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A Tribute to Christopher Challis

23 January 2012
Cinematographer Christopher Challis

On 21 November 2011, BAFTA in London hosted a special tribute to Christopher Challis, the British cinematographer whose credits include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Genevieve, and Billy Wilder's The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes.

  • Watch the video of the esteemed cinematographer receive the Academy's Special Award
  • Hear him talk about his experiences working with cinema legends Emeric Powell and Billy Wilder
  • Read personal tributes sent in by Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker and Jenny Agutter
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Personal tributes from those influenced by Challis:

It is not possible even to begin to take the full measure of the greatness of British filmmaking without thinking of Chris Challis. Working behind the camera beside Jack Cardiff, then later, on his own, with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, then later still with such temporary American ex-pats as Stanley Donen and Billy Wilder, Chris Challis brought a vibrancy to the celluloid palette that was entirely his own, and which helped make Britain a leader in that long, glorious period of classic world cinema.

Martin Scorsese
Director, 2012 British Academy Film Awards Fellow


Chris Challis was an indispensable member of the Michael Powell/ Emeric Pressburger film crews. He was always excited by, and equal to, any challenge Michael and Emeric passed to him, and could be counted on to achieve a brilliant result with full confidence, spirit, imagination and daring. In this, and in life, he was a perfect colleague and great friend. In every sense, Chris was an Archer extraordinaire.

Thelma Schoonmaker
Editor


Chris Challis has always thrived on challenges. He uses his extraordinary breadth of experience and understanding to solve the problems that arise when filming in difficult circumstances.

I have had the pleasure of working with him twice. Once was filming War of Children, a love story set in the 1970s against the conflicts in Northern Ireland. We shot in and around Dublin and Belfast and were on a very tight budget. Chris created the gritty feeling of a docu-drama but added visual grace as needed. There was a dance scene which was shot in a very ordinary village hall, he transformed it by using a glitter ball and the diffracted light, spinning around the room, turned it into a magical dance hall.

On Riddle of The Sands we worked on a very small boat which could have been a nightmare, but because of Chris Challis’ own experience of sailing he was able to work out a way to fit cameras and equipment into the boat’s rigging, there was no room on the deck. I remember the operator and director suspended amidst the ropes. Chris looked on, pipe in mouth very much the sailor at ease in his surroundings. His quiet sense of humour and the enjoyment he found in his work made filming great fun. The result on screen was always stunning.

Jenny Agutter
Actress