Volker Bahnemann NYU Awards

The first annual Volker Bahnemann Awards for Cinematography were presented yesterday evening at NYU Tisch School of the Arts Maurice Kanbar Institute. Two undergrad and three graduate cinematography students were nominated and received plaques; the winners were awarded grants. The award was funded by ARRI, CSC, friends and colleagues in  recognition of Volker Bahnemann’s half century of service to the filmmaking community. He recently retired as CEO of ARRI, Inc. The award and its endowment is a perpetual bequest, and additional donations will increase the size of grants.

Volker is the only person, above, wearing a tie. From right to left: Head of Graduate Cinematography, Sandi Sissel, ASC; Volker Bahnemann; Graduate students Leonardo D’Antoni; Matthew Mendelson (award winner); Kristina Nikolova; Undergraduates Frederick Meyer; Oliver Lanzenberg (award winner); and Michael Carmine, Director of Undergraduate Cinematography Studies.

As many readers know, Volker was one of my mentors and continues to advise me on what I should be when I grow up. When I bought my first Arriflex 16SR camera, I remember Volker asked me what my business plan was. “Business plan?” I didn’t even know what a business plan was. “Well, you have to figure out how to pay it off, how to rent it, what interest rate you’re comfortable with, insurance…you know…business decisions,” Volker said. They hadn’t taught these things in the film department at Dartmouth. Did cinematographers need to know things about business? I had a lot to learn. Over the years, Volker was producer and the force behind many of our ventures and adventures together, culminating in the film and books “Cinematographer Style.” With the NYU Tisch Award, he continues to mentor and encourage future generations of cinematographers.

Here is a copy of Volker Bahnemann’s speech at the opening of the award ceremonies. His exact words were better, but it went like this:

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, members of the faculty, students, friends and colleagues. It is difficult to convey the pride and deep gratitude I feel at this very special moment and occasion – and I am very happy that so  many of my friends are able to be here and share this occasion. This evening we recognize excellence – and a new generation of cinematographers and filmmakers.

“Since this is the first time this award for cinematography will be given, I want to take the opportunity to thank in person all who thought that I deserve this honor and so generously contributed to its endowment – I am particularly thrilled to have my name associated with as prestigious an institution as  NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

“As with every cause, or production – at the beginning there is the idea — so, I especially want to recognize and thank the person whose idea it was to propose this award for Cinematography – it was my friend and colleague of many years, Charlie Davidson. Charlie had the idea and brought it to fruition. He contributed mightily and untiring to it’s realization – thank you very much Charlie.

“Of course, one of my good fortunes in life was to have been associated with a great company – ARRI. Throughout, ARRI’s considerable substance and brand reputation effectively helped me to overcome any deficiencies or lack of experience I may have had at various times during my long  career. People make a living, a thousand and one ways, but the most fortunate among us, I am sure, are those who can do so by following their creative and artistic calling. Perhaps the next best thing to that, in my view, is to work within a creative community or with such individuals. I have been lucky to do so, forming a lifelong association and friendships with members of this community and many cinematographers.  They helped me gain a thorough understanding of their craft and a great respect for the challenges and pressures associated with their central responsibility on a production. Cinematography is art and a craft.

“The art of Cinematography – the dramatic and creative choices cinematographers make, come from deep within the individual’s perception and interpretation of our visual world, and are unique to the artist.

“The craft of cinematography, our domain, executes these artistic choices. – ARRIs founders, Robert Richter and August Arnold, long before they became business entrepreneurs, had first been Cinematographers. And over more than nine decades, we have built products for virtually every phase of the moving picture process, but the camera and our commitment to cinematography have been, and continue to be, at the center of our obsession.

“As we transition from analog imaging technologies to digital, it is this deep understanding of the cinematographer’s art and craft that gives us the edge over significantly larger and more powerful industrial companies.

“Technology is an important but always subservient component in the creation of visual media content — a highly complex and fascinating collaborative process in which the cinematographer will always have an important and  rewarding role.

“Be proud to call yourself a Cinematographer.

“As my friend Vittorio Storaro likes to say, “on every set there is only one Director and one Cinematographer…” And, speaking of Vittorio, I am happy to donate his series of books on cinematography to the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

“I am grateful and happy to have been able to contribute, and I hope that your receiving this first Volker Bahnemann award for cinematography even remotely matches my pride and joy in giving it. Thank you all very much.”

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