The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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While still in school, Impens began working as a clapper loader for director of photography Walther Vanden Ende, who became a mentor along with another Belgian cameraman, Jan Vancaillie, SBC. He worked as a focus puller for several years while shooting footage on the side, and ultimately found a valuable partner in director Felix Van Groeningen. Their film The Broken Circle Breakdown was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2014, though Impens is more partial to their prior collaboration, The Misfortunates. “That was the first time I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I’m not bad at cinematography,’” he says with a laugh. “It’s a movie with a lot of flashbacks and different time periods, and we shot it digitally but treated it with different looks for different sections — black-and-white, grain, etc. When we screened it and people asked what different film stocks we used, I knew we had done something right, because we didn’t use film at all — it was all shot on the Red One.”

Impens adds that he “likes film a lot, but in a small country like Belgium, our budgets are low and the film stock can become a big part of the budget — 15 percent of your money goes to processing and stock.” Currently Impens hopes to work on Van Groeningen’s next project, a film he’s developing to shoot in America. “At this point I think I’ve done something like 15 features, so I’m becoming a little more selective in terms of the scripts,” he says. “I really want to focus on the most challenging stories possible.”

Kira Kelly

Like many of the cinematographers profiled in this piece, Kira Kelly is comfortable in a variety of genres and styles, jumping back and forth between documentary and narrative features, as well as music videos and commercials. She recently garnered acclaim for Ava DuVernay’s 13th, a powerful documentary about mass incarceration. “I’m beyond proud of that movie,” she says, noting that she shared cinematography duties on the project with Hans Charles.

Kelly worked as a gaffer in New York City after discovering her passion for the camera department in film school. “In high school I loved movies, but I couldn’t have told you the difference between a director and a producer,” she recalls. “I went to college at Northwestern University, just north of Chicago, and as a freshman you basically just work on older students’ projects. I worked in a number of areas, and on one project I ended up in the electrical department.” She adds with a laugh, “We worked on a rig that, in hindsight, probably wasn’t even all that great, but I got really excited about creating this rig that the audience doesn’t even see — they only see the effects it creates.”

After film school, Kelly worked her way up in the electrical department on various sets, ultimately gaffing for director of photography Zeus Morand. “I learned a lot from him about lighting and what it takes to be a good gaffer, and that ended up influencing a lot of my shooting work,” she recalls.

When director Tom Gustafson gave Kelly her first major opportunity as a cinematographer on his feature Were the World Mine, she realized that she had a choice to make. “I started getting calls,” she says, “and I would have to ask, ‘Are you calling me to gaff or are you calling me to shoot?’ I ultimately decided to just stop gaffing altogether and focus on working as a director of photography.”

Since then, Kelly has built up a wide-ranging résumé that includes not only searing documentaries like 13th, but YouTube Red’s comedy series Sing It! and Hulu’s East Los High. Though she loves all of it, she finds documentary filmmaking particularly rewarding and notes that it informs her fiction work. “I think my documentary work makes me a better director of photography for narrative projects,” she explains. “On a show like East Los High, I have more than enough support — there are trucks with almost every kind of light I could need. Sometimes on a documentary, it’s just you, or you and a 1st AC and maybe a gaffer if you’re lucky, and you’re often going into locations you haven’t scouted before. That pared-down approach makes me a more instinctive cinematographer, and it prepares me to walk on a narrative set and really make the most of whatever time and resources I have.”

Kuba Kijowski, PSC

As a teenager growing up in Warsaw, Poland, Jakub “Kuba” Kijowski, PSC struggled in school due to his dyslexia. “I found writing to be a real problem,” he says. Luckily, some of his teachers discovered that he had a passion for visual storytelling and encouraged his interest in photography. “We were still in the analog era, so I spent my days in a darkroom that I had set up in my bedroom,” he recalls.

His interest in visual arts led him to enroll at the prestigious Lodz Film School, where he studied under cinematographers Witold Sobocinski, PSC and Jerzy Wójcik, PSC; the former received the ASC’s International Award in 2002. They and director of photography Jolanta Dylewska, PSC taught him that “the job is not about technical tricks but about telling a story,” Kijowski says. Dylewska brought Kijowski fully into the fold when she took him on as a camera operator for Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness. “We worked in Germany and in Poland with an international crew and cast,” he recalls of the massive production. “It was a great experience working with a big crew on an original, creative film.”

After In Darkness, Kijowski quickly rose to prominence as a cinematographer in Poland, receiving a Camerimage nomination in 2013 for the minimalistic psychological drama Floating Skyscrapers. “We were searching for visual expression that would underline the loneliness of the two main characters,” he says.

His next feature, The Lure, was a “fairytale for adults” that won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Unique Vision and Design at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. “The story takes place in Warsaw in the Eighties and involves two young mermaids who appear innocent but are in fact bloodthirsty beasts,” Kijowski explains. “I aimed at presenting this duality of innocence and brutality, beauty and repugnance, obviousness and mystery by merging opposing aesthetics. I wanted to link the colorful, fairytale world of a dance club with the vicious naturalism of sordid interiors.” Kijowski plans to reunite with The Lure director Agnieszka Smoczynska on her new film, about a woman with memory loss who is reunited with her family — “a psychological drama that we want to film like a horror story,” according to Kijowski.

Kijowski finds inspiration in the content of his films, looking for the precise visual corollary to the emotions and story. “I believe that finding an aesthetically appropriate visual form for a story contributes to its success,” he explains. “Then once you start telling the story, you move to a higher level. You become an author.”

 

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