Chris Menges BSC ASC, one of the most revered cinematographers working today, will receive the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Camerimage Festival of Cinematography taking place in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
A double Oscar-winner for his cinematography on The Killing Fields (1985) and The Mission (1987), Menges started his career in the 1960s as a camera operator on documentaries by Adrian Cowell and on films including Poor Cow (1967), directed by Ken Loach and If…. (1968) by Lindsay Anderson. Kes (1969), directed by Loach and lauded over the years for its photography, was Menges’ first film as cinematographer. He was also behind the camera on Stephen Frears’ first feature Gumshoe in 1971. Menges went to Burma with Cowell to shoot The Opium Warlords, a film about the drug trade. After the release of the documentary in 1974 the Burmese government was said to have put a price on their heads.
After further documentaries and feature films including Black Beauty (1971), Bloody Kids (1978), The Game Keeper (1980), Babylon (1980) and Angel (1982), Menges became notable for more ambitious works for which he was critically-acclaimed. In 1978 he won the best film cameraman BAFTA for Last Summer, directed by Frears. In 1983 he received a BAFTA nomination for the Bill Forsyth film Local Hero and the following year won his first Academy Award for The Killing Fields about the genocide in Cambodia, as well as a BAFTA. He continued his work with helmer Roland Joffé and won his second Oscar with the historical drama The Mission.
In 1988 Menges made his directional debut with A World Apart. This film was celebrated at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival and won three major awards. His second film as director, CrissCross, with Goldie Hawn, also received critical acclaim.
In 1996 Menges moved back behind the camera to shoot the award-winning films The Boxer, directed by Jim Sheridan, and Michael Collins, directed by Neil Jordan. For the latter he received his third Academy Award nomination in 1997. Menges supported Stephen Daldry on the sets of The Reader (2008) (Menges shared the credit for cinematography with Roger Deakins, both were nominated for the Oscar for this film) and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011). Deakins, also widely-regarded as one of the best cinematographers of modern times, later said that he considers Menges’ use of natural light second-to-none, and that Menges was one of his first inspirations after film school.
Respected for his thoughtfulness, modesty and consummate artistic skill as a cinematographer, Menges told British Cinematographer Magazine during an interview about his work on The Reader, “I only work on films that I can learn from. My work is my university, and the work I do is about educating myself.”