Nominees for achievement in cinematography

Stefan Ivanov – A Problem with Fear

Director of photography Stefan Ivanov has come a long way since starting his career in his native Bulgaria, and has earned his first Genie nomination for his work on A Problem with Fear.

A seasoned filmmaker for 20 years, Ivanov has lensed miniseries, MOWs, features and TV series in Europe and Canada.

In France, Ivanov worked with director Raoul Ruiz on the feature Genealogies of a Crime, which would go on to win the Silver Bear at the 1997 Berlin Film Festival. The DOP has called Montreal home for the past eight years, lensing features including Full Blast (2000), Druids (2001) and Marion Bridge (2002), which is up for three Genies.

Calgary director Gary Burns’ A Problem with Fear tells the story of a man who believes his fears are responsible for other people’s deaths when they become victims of downtown conveniences including elevators, escalators and revolving doors.

‘The film is a somewhat unrealistic drama and we tried to achieve a look that was not personalized, but more alienated,’ explains Ivanov. ‘The cities are anonymous, the look is cold and the characters appear like they’re coming from nowhere, almost like ghosts.’

Allen Smith – La Grande Seduction

Allen Smith remembers the arduous journey to the tiny fishing village of Harrington Harbour in northern Quebec, near the Labrador border, to shoot the small-town comedy La Grande seduction.

‘The logistics of getting crew and equipment there were quite difficult, because we had to fly to a village called Chevre and then take a 45-minute boat ride,’ the Montreal DOP told Playback in an earlier interview.

The film was a classic case of the script dictating the look.

‘We went for a very naturalistic sort of feel, and wanted the beginning of Seduction to be extremely depressing in its look, because the villagers are all on welfare,’ explains the lenser.

That initial cold style was achieved through shooting with filters. In these scenes, Seduction is lit like a drama, with more contrast and a low-light feel.

A shooter for more than 30 years, Smith’s credits include docs, series, features, MOWs and shorts. He has also served as operator or second unit camera on Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, Seven Years in Tibet and Enemy at the Gates.

Smith earlier won the Prix Jutra for Seduction, a Max Films production distributed by Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm and Odeon Films.

Jean-Pierre St-Louis – Gaz Bar Blues

After lensing Louis Belanger’s debut feature Post Mortem (1999), Jean-Pierre St-Louis found himself on board for the comedy-drama Gaz Bar Blues, the director’s sophomore pic.

The film follows the trials and tribulations of a small-town Quebec gas station owner (Serge Theriault) who, while competing for survival with a self-service shop across the street, must also battle the onset of Parkinson’s disease and strained family relations.

The Montreal-based St-Louis says his aim on the film was for realism. One of the challenges the crew faced was filming most scenes in a small space (at the titular Gaz Bar) with so many characters present.

‘We did a lot of [rehearsals] in that room,’ he explains. ‘Those repetitions were filmed on video with an instinctive documentary approach that very much inspired the way we actually shot the film.’

When principal photography rolled around, he adds, ‘we approached those scenes by shooting hand-held, which gave the film a very realistic and somewhat nervous look.’

St-Louis began doing television and documentary work in the mid-1970s. His recent credits include the French-language features 20h17 Rue Darling and Le Neg and television series Deux Freres and La Vie, la vie. Gaz Bar Blues is a production of Coop Video de Montreal, Les Productions 23 and Film Tonic, released in Quebec through AAV and in English Canada by Odeon.

Francois Dutil – Saved by the Belles

The least known among this year’s nominees, Montreal lenser Francois Dutil collaborated with first-time feature director Ziad Touma on Saved by the Belles. In the urban drama, two Montreal clubbers rescue a young man found unconscious on the street and pledge to help him recover his lost memory, in the process providing a whirlwind tour of the city’s nightlife.

The flick, produced by Couzin Films and distributed by Cinema Libre, is shot in popular Montreal nightspots in the Gay Village, on St-Laurent Boulevard and on Crescent Street.

Dutil says the filmmakers wanted to illustrate Montreal’s nightlife through lighting, camera movement and colors. ‘I wanted to give a wilder and different look to the characters,’ he says. The resulting film feels real within the artifice of the club scene.

Dutil says his biggest challenge was to shoot in DVCAM PAL and transfer to 35mm without losing the quality of the image. ‘For a first movie experience of this type, I think we succeeded in creating a different look for this kind of transfer,’ he says.

Dutil was a camera-reporter for MusiquePlus for eight years before moving on to commercials and TV shows. He shot Patrick Demers’ Discharge (1999), which won for best Canadian short film at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Greg Middleton – Falling Angels

Vancouver lenser Greg Middleton describes the visual style of the family drama Falling Angels as ‘a faded echo of 1969, with a hint of the strange yet beautiful.’

The film, coproduced by Triptych Media, Minds Eye Entertainment and Boneyard Films and directed by Scott Smith, is based on a Barbara Gowdy novel about a family of three teenaged sisters and their neglectful parents. It stars Miranda Richardson and Callum Keith Rennie.

Middleton says the filmmakers tried to imitate the look and feel of Gowdy’s own family photos from the 1960s era.

‘We combined realism with a slightly bent reality to emphasize certain psychological aspects of the story,’ he explains.

Middleton says a short 23-day shooting schedule in Saskatchewan, and one day in Niagara Falls, presented some challenges.

‘Aside from the winter weather in Niagara Falls, we were confounded a few times by the Canadian Forces Snowbirds practising overhead while filming in Moosejaw,’ he recalls.

Middleton has yet to win a Genie, but has been nominated five times before, for the features The Five Senses, Between Strangers, The Falling and Kissed and for the short Stroke.

Falling Angels made its debut at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival and was subsequently released by Seville Pictures.

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