Paweł Edelman, PSC "Working with the Images which Have to Serve the Film"

A Polish cinematographer mostly known for his collaborations with acclaimed directors Roman Polanski and Andrzej Wajda. He was nominated for an Academy Award, an American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Award and a BAFTA Award. Apart The Pianist his credits include also films like Katyń, Oliver Twist or All the King's Men.

Cinematography, even the most wonderful, made only for its own sake, is a disaster. Images have to serve the film. The hardest thing is coming up with a key to the cinematography – a key that will help bring out the essence of the script, the essence of the story, but will not overwhelm it. Difficulties start at the level of awareness, thinking, creative activity.

Paweł Edelman


Paweł Edelman majored in film studies at the Cultural Studies Department of the University of Lodz and studied cinematography at the Lodz Film School, from which he graduated in 1988. Soon he debuted as a feature film cinematographer with Crossed Lines (Gluchy telefon) directed by Piotr Mikucki. Edelman´s next film Kroll (1991) directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski, whom he met during his studies, was awarded at Polish Film Festival with 5 awards including the award for the best cinematography. This was a start of his very successful long-term cooperation with Pasikowski.

As Edelman said: "Władek Pasikowski was my first companion and film friend. We already met in the corridors of the University Library, where we studied cultural studies, then at the Film School we shot all our films together, followed by seven more stories. Władek is a master of scriptwriting and staging combinatorics, he works fast, he is like a chess player ahead of all by 10 moves. Teams and producers love to work with him, because he always finishes photos before the evening match." Except Kroll together with Pasikowski Edelman made Psy (1992); Psy 2: Ostatnia crew (1994); Bitter-Sweet (1999); Demony wojny wed ug Goi (1998); Operacja Samum (1999); Reich (2001); Poklosie (2012).

Pawel Edelman tied his career also with another great Polish director - Andrzej Wajda in the 1990's. Their first collaboration was on the adaptation of novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky - Nastazja (1994). It was followed by the film Pan Tadeusz (1999). The difficulty with Pan Tadeusz was that shots often had to encompass extensive landscapes or huge masses of people, for example, when the marching army was filmed. This led Edelman to shoot using short-focus, wide-angle lens, although he usually prefers long optics. His collaboration with Andrzej Wajda continued with Zemsta (2002) and Katyń (2007) which was nominated for an Academy Award. "We wanted to show the mechanism of the crime. There was a great deal of improvision with actors and with the stunts and it was all shot very quickly and shows the cruelty of the situation, filmed with a handheld camera," said Edelman.

Katyń was followed by Tatarak (2009) which won Alfred Bauer Award in Berlinale and FIPRESCI Prize at European Film Awards. In 2013 Wajda together with Edelman made Walesa: Man of Hope a biopic film about a life of Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Poland's Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa. Edelman also shot the last Wajda´s film - Afterimages (2016) - the story of charismatic painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski, who opposed social realism and maintained his own artistic freedom in spite of political obstacles.

In Polish cinema after II World War we had two great , legendary directors : Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polański and I’ve had the luck and fortune to work with them. They both belong to the same generation, but their work is completely different. They were interested in other topics. Wajda was focused on Polish history and politics. Polanski, who left the country and settled in US and France was center on human psychology.Wajda was more intuitive and he was rather interested in creating images and symbols than just telling the story. Maybe because his first passion was painting. Polański began his artistic career as an actor, so he was always able to find a common language with them, but above all he was amazing story teller.

Paweł Edelman

The link between Polish and international career of Pawel Edelman is the start of cooperation with another Polish acclaimed director - Roman Polanski. Their first film together - The Pianist (2002) gained international success including 3 Oscars and 4 other Oscar nominations. The Pianist brought Edelman three major nominations, for an Academy Award, the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Award, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award. The Pianist was followed by Oliver Twist (2005) an atmospheric take on the famous Dickens novel.

Oliver Twist involved 90 days of principal photography on a gigantic set that was designed by Allan Starski and built at Barrandov Studios in Prague. “There were more than 85 buildings, as well as five streets and a little stretch of river,” recalls Edelman. “It was really amazing!” He notes that Doré’s drawings for his 1872 book on London were a big inspiration for the production. “We studied many paintings and drawings of that period, but we liked the Doré book the most.”
Edelman also worked with Polanski on Ghostwriter (2010) based on Robert Harris's novel starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, for which he was nominated for the French César prize; on the intimate Carnage (2011) based on Yasmina Reza's play with Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz.

Apart  the cooperation with Polanski, Edelman shot various films in America at this time including Ray (2004), a biographical film about Ray Charles directed by Taylor Hackford and Steve Zaillan's All the King's Men (2006) starring Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law.

Definitely there’s a huge difference between making films in Europe and making them in America. Making films in America you become part of the ‘film industry’, making films in Europe is working with friends, and my friend directors.  And this is a totally different type of activity. In the US, you’re part of the big machinery, in Europe you’re working in a creative process with your friends. And that’s always going to be more fun, working with friends.

Paweł Edelman

The Carnage was the last film which Polanski and Edelman made as US co-production. Their next film together - Venus in Fur (2013) with Emmanuelle Seigner and Matthieu Almaric, shot as a French-Polish co-production, was nominated to Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival. As Edelman said: "This was, without a doubt, the hardest film to make. It was another adaptation of a play, but the challenge was even greater than for Carnage: we were in a single location again, but with only two characters this time. And there's nothing harder for a director and a director of photography. How can you keep the viewer's interest for an hour and a half, simply following two people through a ten by ten metre space, and without the film looking like a play or a TV series? The most important 20 thing was lighting, and the changes in lighting define, outline and underline the space. They make it appear and disappear... and making sure the actors could move around easily, and feel comfortable in any position and any place." Venus in Fur was followed by Based on a True Story which was screened out of competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

The latest film which made Polanski and Edelman together is Officer and spy (2019) an epic panache thriller based on the best-selling novel by Robert Harris. An adaptation of a major event of the late 19th century: the Dreyfus Affair was shot entirely in authentic locations. "It is very difficult to watch „Officer and Spy” and not to find an analogy to present time. I live in Poland, where we have a populist and right-wing government that wants to control free courts and the media. In the parlament we have political parties preaching racial hatred. In the last 100 years we conquer the moon, build internet and destroy the climate , but we didn’t grow up as a human beings." said Edelman. The film was awarded the Grand Jury Award and the FIPRESCI Award at the festival in Venice.

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