March 6, 2024

Jenelle Riley, Variety’s Deputy Awards and Features Editor, discusses the 2024 Academy Awards nominations

Long-time friend and colleague Jenelle Riley of Variety magazine chats with Ben and Illya for our fifth annual Oscar nominations special. With a focus on cinematography, they discuss what they liked, what will win, what should win, and their favorite movies of the year that may have been overlooked. They also talk about the past year in movies, Oscar campaigning and the accusations of film “snubs.”

Here’s a rundown of some of the films and topics discussed in this episode. Listen to our recent interviews with the nominated DPs as well as other films of note!

Spike Lee, who won an ASC Board of Governors award
Hoyte Van Hoytema, Oppenheimer, who also won an ASC award for theatrical feature film
Ed Lachman, El Conde
Matty Libatique, Maestro
Robbie Ryan, Poor Things
Rodrigo Prieto, Martin Scorsese Killers of the Flower Moon
Barbie, Ryan Gosling
Nyad, Anette Bening
The Holdovers (DP Eigil Bryld) , Alexander Payne, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
Past Lives (DP Shabier Kirchner), Greta Lee
American Fiction (DP Cristina Dunlap)
Saltburn (DP Linus Sandgren)
The Killer (DP Eric Messerschmidt)

Find Jenelle Riley on Instagram and X: @jenelleriley
and Variety:

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Twitter: @ShortEndz

February 26, 2024

Bonus Episode: To Kill a Tiger director Nisha Pahuja and editor Mike Munn

In this bonus episode of The Cinematography Podcast, we interview director Nisha Pahuja and editor Mike Munn about the documentary To Kill a Tiger. The film is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

**A warning that this episode discusses sexual assault and violence, so please take care.**

To Kill a Tiger is the story of Ranjit, a farmer in Jharkhand, India whose 13 year old daughter is raped by three men from her village. Ranjit is determined to get justice for his daughter through the legal system. In India, men rarely stand up for their daughters and conviction rates for rape are less than 30 percent. It’s common practice in the village for a girl to be married off to her abuser instead. Rangit and his family faced down threats of violence and ostracism by the townspeople.

Director Nisha Pahuja was originally making a documentary studying Indian masculinity when she met Ranjit and his daughter. She followed their story for about 18 months, thinking they would only be one part of the story. Only in the editing process did the story start to take shape. It became clear that Ranjit and his daughter Kiran were the strongest characters. Nisha admired Ranjit’s courage and love for his daughter. “I just think Ranjit is the kind of person who has this idea of doing the right thing inside of him. He’s just a very ethical, thoughtful person.” Because Kiran was only 13 at the time, Nisha had to be careful about revealing her identity. By the time the film was finished, Kiran was 18, and gave permission to show her face. Nisha says, “She said it was because she couldn’t believe how courageous she was when she was watching herself, she couldn’t believe her own courage and her own bravery. And she wanted to celebrate that.”

Nisha’s husband Mrinal Desai was the primary cinematographer on To Kill a Tiger, and they lived together in India while making the documentary. Nisha finds that he has a very quiet and gentle way with the people they film. She, Mrinal and their sound recordist Anita Kushwaha have worked together for a long time and are able to create an atmosphere of intimacy and trust.

Editor Mike Munn spent about 8 months working on the film before he decided that they had to distill it down to the best story. “We were wrestling a lot because we had, in fact, two different films. So Ranjit’s story was so specific and so well drawn out that it needed its own place. So, we jettisoned all of that work that we’d done.” Mike started expanding Ranjit’s story and discovered that this version of the film has a clear narrative arc with interesting characters. Fortunately, the raw footage came back from India with a basic transcription and subtitles that could be polished during the edit with the help of a translator. Mike says, “My favorite part overall was working with the observational and verite nature of the film. It was so intimate and real and we’re all creating scenes out of real emotion. This was a film where the narrative was all happening within real scenes with the family. That was challenging, but rewarding in just the truthfulness of it.”

To Kill a Tiger is in select theaters.

Find Nisha Pahuja:
Instagram @nishappics

Find Mike Munn:

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February 20, 2024

Bonus Episode: Past Lives cinematographer Shabier Kirchner

In this bonus episode of The Cinematography Podcast, we interview Shabier Kirchner, the cinematographer of Past Lives. The film is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

Past Lives, written and directed by Celine Song, is about childhood sweethearts reconnecting as adults after many years. When cinematographer Shabier Kirchner, who is from Antigua, was sent the script, it immediately resonated with him. “Past Lives was not just a standalone amazing script, but I found myself in the material. A lot of what I was going through, being an immigrant to the US, being from the Caribbean, reconnecting with a friend, falling in love, all of that stuff was happening while I was reading the material and it just felt like it was written for me.”

Shabier and director Celine Song had an amazing first conversation, and he wasn’t aware that she’d never made a film before. Fortunately, they had an extensive amount of time to prep the movie, and they chose to shoot on Kodak 35mm film. The film takes place in New York and Korea, and they knew they had to shoot it out of order, starting with all of the New York scenes which take place later in the story. Shabier and Song also spent time discussing how to use the language of the film to express what the characters were experiencing. Past Lives tells a story about how relationships change over time. Shabier chose to translate this into deliberate pacing with long tracking shots, keeping the lighting natural and simple. In the film, natural elements tell the passage of time as well, through rain, clouds and the changing light. Even the characters Nora and Hae Sung tell a story about time in their movements. “We were speaking about the final scene in the film, and I asked Celine a question of what direction should they walk? In a very Celine fashion, she (said) ‘Well, they should walk right to left because that is into the past. And she should drop him off in the past and then walk from left to right back into the future and up the stairs.’ That very small and simple moment in our conversation led and informed the entire language of the film in terms of how we move the camera from left to right.”

Shabier broke out as a cinematographer a few years ago on director Steve McQueen’s five-part anthology series, Small Axe, winning a BAFTA for lighting and photography. The series tells both real and fictional stories about London’s West Indian community in the 1970’s and 80’s. McQueen chose to treat each episode as a series of small films, rather than a TV series. They would discuss and prep one, scout it, shoot it, break for a week, then begin prep for the next episode. Starting with Mangrove, the longest in the series, they shot in order as much as possible, with Lovers Rock next. Shabier says it was a nice release for the crew’s pent-up emotions on Mangrove, which dealt with anti-police protests and then the trial of nine Black men accused of starting a riot. They knew they could put joy and energy into Lovers Rock, a much simpler story about a house party, love and music. Shabier thinks McQueen structured the shoots for Small Axe in a way that was very smart, creating a serious mood when they needed to be serious, and lightening the mood as needed.

Past Lives is still in some theaters and available on VOD.

The Small Axe series is on Amazon Prime.

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The Cinematography Podcast website:
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz