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Ellen Kuras

Gotham Awards: Below-The-Line Tribute

“Actors,” Gotham honoree Kuras reminds us, “are not the only ones who make the film.”

Kuras, the renowned d.p. and winner of three Sundance cinematography prizes, laments America’s “obsession with movie stars,” and makes it a point to sing the praises of the technicians who work behind the scenes.

“We play a huge rule in the way those stars look, and the entire look and feel and success of the film,” she says.

For the last 16 years, Kuras has been doing just that, along with a stable of maverick filmmakers with whom she has steadily collaborated, from producer Christine Vachon to directors Spike Lee, Rebecca Miller and Michel Gondry.

After studying anthropology and structural linguistics at Brown U., which she says helped her to “understand people and how to create meaning,” Kuras got her start working on documentary films.

“Documentaries really informed my sense of spontaneity,” says Kuras, “my sense of how to go into the essence of the dramatic action, whether fiction or nonfiction, and respond to nuance.”

Whether recent verite projects, such as Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert movie and “Dave Chapelle’s Block Party,” or dramatic films such as “Personal Velocity” that employ a freewheeling visual approach, Kuras is heralded for her handheld work.

“Directors trust my sense of movement and anticipation of the action and emotion,” she says.

Kuras has lensed only a few big-budget studio films (“The Mod Squad,” “Blow,” “Analyze That”), which she says is more a function of the directors she likes to work with than her own aspirations. “I would be more than enthusiastic to work on a $60 million film with Rebecca (Miller),” she jokes.

And if that doesn’t come along, she is already planning her fourth project with Miller, another concert film with director Julian Schnabel, and finishing up her own long-in-the-making documentary project.

“I’ve been asked many times when I’m going to direct,” says Kuras. “But I like to be choosey.”

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