Female cinematographers are still a relatively rare breed in Latin America, and in the rest of the world for that matter. At Los Cabos, three femme cinematographers weighed in on the challenges and rewards of their chosen profession.
The panel was composed of Mexico-based Uruguayan Maria Secco whose credits include the acclaimed “La Jaula de Oro” and “Wind Traces”; Cesar-winning French cinematographer Agnes Godard, who has worked closely with such notable filmmakers as, especially, Claire Denis, as well as Wim Wenders, and Peter Greenaway; and New York-based Ashley Connor, nominated for a 2018 Independent Spirit Award for her work on “Madeline’s Madeline,” which premiered at Sundance last year.
Clips shown during the panel included an intimate sequence from “Madeline’s Madeline,” an extended border section from “La Jaula de Oro,” illustrating the diversity of effect of Secco’s work; and excerpts from Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail,” a reminder of the genius of Agnès Godard.
Variety presents five key points pondered and discussed in Los Cabos’ Miradas Extraordinarias’ panel.
1.What it Means to Be a Cinematographer
“The director’s job is very big and lonely; the DP provides company, a support system and together we work to see how we can transmit what the director wants so keenly to relate, see how we can tell it in a way that leads to emotion,” Secco said. Agnes Godard concurred: “Being a cinematographer for me is like being a translator.” Aside from interpreting the director’s wishes, the challenge is to translate the written words of the script into images, she pointed out. “I think that’s the reason I’m so attracted to images; cinematography is a collection of images and for me I think it’s a way of asking questions, bringing the audience with you and really developing a language with the director on how you want people to interpret it,” said Ashley Connor.
2. Fighting Bias
Asked what biases they have encountered in their careers, Connor cited Martin Scorsese’s viral comments about the Marvel franchise and how the dominance of big-budget films have made it perilous to make auteur films, particularly in the U.S. “People get very fearful when they put money behind films so you really need to bear that in mind when in discussions with the director and make sure that the whole team is on board with the overall concept of the film,” she said, adding that she thought cinematography today is “too clean, too safe.” “It doesn’t cause much friction and to me that is the importance of why we make movies: to ask questions, to make an audience feel and to present new ideas and ways of feeling.”
3. Finding Emotion, Not Beauty, in Images
The key to good cinematography is not necessarily in beautiful images but in conveying emotions, the panel agreed. “When you see an image that moves you, it has nothing to do with the right proportions or the right light but it has something that excites or sparks an emotion; it does not necessarily have to do with beauty as we understand it.” Secco noted. But capturing the magical moment when the sun is hidden, as it is during a wind storm, is momentous “as it is when, especially in these latitudes, when the light inside is almost the same as outside,” she mused.
4. The Feminine Gaze
The questions of what it felt to be a minority in their profession and whether there is such a thing as a feminine point of view in cinematography, sparked a range of answers. “I don’t think there is a special female gaze; for me the world is not divided in a binary way,” said Godard who noted that the job of camera assistants has been opened up quite a long time ago to women in France, but the parity between men and women DPs remain tipped in men’s favor, although that is changing, she added. For Connor, “the way in which sexism plays a role is quite abstract now; it’s manifested in not giving women the financial backing they deserve,” she asserted. “As a female cinematographer, you know you’re put on an island and you don’t want to be there as something different. But then by that same token your difference is what makes you unique,” she added. Secco opined: “There is still an inequality in the workplace but I think that falls to the photographers, it does not matter if they are women, men, foreigners, what matters is their individuality, not whether they are women or not.”
5.Film v Digital
The move to shooting with digital cameras has also favored the advent of more female DPs, as they have not had to contend with the ponderous film cameras of the past. Nonetheless, they admit that they work out in order to keep up with the physical demands of the job. “I like a big camera, the bigger the better. But really, I think something that I love about my work is the dance, the connection and relation to the camera,” said Connor, adding: “I don’t always do hand-held work but I like that this thing is part of me, of the body, very corporeally connected to me.” “It’s very intrusive,” said Godard of filming with a digital camera, pointing out that at least two to five persons are watching on separate monitors while the film is being shot.”
John Hopewell contributed to this article