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Robert Bodrog

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David Lynch Receives Lifetime Achievement Award for Directing at 20th Camerimage Festival in Poland

Renowned American director David Lynch received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Directing on November 24 at the 20th Plus Camerimage Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Founded in 1993, the annual event has grown into the leading festival dedicated to cinematography and cinematographers, and runs this year through December 1.

Although the iconoclastic director has achieved worldwide success and built a huge fan base in the course of his career, which now spans five decades, his work seems to strike a particular chord in the psyche of Polish audiences. Lynch is hugely popular in Poland, and this is not merely due to the fact that he shot most of his 2006 film Inland Empire there in the city of Lodz.

Lynch's films do not fall within the boundaries of easily classifiable genres. His work is often described as non-linear, unsettling, and for some, replete with disturbing imagery. Director Mel Brooks once referred to him as “Jimmy Stewart from Mars.” But attempting to encapsulate Lynch's work with a few simple adjectives does not do it justice, and overlooks a complexity which is difficult to assess and digest, even after repeated viewings of his films.

But clearly there is something about Lynch that appeals to Polish film goers. So it seems only fitting that the maverick director, who has carved out a unique niche for himself in contemporary cinema, should be receiving an award for his contribution to filmmaking in a country that has so enthusiastically embraced his work.

Born in Missoula, Montana in 1946, Lynch originally studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, during which time he made his first foray into making short films. He later moved to Los Angeles, and produced his first feature Eraserhead in 1977. Although not a commercial success, it soon developed a huge cult following on the midnight movie circuit in subsequent years in the era before VHS home video and DVDs.

With his follow-up film The Elephant Man (1980), Lynch achieved mainstream success and went on to direct the film version of Frank Herbert's science fiction novel Dune (1984). Although Dune was regarded as a critical and commercial failure, it was his next film, Blue Velvet (1986) starring Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini, which proved to be an artistic breakthrough and solidified Lynch's reputation as a director.

In the United States, the TV series Twin Peaks, which ran from 1990-91, brought Lynch's work to a wider audience and proved highly popular, as did the feature film Wild at Heart (1990) starring Nicolas Cage, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes that year. The Straight Story was also nominated at Cannes in 1999, and Lynch subsequently received the best director award there in 2001 for Mulholland Drive. The French government awarded Lynch the Legion of Honor, the country's top civilian honor, as a Chevalier in 2002 and then an Officier in 2007. That same year, the British newspaper The Guardian described Lynch as "the most important director of this era".

However, these prestigious honors and adulation bestowed upon him have not changed the kinds of movies he's chosen to make. Certainly, it would be hard to accuse Lynch of having ever compromised his artistic vision or sold out to Hollywood to make a purely commercial film. Indeed, it's noteworthy to mention that Lynch turned down the opportunity to direct Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, because he thought he'd be realizing someone else's vision. How many directors, even successful ones, would have the audacity to do such a thing. Not many. But Lynch did.

When I met and photographed him at the Toronto Film Festival in 2001, I found him to be very reserved and surprisingly unpretentious. Indeed, he was most gracious as I took his portrait in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel. He looked pretty much the same in person as he did in other photos of him that I had seen. It's easy to take a good photo of David Lynch. But to interpret his films and their “true” meaning is a much more daunting task. But clearly, that quality, and the high regard in which they are held, makes the honor he received at this year's Camerimage Festival seem appropriate and entirely deserved. There is only one David Lynch. Whoever he really is, and whatever his movies are really about, people dig them. And I'm sure that pleases him. Because, clearly, they please us.

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