Cinematography Opens More to Women, AI Reshaping Visual Language, Camerimage Regulars Report

As the start of the Camerimage Film Festival approaches, Variety asked four festival regulars, all sought-after cinematographers, to weigh in on the issues, trends and opportunities the profession is encountering this year – all subjects expected to come up during the fest, which runs Nov. 11-18. Here’s what they had to say:

Mandy Walker (“Elvis,” “Hidden Figures”), currently filming Disney’s live action “Snow White” remake, and chairing Camerimage main competition jury.

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“I see more and more women are shooting [film] projects and TV – in the States, a lot more women are shooting TV shows. A lot more in the camera department in general, camera operators, first ACs, and it’s definitely getting better. But there’s still a bit of a hump to get over before it’s anywhere near equal.”

“The technology – for me, when I first started shooting movies, there was no VFX, there was no blue screen because I was shooting very small indie projects. Now, more and more, I’m involved with VFX right from the beginning of a project. For ‘Elvis’ and for ‘Snow White,’ I’m involved a lot with the look of the visual language. Originally, I would do a movie and we would do a blue screen shot and I would never see it until it was into the final color timing. Now I’m working with some great people who understand we have to collaborate right from the start.”

“It’s been a really great experience for me, actually, in dealing with shooting in a virtual world and working with Unreal Engine and things like that. I’ll say, ‘Look, I’m lighting for this sunset – this is the color and this is the light and we check in with each other all the time and show each other ideas and run it with the art department too, the concept artists. For me, that part of my job has become really important and really great.

Ed Lachman (“Far From Heaven,” “Carol”), currently filming Maria Callas story “Maria” in Budapest with director Pablo Larrain, and screening Larrain’s “El Conde” in competition at Camerimage.

“Generally, people will ask about whatever your last film was. I’ve been proselytizing my EL zone system, the exposure mapping system, and I used it on ‘El Conde’ so Camerimage is a great forum to discuss how it works so well – the subtlety of tracking exposure, you know. And I use the original Ultra Baltar lenses made in 1938 for black and white film (used for “Citizen Kane” and “Touch of Evil”) – I’m sure people will be interested in discussing that and we made this monochromatic Arri LF camera. People will talk about the latest thing, you know.”

“The thing I love about the festival is, even though part of it’s the competition, it’s more about sharing your own experiences with each other and renewing friendships. Because cinematographers young and old don’t really get to see each other other than at an event like Camerimage. It’s the spirit of it, you know? For me it’s like a trip back to the ‘60s.”

Ellen Kuras (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “David Byrne’s American Utopia”), screening “Lee” in competition at Camerimage, the true story of war correspondent Lee Miller, starring Kate Winslet and directed by Kuras.

“I see a lot more people moving from DP work into directing, especially women. Because there are more opportunities. Before opportunities were really slim. But especially in television now, the quality of television has gotten so much higher so there are a lot more opportunities for people to step into the directing role. I know a lot of people on series who were asked to direct an episode because they were there the whole time.”

“For me, I actually started out wanting to make films as a director. I just happened to come into cinematography because I started shooting my own film for a thesis for a master’s.”

“It’s really interesting that a lot of the films that have come out this year are more traditional classic cinema. ‘Anatomy of a Fall,’ for example, is a great film. And the way it’s been put together is certainly metaphorically complex but visually, kind of classic cinema. Very straightforward, it doesn’t have a huge use of visual effects and the story and the actors come to the forefront of that film.”

“As for AI, cinematographers tend to be optimistic. We’re certainly aware of the abuses of AI because no one wants to be replaced. And also no one wants to be copied in a way that replaces that creative work. There’s a lot of experience that goes into being Erik Messerschmidt, for example, or being Caleb Deschanel. A huge amount of knowledge and experience of being on set, experimenting, so to replace that with one algorithm is a travesty.”

“But there are opportunities in AI where we can use it as a tool, if we’re exploring something about color or if we want to change the light in a certain way or if there’s an image we want to manipulate for creative reasons. I think it becomes interesting and exciting in that way. Before, there were limitations in the medium – that’s why people would put film in ovens and cook it to see what they could do, certain filtration, bleach bypass to get to a certain look. Our tools are so much more sophisticated now. AI’s going to provide opportunities to change the shape of the image even beyond what we know now.”

Anthony Dod Mantle (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Radioactive”), main competition juror, now in post-production on David Schurmann’s “The Penguin & the Fisherman.”

“This year there’s quite a strong American presence, in the main competition. There’s a good mix but there’s a lot of big, interesting films. It’s a good variation and then when you look at the debuts, the Polish films competition, there’s a lot of variation there too. I’m often involved in the festival from the other side so it’s good for me for once to be serving on the jury – it looks like I’ve chosen a good year. I like Pablo Larrain with ‘El Conde,’ I really want to see ‘Poor Things’ screened, Robbie [Ryan] is always funny…I’m very excited about ‘Napoleon,’ Joaquin Phoenix, Ellen Kuras to see how she gets on with Kate Winslet in ‘Lee,’ Rodrigo Prieto’s got a great film with Scorsese, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon.’ They’re all big ones. ‘The Zone of Interest’ I think will be very interesting and very disturbing.”

“I’ll look at the technology – it’s as great for the students as it is for the old hands, like me. That will be quite a significant presence this year. But first and foremost, I love Torun – I think it’s the best place, has been the best place and atmosphere. It mustn’t get any bigger.”

“I’m looking forward to meeting all the students – I mean, they pay their way and starve and we’re often invited on first-class tickets, we’ve got hotels. We’re quite privileged in relation to the people that are just devouring film. They make for mature audiences and at the Q&As they can be quite tough, which is good. Always detailed questions and they’re also quite direct, politically, sometimes. I’ve seen very experienced DPs almost get up and walk out! I think it’s good that they have an open forum.”

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