“We are honoring Michael Ballhaus as a director of photography who was a kindred talent to directors and whose oeuvre is unique,” says Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick.
During the 66th Berlinale, the Honorary Golden Bear was bestowed on Michael Ballhaus, who has just turned 80 years (last August), for his extraordinary body of work comprised of some 130 features as well TV films. At the ceremony the movie Gangs of New York was screened, which is one of the seven films he did together with director Martin Scorsese. It had brought Ballhaus his third Oscar nomination in 2003. The other two Oscar nominations were received for his cinematography of the much acclaimed films Broadcast News and The Fabulous Baker Boys. His camera moving in a slow circle of 360 degree by showing-off a flirtatious Michelle Pfeiffer in a red dress had an unforgettable emotional intensity, drawing-in the audiences and still lingering in my mind. This particular circular traveling of the camera became something like his “trademark” which he first developed when working with the famous German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder during the 1970s. Starting out with still photos as his director of photography, they eventually made 15 films together.
Ballhaus worked internationally alongside many legendary directors, like Wolfgang Petersen, Volker Schlöndorff, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Francis Ford Coppola, just to mention a few. His great talent was in finding a visual language that would suit each individual director and his particular film. With his ingenious ideas he has influenced the entire film industry.
With the Berlinale he has a long and full history. He has not only been invited as a frequent guest with his films but also had served as president of the International Jury. In 2006 he was awarded the Berlinale Camera for his unique contribution to film.
During the Berlinale 2016 the following films were shown in his honor in the section “Homage and Retrospective”:
Martha (West Germany 1974, director: R.W. Fassbinder), TV film
The Color of Money (USA 1986, director: Martin Scorsese)
The Fabulous Baker Boys ….. to mention just a few
Michael Ballhaus, born in Berlin, became Hollywood's most famous cinematographer, particularly by his close cooperation with Martin Scorsese. When, in 2006, he had stopped working in the USA – just completing The Departed by Scorsese – he wanted to spend more time teaching and promoting young film students in his hometown Berlin. Sadly, before returning to Germany, his wife Helga of nearly 50 years died suddenly in Los Angeles. She had not only been a wife and mother to their two sons but, with her, he also lost his valued adviser. She had worked as an actress, film director and set designer but gave up her ambitions to enable her husband to concentrate on his career.
He now lives permanently in Berlin where – at an age of 78 years – he introduced his memoirs, but was unable to read the passages of the book himself. His eyesight is slowly fading due to an inoperable eye cataract that started forming years ago. The title is “Bilder im Kopf. Die Geschichte meines Lebens” (Images in my head. The story of my life) which was written together with Claudius Seidl. In 2011 he married the 25-year-younger Sherry Hormann. She is the director of their mutual film 3096 Tage (3096 days), the story of Natascha Kampusch's kidnapping in Austria.
Despite his fame as one of the world's most important cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus remains a humble person who prefers to stay behind the camera instead of being in the lime-light.