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Volker Bahnemann: The steady hand behind ARRI Inc.

(April, 2010) -- After 48 years with ARRI, Volker Bahnemann, President and CEO of ARRI Inc. and ARRI/CSC is stepping down, ending a prolific career that helped shape this imaging technology company into the largest and most reputable motion picture equipment manufacturer in the world.

Volker BahnemannVolker has been with ARRI Inc. since its inception and in his 32 years as CEO, he has not only contributed and witnessed the organization’s growth but also the production industry’s technical and artistic evolution. Volker’s career at ARRI actually began even earlier, with an apprenticeship at Arnold & Richter in Munich. It was not for a love of movies or fine engineering, but because of the company’s close location to his home that guided his decision as a 16 year old. This choice would change the company forever.
After this three-and-a-half year apprenticeship and another year of specialized service training, Volker decided to leave Arnold & Richter for another industry in Mexico. But when Paul Klingenstein needed technical support for his expanding business as distributor for Arriflex equipment in the United States he contacted Volker and soon, the young man headed to New York to start his new job as camera service technician. It goes to the credit of Paul Kingenstein in recognizing and awakening Volker’s potential to turn this job into a career.

Volker was promoted to Service Manager and, in 1972 became Vice President, Marketing for ARRI’s expanding product line. Although ARRI cameras and equipment had always been very popular with European filmmakers, Hollywood, with its different crew structure and production approach had not embraced this equipment for other than second unit, handheld and documentary work. Volker realized that in order for ARRI cameras to become a standard production tool, the equipment needed to adapt to the specific demands of American crews.

Volker also recognized that ARRI needed to establish a stronger product identity. Having engaged a talented art director, he began to co-write the copy for ARRI’s advertising, which he continued to do throughout his career.

He worked closely with cinematographers and crew who put ARRI equipment through the paces. Spending many a night on set, occasionally even loading magazines, he listened to their needs, knowing that this feedback would result in the improvement and refinement of ARRI’s equipment. Many of these artists realized Volker was an ally to their craft and in 1974, he became the youngest associated member of the American Society of Cinematographers.

That same year Volker was named President of Arriflex Company, then a division of Berkey Photo Inc, a large photographic product marketing company. Four years later, with the support of Arnold & Richter, Volker separated Arriflex Company from Berkey Photo Inc. and formed the new Arriflex Corporation as the very first subsidiary of the German company. Operating in the U.S. – the largest and most important film market in the world – Volker, had very significant input and influence in new product development, solidifying ARRI’s position during a period of rapid technological change in the industry.

From this vantage point he was able to foresee and initiate many important developments and refinement of significant filmmaking technologies such as the ARRIFLEX 35III, ARRIFLEX 765, ARRIFLEX 435, IVS and ARRIFLEX 235 cameras as well as ARRI/ZEISS High Speed and Variable Prime lenses. These products had groundbreaking impact on the way films are shot and helped evolve storytelling in ways that were previously not possible. All of these innovations have been recognized by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences with Scientific and Technical Awards.

Volker at the Oscar ceremony Volker with Otto Blaschek...

...during the Oscar Ceremony 1989.

But while ARRI was well known and respected for its camera products, it had no presence at all in motion picture lighting. Recognizing the potential of HMI technology for film lighting (developed by Osram and Dr. August Arnold), Volker started an uphill battle against a well-established industry-wide equipment base. Recognizing his lack of lighting market experience, he hired Charlie Davidson, a seasoned lighting salesman and together they built a great team. The rest is history.

Attracting the right people, giving them the support and confidence to reach the highest level of performance they are capable of has been the company wide management style implanted by Volker. This is also expressed by his company motto: Quality, integrity, stability.

In 1986, under Volker’s direction, ARRI acquired Camera Service Center in New York where he also served as President and CEO. Since that time CSC has grown to become one of the largest, most respected full-service rental houses with operations in New York and Ft. Lauderdale. In 2002, an opportunity arose to acquire Illumination Dynamics (ID), a small lighting rental company in Los Angeles which, together with a Charlotte, North Carolina facility has since expanded greatly to serve movie, sport and special events productions nation wide.

Volker became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1977 and served on the Scientific and Technical committee for many years. In 1997 he was awarded the prestigious John Bonner Medal of Commendation ”in appreciation for out- standing service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.”

In 2002, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) presented him with the Fuji Gold Medal Award “for outstanding achievement in the motion imaging industry.” He holds several US patents in the field of contrast control and color balance for variable output lights for photography.

Under his direction, ARRI quietly contributed much to the education and advancement of aspiring cinematographers. Producing several instructional films and books, contributing a large collection of books on film technology to the ASC library and supporting AFI graduate projects, are just some examples.

Volker with Jon Fauer Volker and Jon Fauer...

...presenting CINEMATOGRAPHER STYLE.

In 2003, Volker together with his long time friend Jon Fauer developed an idea for a film about the art and technology of filmmaking. He co-wrote and produced, with Jon Fauer shooting and directing, the project titled CINEMATOGRAPHER STYLE, which eventually captured over 100 interviews with cinematographers from all over the world. The film screened internationally and it continues to educate and inspire audiences about the power of filmmaking. In describing the project, Volker stated, “The subject of the film is the art and craft of cinematography. It is about how everything, from life experiences to technology, influences and shapes an individual’s visual style. Because of the powerful impact that the visual style of a movie can have, this documentary may offer contemporaries valuable insights into the dramatic choices cinematographers make.”

Developing and providing the right tools for these talented storytellers, has always been Volker’s objective as he helped guide ARRI into the 21st century. Technology continues to evolve, and with it is ARRI - always looking ahead but mindful of its legacy and experience in providing the best equipment for filmmakers.

Quality, integrity, stability – it can’t be expressed any better.

Beyond his role at the helm of ARRI Inc., Volker has been an active pilot since 1968, and holds a commercial pilot’s license with Instrument, Multi-Engine and Flight Instructor ratings. This interest and some continuing involvement in the industry he lived and loves will provide a fulfilling and fitting transition from his dynamic and successful career at ARRI.

An Tran

For further information, please contact:

Brigitte Wehner