IMAGO's Origins - Le Origini Di IMAGO

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By Luciano Tovoli AIC ASC

The inspiration for thinking to create one day a European Federation of Cinematographers Societies comes from the distant 1981 when I initiated, in collaboration with Gabriele Lucci, a professor of economy and film lover, jointly with his partner Anna Maria Ximenez, the First International Worldwide Festival–Meeting for Cinematographers in L’Aquila, an ancient and magnificent town in the mountains near Rome. This innovative event was called “UNA CITTA’ IN CINEMA”.

During the 10 editions of this First International Worldwide Event dedicated to Cinematographers, not to be confused with the glorious Macedonian Manaki Brothers Film Festival in Bitola, which in those first years was quite unnoticed because performed as a discreet Macedonian National Event, we invited in the years a nice group of the most famous international Cinematographers and we worked with them creating explanatory public demonstrations of filmmaking in the street of the town in day and night. I called to collaborate since the first edition, my close friend and co-scholar at the CSC Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome,  Nestor Almendros, freshly oscarized (1979) for his Cinematography in “Days of Heaven” and with him we performed our filmmaking demonstrations for all the First edition, commenting reciprocally our so different approaches.

The idea of having Cinematographers protagonists of a major event that continued for a minimum of ten days, covering continuously, in exterior and interior, dawn and full day, through the sunset until the full night in the old street of the town, all re-analyzed in multiple conferences,  was so successful that from the second edition a growing number of film students and passionate of photography and cinematography came in town from all over Europe to meet  extraordinary artists as Vittorio Storaro (Oscar 1980 for “Apocalypse Now”), Vilmos Zsigmond (Oscar 1978 for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) with Almendros a perfect  1978/1979/1980 Oscars Trio present in town and other similar calibers as Giuseppe Rotunno AIC ASC, longtime Cinematographer for Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini, jointly with much younger promising colleagues, which performed often contemporaneously in different locations, in the course  of  an international operation at an high and broad scale, initiating to break the mystery which covered until then, for the public, the role and figure of the Cinematographer. The role and capacity of Lucci/Ximenes on organizing such an incredible net of events and make them never colliding, leaving choices to the audience, was just amazing.

Also if I force myself to take short on something that should take the place of a full book I can not ignore that the couple Lucci/Ximenes organized and for the length of several full days, an extraordinary Workshop presentation of the Steadicam, performed by Garret Brown in person (here another affectionate friend of L’Aquila event !) from which many  European future excellent Steadicam operators originated at the advantage of the narrative quality of European films.


Meeting myself for the first time with all those pre-eminent Cinematographers, speaking with them, often interacting with them in the course of practical demonstrations in front of an enchanted audience, I felt that, apart from the awards, the idea that, as I said already, we have abandoned since the initial conception of the event, these artists deserved another kind of recognition much less episodic than awards, some kind of recognition of their artistic creativity that should contribute to bring them out of the shadow zone on which, artists and refined performers of composition and light as they were, in effect worked more than often quite unnoticed. Since those kinds of magic moments, looking at them in action, listening to their inspired words, I started to think that something had to be practically done to try to bring them at the surface of the communication and start to share, first of all between themselves, their experiences and the awareness of their artistic creativity.

It happened that when in 1992, being then President of the AIC, the L’Aquila Event closed its activity, despite of its global success testified also by several articles in The American Cinematographer, and was transformed by my friends Gabriele Lucci, Anna Maria Ximenez and Vittorio Storaro in an International Film Academy*, (John Bailey was present at the inaugurating ceremony in December 1995), my idea of reuniting the Cinematographers and their Societies in one single organization which could communicate with other similar organizations, as FERA for example, that already assembled European Directors, and eventually also with the European Government Offices, gained much ground on my wish to launch myself again in an unforeseeable adventure in favour of my beloved profession and its protagonists continuing under another form what has been initiated with the 10 editions of LA CITTA’ IN CINEMA in L’Aquila.

Unfortunately, 1992 coincides with the premature death of one of my closest companions in thoughts and ideas about how to renovate not only our profession but also the appreciation of our work as he perfectly illustrates in his important book “A man behind the camera”, that Lucci/Ximenes published in  L’Aquila in a perfect Italian version. Nestor Almendros was not more there to guide me and repair in advance the vast damages that a probably sometimes inspired mind but surely often chaotic risked to produce at any attempted new step.

However, the fact it is that I made, under my strong convincement and Almendros legacy, from my private kitchen, three lucky phone calls to the three Cinematographers Societies of which I knew some members having them participated in L’Aquila Festival–Meeting event, inviting the Societies to send their representatives to Rome, Cinecittà, for a Meeting, sponsored by the then generous Kodak Italy CEO, in the person of Tonino Carletti.

It was, as I said, the beginning of March of 1992 and the colleagues who arrived at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome, where I received them officially with the AIC General Secretary Claudio Ragona, were in the persons of Jost Vacano and Wolfgang Treu from BVK, Harvey Harrison and Paul Beeson from BSC, Carlo Varini, Robert Alazraki and Armand Marco from AFC. Then, once in Cinecittà, for the first time I exposed my quite precise idea of creating a European Federation of Cinematographers Societies and all together, we agreed as having the common goals to expand inside and outside the Federation itself the notion and awareness of Authorship, the defence of civilized work conditions and, maybe the most important of all, the sharing of technical and artistic experiences between all of us being this last point the real propelling idea because communication and transparency, with mutual respect as first value, should start to apply a real unprecedented general way of practicing relationship inside as outside the Federation.           

All the participants agreed with this Federative Idea and on its fundamental goals demonstrating that a common need was present  in the air since years or decades probably. After having established a plan of action for the months to come, especially around a statute and all the other practical administrative acts as the decision to give legal domicile to the  Federation where at that moment the jurisdiction for cultural initiatives like our seemed more favourable, we hurried to the nearby restaurant “La Cascina” then, even if at the beginning of the decline of the “golden era” of the Italian film industry, was still considered the Cinecitta’s luxurious “cantine”. And we were so happy and proud that simply we forgot to take a picture of this First Founding event!

We met again the 13th of December of the same 1992 in Cinecittà, in the persons again of Jost Vacano and Wolfgang Treu plus Peter Hassenstein for BVK, again Harvey Harrison and Paul Beeson for BSC, the new entries Eduardo Serra and Jacques Loiseleux (once one of my camera operators in France) AFC in substitution of Robert Alazraky, Carlo Varini and Armand Marco all of them busy for their shootings in France, and apart myself, again Giuseppe Pinori with the addition, in the official AIC delegation, of Daniele Nannuzzi, other members in the persons of Alessandro D’Eva, Sergio Salvati and Mario Bertagnin, all AIC members, like “observers”. The Spanish colleagues Thomas Pladevall and Tote Trenas ( later an IMAGO President) solicited by a letter I previously had written to 18 Spanish colleagues, (the front page with the explanation of the Federation goals and, in the back of the same page, the phone numbers of  18 Spanish colleagues inviting them to interact) came in Rome before the creation of their AEC and participated to the meeting like simple “observers”. The Spanish comrades left Rome with the AIC statute as a model for their Society in their suitcases.

During this Second Founding Meeting, we approved the Statutes, the Federation legal domicile in Paris and we decided the name of the Federation on the creative impulse of the French colleagues which proposed IMAGO, from the Latin word “Imago” and I was elected First President.  It was, as already I said, the 13th of December 1992 and with this final act opening to the future, my old dream, thanks to the united vision, passion, and enthusiasm of all the participants, came out from the secret of my mind and became officially alive!

This time we took a classical picture of all the participants portrayed in the following formation:

standing in the back row from left to right you have Marco Bertagnin AIC/Jost Vacano BVK/Wolfgang Treu BVK/Peter Hassenstein BVK/Daniele Nannuzzi AIC/Harvey Harrison BSC/ Paul Beeson BSC, Claudio Ragona AIC General Secretary.

at the center half kneeled  you have the couple formed by Alessandro D’Eva AIC and Jacques Loiseleux AFC

in the front row, totally kneeled, always from left to right  you have Edoardo Serra AFC/Thomas Pladeval Spanish observer/myself as AIC and new born IMAGO President/Tote Trenas, Spanish observer and later on one of the first IMAGO’s Presidents, Pino Pinori AIC/Sergio Salvati AIC

The following year, 1993 Tote Trenas wrote to me, as President of the newborn  Spanish Society of Cinematographers AEC, a thankful letter asking to join IMAGO So the AEC becomes the fifth Member of IMAGO. Continuing my proselytism campaign, on April the 4th  of the same year, I met, during the shooting of a French film in Brussels,  in a café located in La Grand Place, for an informal meeting, a group of Belgian colleagues, through the good offices of the Belgian colleague André Goeffers who had surprised me in 1981, at the First Edition of the L’Aquila’s Event, making an unforeseen gift bringing there, with no previous notice and at our immense pleasure, two full classes of students of the Film School where he taught in Brussels.

I spoke, this Sunday morning of 1993, to the Belgian colleagues around the reasons of the strange situation of having so many excellent Belgian Cinematographers and did not have yet organized a Belgian Cinematographers Society, soliciting them, as already had made the common french friend Pierre L’Homme, to create one in a way to become Members of IMAGO, between the other advantages of being associated.  Ten months later, at my delighted surprise, I received a thankful letter from Brussels communicating that SBC Belgian Society of Cinematographers finally existed and that the bilingual statutes were signed for publication in the “Moniteur”, the official Belgian Statute Book.!

By that SBC become the sixth Cinematographer Society to loin IMAGO.

Few months later, in Hollywood for the shooting of an American film, I was received at the Club House of the ASC where a group of renowned ASC members, headed by the President Victor Kemper, listened to my explanation about IMAGO and its goals, objectives that looked to them very interesting but objectively too advanced, especially the theme of Authorship recognition, but we were in 1993/94 and this kind of innovator or revolutionary ideas looked not only in Hollywood but also in Europe very difficult to be accepted. Only the blindness in a way of my youthful passion prevented me to see the difficulties of putting in practice what seemed to be the very appealing perspective of gaining finally what I thought, and I think even more today, to fully belong to us. Authorial Recognition for our work and consequent  Co-authorship of the films we are doing.

My narration here respects the simple purpose of relating my personal experience on how the Federation has been created from the very first steps starting, also if indirectly, from 1891, continuing with practical actions in  1992/1993 with the colleagues of the First Two Founder Meetings in Cinecittà in what I call  IMAGO’s ORIGINS, covering, in time space from L’Aquila’s experience until the speach at the ASC, including  the birth of AEC and SBC.

All together now we should apply at the writing of the full history of IMAGO from the beginning, here documented, until today and you will meet not only the emotions of an extraordinary adventure but also you will enter in resonance, I am sure, with a  bunch of extraordinary protagonists!

Luciano Tovoli AIC ASC


*Unfortunately the night of the 6th of April 2009 at 03:32 AM, an earthquake of extreme violence, in the range force of 5,9 Richter, IX, and X Mercalli, hit the City of L’Aquila destroying one-third of its historic center and causing 309 death, 1.600 wounded and 80.000 homeless. The building of the International Academy was reduced to flat ruins destroying the rich cinematheque (including all the copies of my films), the videoteque, the film book and screenplay biblioteque (again with the original screenplays of all my films). My brother friends Gabriele Lucci and Anna Maria Ximenes saved their lives by miracle looking back in the run to salvation their beloved home collapsing on the ground in a matter of seconds.  Since then a heavy undeserved silence covers the film activity we made there for about twenty years and any material referring to the two International very successful initiatives (The First International Festival-Meeting dedicated in film history to the creativity of International Cinematographers and the International Film Academy) has been impossible to be recuperated, probably lost forever. Only the thousands of passionate participants and Cinematographers in a list of celebrities that could go on for pages, film lovers and film students in thousands certainly remember the magic of those years in L’Aquila!  One and for all can be cited the highly distinguished colleague and friend John Bailey, today President of the Film Academy in Los Angeles. He has been one of the first, most constant and most brilliant protagonists and for several editions of the Cinematographers First International Festival-Meeting dedicated to Cinematographers titled “L’AQUILA, UNA CITTA’ IN CINEMA”.



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