UnderWire Festival 2013: Looking Glass
As primary as visuals are to film as a medium, the role of the cinematographer is sometimes overlooked. Add to this the fact that there are far fewer female cinematographers than male ones, and it becomes clear that it’s vitally important to recognise and celebrate the work of female directors of photography – something that was clearly on the minds of Underwire’s programming panel when they scheduled this year’s Looking Glass event; a night dedicated to the very best in female cinematographers. Held in The Yard Theatre, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Although all of the films from the night’s programme were of a high standard, below we take a closer look at few of the shorts that really stood out.
Susanne Willett’s cinematography in Twitcher was one of the highlights of the evening, with its mossy tones capturing the bleak character of a stark rural landscape. An enigmatic story about a kind hearted stranger who shelters a young girl from external dangers inside a forest cabin, Willett interlaces a series of static wides with a handheld close ups, providing the perfect visual mix for a film that is wrapped up in its narrative yet simultaneously preoccupied with maintaining a sense of mystery. Steady medium shots capture Darren Kent’s vacant and hollow eyes as well as the tenderness of his character, and overall it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the imagery of this film, with special attention being paid to the forms of a cold winter woodland; the tangle of its branches bare, yet somehow vibrant and full of life. Having already been impressed with her work in Nida Manzoor’s feisty Arcade, it’s nice to see Willett turn her hand to a gentler kind of short, creating an elegant and understated visual track to compliment this beautiful and haunting story.
The Falls is a short documentary from duo Florence Creffield and Melissa Fielding about the impact that the Bujagali dam has had on the local Busoga population in Uganda. Set to a number of breath taking landscapes, we listen to faceless voices narrate the region’s story. But whilst we look upon serene images of shimmering water and quaint village shacks, the locals explain how their way of life has been upheaved – both in spiritual and economic terms. There’s a measured pace to this short, which aids the tranquillity of the cinematography, and combined with the voice-over narration, The Falls is reminiscent of Patrick Keiller’s Robinson trilogy. The middle eight of Adolescent’s song, Walk Free, Walk Fast also strikes a pensive tone, complimenting the film’s pale sheen and translucent colour scheme. But perhaps what is most striking of all is the juxtaposition between the film’s postcard visuals and the story of destruction and displacement that they tell of. All in all The Falls is an extremely well thought out short, and comes as an inspiring piece of cinema that bodes well for Creffield and Fielding as emerging talents.
Saving the best until last, the last film to mention is the winner of the Best Cinematographer Award; the ambitious and epic Jonah. Having already lent her skills to the Oscar nominated short animation Head Over Heels, it’s clear that cinematographer Chloë Thomson is adept at crafting a visual spectacular no matter what the medium – something especially true of Jonah which features a seamless blend of live action and CGI. A modern day parable about friendship, greed, global development and tourism, the film follows two friends who stumble across an unfathomably large fish. The discovery soon transforms their little seaside town into a bustling tourist hotspot, but as the film progresses we come to see that money and fame isn’t everything. The message of the film is so easily grasped that a more cynical audience might see it as a reiteration of the old rags-to-riches story, but this couldn’t be further from the truth as the film slips into a mesmerising second act which is far removed from a fairy tale conclusion.
Beyond narrative though, what really makes this short so engaging is the way in which its simple story is interwoven with Thomson’s spell binding imagery. The film opens with a fast paced melee of jump cuts, tracking shots, jobs, pans, and photographic stills that wouldn’t look out of place in City of God or any film by Danny Boyle. What’s more, all of this energy and flare is counterbalanced by some impressive visual effects in which the camera sweeps past buildings that grow and transform in real time, infusing Jonah with a naturalised kind of magic which blends perfectly with the film’s allegorical and mythical plot. In a perverse way, it’s actually these fantastical elements that make the film so believable: They act as a clever narrative device, allowing us to witness months and years of progress in a matter of seconds, but they’re also presented as spontaneous and natural phenomena, adding credibility to the film’s sublime combination of fantasy and reality. Visually stunning, Thomson’s accomplished work in Jonah makes her the well-deserved winner of Underwire’s 2013 Best Cinematographer Award.