10 Cinematographers to Watch: Jolanta Dylewska

Role model: “William Shakespeare, because he introduced in his plays the elements as something describing the inner emotions of his protagonists. He is for me a constant source of inspiration.”
Film or digital: “I love that we have a choice. I choose film more often.”
Favorite tool: “A small lamp — lately an LED type lamp — so everything that is important is seen in the eyes of the actors.”
Representation: ZA Agency

Little-known outside her native Poland, Jolanta Dylewska should finally attract some attention here thanks to her masterful work in Agnieszka Holland’s “In Darkness,” which is Oscar-nominated for foreign-language film. Back home, the 53-year-old d.p.’s work won the top prize at the world’s premiere cinematography showcase, the Plus Camerimage film festival in November, beating such high-profile contenders as “The Tree of Life” and “Melancholia.”

“The challenge, artistically and technologically, was to deliver the real darkness of the sewers,” says Dylewska of the film’s harrowing, true WWII story about Jews hiding beneath the German-occupied city of Lvov. “Agnieszka would always shout, ‘Darker, darker!’ She was much more courageous than me in entering the darkness. I was following her, building shadows so the gestures and the glances of the actors would not disappear, and so the audience would feel touched by this darkness.”

Dylewska, who studied cinematography at the National Film School in Lodz, started out wanting to direct, “but I fell in love with the camera,” she recalls. After lensing more than a dozen shorts at school, she got her first offer to shoot a documentary. “It taught me to look at the world attentively, to always ask myself before every film, who is the camera in the story?” She has since applied this approach to all her films. In Sergey Dvortsewoy’s “Tulpan,” the camera “was like a naive character, following the action and not knowing what will happen next,” she says.

In “The Boy on the Galloping Horse,” “the world got still, became black and white.”

“I try not to have my own style,” adds Dylewska who’s in Moscow shooting Dvortsewoy’s new film. “I approach every film as if it’s my first. I look for a style particular to that one film. My ‘actors’ are light, color, movement, depth of focus, texture, composition and perspective particular to each lens. Those visual elements are telling the story. I like the visual style to be at the service of the main dramaturgy of the film.”

Trailer: “In Darkness”

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