Awards: Two Oscar nominations, two BAFTA noms including one win and one British Society of Cinematographers nom.
Tools: Arriflex cameras with Hawk anamorphic lenses; Kodak 5279 and 5218 Vision stock.
Aesthetic: “The real guideline was to not control everything in the frame, either with the photographic area on the negative or with the (physical) camerawork itself,” Serra says.
“I’m known for shooting beautiful period pieces, but this subject was about something very serious (civil war and the accompanying atrocities in Sierra Leone), and I wanted to respect that subject and not distract from it with beautiful shots.
“We wanted to show it the way it was. We wanted reality, rather than traditional aesthetics from some war films that (glamorize) everything. At the same time, Africa itself is very beautiful — strikingly beautiful — and we show that (in establishing shots), but in this place, it was extremely violent and unhappy, and that is what we tried to illustrate.”
Visual references: “We mainly worked off actual (documentary) footage from Sierra Leone as our major reference. It was so horrible, what happened there, and that documentary footage shows that. We also looked at a few great films about Africa, to figure out what kind of camerawork might be appropriate for certain scenes, like shooting at night in the jungle.”
Challenges: “The jungle scenes at night were the most important problem. That’s an ongoing thing — you never stop working on that. I did not want to use big, blue backlights or anything like that. It is supposed to be dark there, and unlike many movies, they do not always have a gigantic, bright, full moon in Africa every night, and that wasn’t usually appropriate for what we were doing anyway.
“So we tried to be realistic as much as possible, and if some problems cropped up, we were able to firm them up during the digital intermediate (in Hollywood).”
What’s next: Serra recently shot French film “La Fille coupee en deux” for Claude Chabrol.