed that it should be connected with special moments in the film. A number of factors determine colour in film: the kind of light or filter, the costumes, the set design. You can paint the walls blue or ask the light describer in the laboratory to copy in this colour. It is like with colour in architecture: it is the material, the paint, the light combination which is decisive. I - and my colleagues - look for non-standard ideas in my work. I look for my own way and method. I am known for my use of filters, of which I have quite a collection." (Katarzyna Skorupska, "Pejzaż wewnętrzny", "Kino" 9/1993)
The making of Niebieski proved a crossing of a threshold which is the dream of every European cinematographer: Idziak has acquired a world fame and has since merited mention even in those reviews which overlook the technical aspect of films. He has become a man who can make any picture visually richer while lending it an unexpected softness and, even more importantly, can adapt his extraordinary technical skills to any genre and any director's expectations. It was only a matter of time until he joined Hollywood's Polish cinematographic lobby, centered around Andrzej Bartkowiak, Janusz Kamiński and Jerzy Zieliński.
Idziak's photography for Andrew Niccol's 1997 science-fiction drama Gattaca emphasized the unexpected lyricism of the vision of future life among steel and glass. However, it was Ridley Scott's 2001 war drama Black Hawk Down which proved a breakthrough in Idziak's artistic biography. This ninety-million-dollar picture about the failed US intervention in Somalia was a new experience for Idziak on a couple of counts, not least because the pilot's mistake made the cameraman crew a target for a hail of hot shells from machine gun bullets, but primarily because he had never before worked in such conditions: on location in Morocco, at 40 degrees C and at an amazing pace. His brilliant job earned him nominations for both Academy and BAFTA Awards as well as invitations to work on two other highly prestigious Hollywood productions, the costume drama King Arthur (2004) and the fantasy classic Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007).
Asked about the drivers of his Hollywood career, Idziak responds with modesty:
"The assessment of my work depends not only on whether I take pretty photographs, but also on things such as the ability to work fast. Honestly speaking, the decision whether to engage a cinematographer depends primarily on whether he can work fast. Visual effects are fine with producers as long as the cinematographer does not spend too much time on them on set - because his time translates into big money. But then you must not forget that pictures build emotions which make audiences encourage others to go to the cinema." (Anna Draniewicz, "Ten facet, który szybko pracuje / The guy who works fast", "Kino" 5/2002)
After this intense time Idziak slowed down - at least when it comes to working on set. He focused on organising workshops and educating young filmmakers, and worked on few films. In 2011 in Poland he shot Jerzy Hoffman's Battle of Warsaw 1920, a year later worked with Detlev Buck on the German production Der Vermissung der Welt and in 2015 he agreed to work on Natalie Portman's directorial debut - a biography of Amos Oz entitled A Tale of Love and Darkness.
I'm not that keen on making movies anymore. I don't have time for it - sometimes you spend a whole year on set of an American production. Now I am focused on something else, I have been organising Film Spring Open workshops for the last eleven years. Educating young people is a real gift, the best thing that can happen to an artist my age.
The film I made with Natalie was also a result of these workshops, where we spend a lot of time and energy to the problem of debut. We are working on a new system of organizing production, so that budget money can be used most effectively. We used this system while working on Natalie's film. When she came to our workshops, I presented her saying: 'Many years ago a little girl went to see The Double Life of Veronique. Natalie Portman, welcome'. It's an anecdote, but it explains a lot. The fact she adores Krzysztof Kieślowski's films, especially 'Veronique', definitely affected her decision to work with me. Images stuck in her head - said Idziak in an interview with Anna Luboń ("Gazeta.pl Weekend", 24.02.2016).
Idziak holds several prestigious awards, including Orzeł / Eagle Polish Film Award for "extraordinary cinematographic achievement" (2002) and Special Award for outstanding cinematographic achievement at Camerimage Festival in Łódź (2006). In November 2013, he received a lifetime achievement award at the 21st edition of the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Plus Camerimage.
Camera operator (etudes)
Assistant camera operator (etudes)
Short film cinematographer
Producer and/or director of short films
Feature film cinematographer
Feature film contributor - various jobs
Feature film director
Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, March 2009.
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