Special Jury Prize Awarded for Red Cross Spot

Kodak presents the YDA Special Jury Prize to director Aleksander Bach for 'Stars' 

The Young Director Award celebration was held in June at the Hotel Palais Stephanie in the French Riviera, during the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.
Festival-goers once again flocked to the event to see the innovative work being done by these up-and-coming directors. This year, the coveted Special Jury Prize went to
Aleksander Bach, a student at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in Germany.

"Every year, the commercials that are submitted are exceptionally creative and inspiring," said François Chilot, the president of the Commercial Film Producers of Europe (CFP-E), the organization behind the award. "This year, the jury selected unique projects that really stood out in terms of originality and quality of production. One film was so remarkably good that the members of the jury unanimously decided to award it the Special Jury Prize. 'Stars,' directed by Aleksander Bach, is an exceptionally moving production worthy of some of the world's most gifted and well-known film directors."

Bach, who is Polish, enjoyed success at the previous year's YDA as well; he shared the top prize in the European Film School category for a spot for the French telecom company Orange, titled "I Love You." That recognition came with a cash prize as well as a grant of film stock from Kodak. Bach used both to make this year's winning entry, "Stars," a commercial for the International Red Cross.

"Stars" unfolds in a war-torn setting where brutalized and fearful soldiers break into a building and aim their weapons at unarmed and seemingly innocent bystanders. Tension mounts until a woman suddenly and desperately begins to dance a ballet. Her humanity and grace stun the soldiers into inaction. The spot ends without resolution with the tagline, "When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." The final image is the Red Cross logo.

The following is a conversation with Bach.

Question: Where did the idea for "Stars" come from?
Bach: I always wanted to create a film with a dancer. I've had this idea for a long time, and the big question was how to create a situation where no one would accept that a dancer would start dancing, where the first moments don't seem to fit together. That was the interesting thing. And I was sitting in the car with my wife one evening and she suggested the war situation. So this was the idea of the film. I started thinking about whether it could work. In my work, an authentic feeling is very important. The risk was creating an authentic feeling of war, but undermining that with the sense that once the dancer starts dancing, the world is good again. But I think we found a way to avoid that, and I think it works.

How did you devise a visual strategy?
The director of photography, Peter Matjasko, and I wanted to create a documentary style like that of Magnum Photos, the cooperative founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson. We wanted to combine that with a very real and authentic style, in moving images.

What techniques did you use to achieve that style?
The aspect ratio was very important. We used 4:3 rather than 16:9 to create something similar to the almost square format of old Hasselblad cameras. That aspect ratio also changes the feeling that results from different focal lengths, especially when you use wide-angle lenses and move closer to the subjects.

The spot itself is black and white. Did you use black-and-white film stocks?
No, we shot on a Kodak 35 mm color negative, and we made the images black and white in telecine. We color-corrected all 90 minutes of footage. We did not do selected takes. We graded everything in black and white prior to editing.

Why was shooting 35 mm film important to your approach?
If you look at the website of Magnum Photos, you can see it in the pictures. Film is different, and you use it if you want to have really high-class pictures. I'm sure that you couldn't create such a film with a video camera. I think that would be impossible. You might get 80 percent of the way there, but not 100 percent. It's just not the same as that special kind of photographic look. If I shot this project again, I would shoot it on 35 mm film.

Your "Stars" spot draws viewers in using a story as well as powerful images. What's your take on the state of advertising through images?
I have the sense that in recent years, people want stories again. There is so much advertising, everywhere, all over the world. But everybody talks about a good commercial. And a good commercial has, on the one hand, a good idea, and on the other hand, a story. You need a story to spark people's imagination and to create drama. When it has those elements, people watch the commercial instead of switching away.

View the winning spot "Stars" by Aleksander Bach 

View all of the Young Director Award winners