By Yuri Neyman, ASC
An Interesting Year For Cinematography - The Year 2019.
Director Alfonso Cuarón won the Oscar for Best Cinematography for "Roma".
The last time this happened, when a director won the Best Cinematography Award, was "The Devil Is a Woman" - a 1935 film directed and photographed by the very famous classical director Josef von Sternberg. The film won the Award for Best Cinematography at the Venice Film Festival in 1935.
"The Devil Is a Woman" was remarkable for how von Sternberg pursued a largely monochromatic design for this black-and-white film, his idea being that this made the sets easier to light and emphasized the few splashes of color. Lucien Ballard, ASC was formally an original cinematographer, but received no credit.
The ASC preferred the opinion of ASC members and bestowed The Best Cinematography Award to Łukasz Zal, PSC for "Cold War" with its dramatic black-and-white photography, and considered by most cinematographers as the most visually arresting film of 2018.
Camerimage (the most well known International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography), where "Roma" and "Cold War" both were in competition, went for "The Fortress" and awarded cinematographer Ji-yong Kim, KSC with the Golden Frog for his exquisite lighting in this historical drama about China's 17th century invasion of Korea.
Often cinematography awards are influenced by fancies of quirkiness, inabilities to separate quality imagery from the film content and from its politics, and a variety of other influences that have a pinch of naivety regarding what is cinematography.
We are all cinematographers now. Using any camera we can afford - Panavision, Alexa, Red, Sony, Canon, GoPro, iPhone - we are now producing myriads of images. You may think it is great time for cinematography...
Is it? It is a good question.
The easiness of making digital pictures can lead to the mistaken conclusion that images are no more than just the registration of reality, and the cultural richness and experience of the previous generations of cinematographers, photographers, graphic artists and painters do not need to apply.
All mentioned films are winners because each of them represent a different style, and they are winners in their own styles - "Roma" in its "true to life" documentary style, "The Fortress" in its ornamental, baroque-like richness of color and Caravaggio style of lighting, and "Cold War" for its richness of classical BW photography.
Modern cinematographers must master not only various techniques and technologies, but also with a variety of artistic styles.
All styles are good except boring and non-expressive!
And the concept of "Expanded Cinematography"® taught in G.C.I. teaches how to find your own style, cherish it, polish it, and then how to use the technology to make it expressive and supportive to the ideas of the script.