May 3, 2023

Comedian and director W. Kamau Bell on the new HBO documentary, 1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed

Comedian and director W. Kamau Bell has been a fan of documentaries as much as a fan of comedy. As a kid, he would sit down with his mom and watch documentaries on PBS, since there were only a few broadcast TV channels when he was growing up. He came of age at a time when lots of documentary filmmakers were putting themselves on screen and telling personal stories. For Kamau, it’s always about looking at the material and the story you want to tell.  As a comedian, he’s skilled at bringing humor into more serious subjects. But there is a clear difference between something personal that happened to him that he can joke about in his standup act vs. something with more nuance and depth that can be explored as a longer-form project.

1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed is very personal to Kamau, since his children are mixed race. He wanted to talk to his three daughters about their identity and experiences, something they discussed often in their household. He also included interviews with his wife, mother and mother in law. The production team cast several other kids in the San Francisco Bay Area, including friends of his daughters, to expand the focus of the documentary further. The intention was to keep it lyrical and light, and temper any intense or heavy topics with humor when possible. On set, Kamau made sure the kids were as comfortable as possible and that the cameras were always framed at their level so they could look him straight in the eye. The set was a rented house that they intentionally decorated to feel homey and welcoming, and Kamau made the children feel at ease by showing them the cameras and equipment first. The parents interviewed in the documentary found that the project led to them having deeper conversations about their racial identities with other family members. HBO and the producers decided to keep the edited time of 1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed down to just one hour, so that families could sit and watch it together.

Kamau thinks 1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed is just the beginning of what could become a bigger project. He would love other directors to talk to kids in different parts of the country, because there’s lots of kids out there with different experiences than those in the very liberal and diverse Bay Area.

1000% Me: Growing Up Mixed is currently available on HBOMax.

Find W. Kamau Bell: http://www.wkamaubell.com/
Instagram & Twitter: @wkamaubell

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Greentree Creative: www.growwithgreentree.com

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

February 22, 2023

Oscar-nominated documentary All That Breathes cinematographers Ben Bernhard and Riju Das

All That Breathes follows the story of two brothers in New Delhi, India who run a home-based bird sanctuary dedicated to caring for black kites. Black kites are a common bird of prey in the city and have adapted well to living alongside humans. But as the pollution and toxic garbage in New Delhi increases, the kites, as well as other birds, fall ill from smog and other hazards in the urban environment. Muslim brothers Saud and Nadeem, along with their friend Salik, found a passion for caring for birds as kids and it seems like a thankless job as they apply for funding to expand their work.

Director Shaunak Sen worked with cinematographers Ben Bernhard and Riju Das to simply follow and capture the brother’s day-to-day life, and emphasize the interconnectedness of all things within a busy urban place like New Delhi. DP Ben Bernhard wanted to show the coexistence of all the animals in the city and create a perspective for the audience to see things down at their level. In fact, All That Breathes opens on a nest of rats living in a traffic circle in the city, right at a rat’s-eye view. Cows, pigs, and monkeys also live alongside the people, just like the kites, and adapt to their surroundings. Cinematographer Riju Das recalls carefully getting closeups of ants and a bottle full of mosquito larvae. The whole team was rigorous and meditative about taking the time to capture the beauty of urban wildlife in the city, and they would pick up the camera to shoot any animals where they found them. They utilized long, slow pans, a narrow depth of field and extreme close-ups of animals throughout.

All That Breathes is currently available on HBOMax and is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Find cinematographer Ben Bernhard: Instagram @ben_bernhard
Find cinematographer Riju Das: Instagram @eyeris_4

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Aputure: https://www.aputure.com/

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz