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An Interview with Pawel Edelman

Pawel Edelman is an Academy Award nominated cinematographer. His credits include, The Pianist, Ray, All the King’s Men, Kroll, November, Love Stories, Edges of the Lord, Oliver Twist, Carnage, The Life Before Her Eyes, Katyn, Tatarak, The Ghost Writer, Weekend of a Champion, and An Officer and a Spy. I spoke with Pawel about preparing for The Pianist, his work on Ray, and his most challenging shot to complete.

Did you always think you would go into cinematography? What was your first experience in this line?

In high school I was fascinated by literature and thought I would become a poet. Unfortunately today when I look at a bunch of preserved poems, I see that it is good that I changed my interests. Only after graduating from the humanities at university I started to take stills and it was the beginning of my path to cinematography.

Are there any particular films, or cinematographers who have really inspired your work?

My favourite cinematographers are Nestor Almendros, Sven Nykvist, Carlo di Palma, Adam Holender, Jerzy Lipman, Miroslav Ondricek, Gordon Willis, Conrad Hall, Emmanuel Lubezki, Roger Deakins and many others .

How did you prepare for The Pianist, and what research was involved before shooting?

Before the filming we watched all the available archival materials about Warsaw during the Second World War and the Warsaw Ghetto, as well as German newsreels from that time.

You also worked as cinematographer on Ray. There is an upsetting scene which depicts Ray Charles in rehab. Can you tell me more about how scene this was filmed?

In that scene we decided to change the texture of the image, increase the contrast and saturation of colours. Camera viewpoints were more extreme, we used also a hand held camera and body cam device.

Can you think of a shot throughout your career that was particularly challenging to complete?

In the film KATYN, by Andrzej Wajda, we reconstructed the scene of a mass execution carried out by the Russians on Polish officers in 1940. Shooting it was extremely difficult due to emotional reasons.

You’re quoted as saying that, ‘Cinematography, even the most wonderful, made only for its own sake, is a disaster. Images have to serve the film.’ Can you think of one moment of your filmography that you feel crystalizes this concept?

Today, when you say this quote, it seems obvious to me. I do not remember exactly on what occasion and when I said these words. But of course I think similarly to this day. For example, the scene from KATYN that I just mentioned had to be shot in a raw, quasi-documentary way without any attempt to make it visually beautiful.

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