The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents January 2009 Return to Table of Contents
Revolutionary Road
Benjamin Button
Jack Green, ASC
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Gabriel Beristain
Gabriel Beristain, ASC

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
My first pet, a tomcat, was called Lucifer, so I guess Cinderella (1950) made a big impression on me. As for live action, I loved The Red Balloon (1956) and, later, Battleship Potemkin (1925) and Cabaret (1972).

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?

Luis Cuadrado; Gregg Toland, ASC; Freddie Young, BSC; Chivo Lubezki, ASC, AMC; and Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC, to mention just a few.

What sparked your interest in photography?

Politics. Although I was familiar with filmmaking through my mum’s acting career, I wasn’t interested in it as a child; I was more impressed by my parents’ love for the stage. But when the time came to express myself, the only satisfaction I could find was in documenting the events, the passion and energy that came during the late ’60s, which were crucial in my life. My weapon: an Ikarex with Zeiss lenses.    

Where did you train and/or study?

Centro de Capacitacin Cinematogràfica in Mexico and The National Film and Television School in the United Kingdom.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
For cinematography, Alexis Grivas in Mexico and Brian Probyn and Billy Williams, BSC, in the U.K. For directing, Antxon Ezeiza in Mexico and Karel Reisz and Sandy Mackendrick in the U.K.

What are some of your key artistic influences?
Caravaggio, Turner, Constable, Eisenstein, Visconti, Modotti, Cunningham, Irving Penn, Mahler, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Whitman, Garcia Mrquez, Plcido Domingo, and Mexico — the whole country is one of the most spectacular canvases I have ever experienced.  

How did you get your first break in the business?
I interviewed for a film called Christmas Present (1985) at the newly created Channel 4 in the U.K., and at the time, my only credits were my film-school background and an unseen Colombian feature. Writer/director Tony Bicat and producer Barry Hanson interviewed me, saw my material and offered me the job — no recommendations, no contacts, no friends in the right places, no special favors. Good ol’ Britain was very good to me!  

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
During the filming of Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio (1986), we were at a cold warehouse in the Isle of Dogs, East London, and we were lit for the painter’s beautiful Maria Magdalene. Tilda Swinton came in, sat down, and assumed the position of the model in the painting. We started rolling, and Tilda was still for an impossible time — the effect was perfect. Suddenly, she turned her head gently and said, ‘Can I have a cig?’ Derek and I cried, and costume designer Sandy Powell and camera assistant John Mathieson (future BSC) embraced, for we were in front of a film miracle. We had given life to a Caravaggio painting.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
In Sligo, Ireland, my gaffer and great friend Louis Conroy and I were lighting a gigantic set in a manor house. Our director, Christopher Morahan, strode in in military fashion and very curtly said, ‘We are shooting in the other direction. You know that, don’t you?’ I was speechless, but Lou said, ‘What do you expect, Chris, when you have an Irish gaffer and a Mexican cameraman?’ I think Morahan laughed.  

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Kate Nelligan, a superb actor, once told me that if I could light women beautifully, I would not only help many careers, but I would also definitely help mine.  

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
Brian Friel’s plays, in particular The Faith Healer; The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafn; the exquisite literary trilogy by Jasper Fforde about the character Thursday Next; the recent Graciela Iturbide exhibition at the Getty Museum and Wilfredo Lam exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art; Henner Hofmann ASC, AMC’s passion for teaching; La Vie En Rose (2007); Mongol (2008); and the last season of the Los Angeles Opera.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
My favorite genre is the musical. My dream is to do an epic period film based on history or on a great novel.

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
A practitioner of alternative medicine, a hotelier, a teacher or a politician.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
Guillermo Navarro, Steve Bernstein and Robert Stevens. My acceptance process went really smoothly and the committee was kind, complimentary and welcoming. It was a sharp contrast to the battle Walter Lassally, BSC fought on my behalf 10 years earlier at the BSC.

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
My life and career have had many chapters. When I was invited to become a member of the ASC, I turned the first page of a new life, my life in America, surely the most interesting and promising one. Here, I have started everything again; my children, Max and Victoria, are very young, my career is relatively new, and being an ASC member is like walking on the shoulders of giants.


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