As film-goers, film lovers, and film critics, we are all prone to idolising the directors who curated our favourite films and the actors and actresses who moulded our favourite characters. These people undeniably deserve our praise, but this has also meant that we’ve forgotten other immense talents working behind the cinema screen.
Our cinematographers, costume designers, composers, and many more are less valued by the average film watcher. For our Reclaim the Night issue, we, at the film section, wanted to place emphasis on the women behind the scenes, the ones you may have not heard of, but is certain that you have been struck by their work. Our writers bring you their favourites, along with the films which have left imprints in their minds.
Ellen Kuras – Sophie Hicks
Ellen Kuras is a prime example of a successful female cinematographer whose work you’ve almost definitely seen, but didn’t know the name behind the camera.
Most famously known as the cinematographer of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Betrayal (2008). Although she largely works on films and documentaries, she has also directed a few episodes of The Umbrella Academy and Ozark.
Kuras’ craft is really impressive, and it’s refreshing to see a female cinematographer being taken seriously, having won three awards at the Sundance Film Festival and a Primetime Emmy. She credits her work as a writer and cinematographer for The Betrayal as the reason why she started and continued filmmaking, as no one else could capture the essence of her ideas as well as herself. It’s inspiring to see someone so passionate about a project going out of their way to master the art of cinematography, and to continue doing it so well for the span of her career thus far.
Another fun fact about Kuras is that she filmed Eternal Sunshine entirely handheld. This was to convey the shaking demise of Joel’s (Jim Carrey) mental state, whilst keeping the film grounded. Honestly, I’m still amazed at how steady her hand must be as a standard camera dolly was never used for the film. She’s currently directing Lee which is set to star Kate Winslet and Jude Law, revolving around Elizabeth ‘Lee’ Miller who became a war correspondent for Vogue magazine, and I can’t wait to see what Kuras does with it.
Claire Mathon – Michal Wasilewski
Claire Mathon is without a doubt one of the most talented and interesting cinematographers to have come into international spotlight in recent years. This was largely thanks to her work on two films that premiered at Cannes in 2019, both of which went on to win some of the festival’s main prizes – Mati Diop’s Atlantics and Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of the Lady on Fire. Both of these films have an impressive and outstanding visual style, yet they’re both distinctively different from each other, highlighting how Mathon excels at more than one approach to cinematography.
Atlantics is a Senegalese supernatural love story dealing with the topics of emigration, capitalist exploitation, arranged marriages, and the fate of young people in modern-day Africa. With a lot of its scenes shot at night, Mathon’s work enables the film to carry the oneiric, unsettling atmosphere through visuals. I would argue that some of the film’s sequences, such as a late-night disco, filled with neon lights shining on the distressed characters’ faces, are the defining scenes of modern African cinema; and they would be nowhere as great had Mathon not been involved.
Her more widely recognised work from that year, however, was Portrait of the Lady on Fire, for which she won the Cesar Award (the French equivalent to the Oscar). Being one of the cinephile community’s most beloved films of recent years, this period lesbian love story needs no introduction. In order to get inspiration for shooting the film, Mathon visited Parisian art museums and developed the film’s look to be faithful to the artistic spirit of the 18th century. The whole film has a painterly touch, something crucially important for this kind of story.
Claire Mathon’s latest work in Pablo Larrain’s Spencer is yet again extraordinary. Although I do not think Spencer is a good film overall, largely due to its ridiculous screenplay, the cinematography is easily amongst the best of the year. Featuring a cold colour palette setting the atmosphere of isolation and discomfort, the cinematography captures the film’s tone perfectly. Mathon wonderfully uses symmetry and wide shots, making an otherwise insufferable film a pleasure to look at.
With all three of these outstanding pieces of works having been released within only three years, there is no denying that Mathon’s career has been accelerating. Now we are to eagerly await what she does next.
Natasha Braier – Jemma Ellwood
Natasha Braier was born in Argentina, now living in Los Angeles. Braier is a cinematographer who has established herself as a truly unique and skilled artist with a recognisable style in an industry so heavily dominated by men. Her career ranges from work on feature films and shorts, to commercials and music videos for big names like FKA Twigs, The Weeknd, and Rihanna. Most recently she worked as DP for 2019’s Honey Boy, directed by Alma Har’el.
Braier’s philosophy centres around creating emotion and feeling, sometimes at the compromise of a clear narrative style. She tends to work with directors that favour more experimental modes of filmmaking to create visually stimulating and beautiful cinematic experiences. Over time, Braier has developed multiple processes to fulfil this approach, using unconventional framing and expressive lighting, opposing the classic high-exposure, traditional methods.
She often finalises creative decisions during filming by using techniques that cannot be undone in post-production, placing effects filters in front of the lens, and flaring it with light. Her dedication towards using manual techniques rather than editing everything after the shot is a truly inspiring and exciting process of filmmaking.
Her most notable and recognisable work is perhaps the Nicolas Winding Refn film The Neon Demon (2016), which won her the Robert Award for Best Cinematography. Whilst I ultimately wasn’t sold on the narrative of the film, Braier’s artistic visions worked perfectly with Refn’s love for saturated and neon colour palettes, creating a visual masterpiece.
Personally, I love her work on the 2018 Sebastián Lelio film Gloria Bell, in which she used similar techniques to her work on The Neon Demon but in more subtle ways, using lowkey, coloured flares to create moods in an unpretentious way. Natasha Braier is an inspiring woman with an admirable career, which continues to grow. Her next endeavour will be on She Said (2022), the up-and-coming film about the NYT journalists that exposed the abuse and sexual misdemeanours of Harvey Weinstein.
Mica Levi – Dan Collins
Mica Levi is a composer and musician who has, in the past decade, shown themselves to be one of the most interesting and experimental people working in film music. Their first major feature score was for 2013’s Under The Skin, a mix of dreamy synth and alarming electronic creations that reconfigured the sound of the ‘alien’.
More recently, they have come out as non-binary and worked with big arthouse directors such as Pablo Larraín on Jackie – in many ways a spiritual precursor to the recently award-nominated Spencer – and Steve McQueen on his Small Axe series of films. The latter is a particularly astounding achievement in showcasing Levi’s wide range of musical tones whilst always underlining the themes of injustice that are so prevalent in McQueen’s work.
One need not look any further than the impassioned and unrelenting percussion in their score for Mangrove as a prime example of this. However, the score that probably stands out most is Levi’s haunting yet deeply evocative composition for Monos, a film that follows a group of youth soldiers taking care of a hostage on a remote Latin American mountaintop.
The music combines repeated upbeat synths that suggest youthful coming of age with eerie, shrilling sounds of voices and whistles to convey the bizarre, disjunctive situation that these kids find themselves in. It is a score that in some ways outshines the film itself but nonetheless highlights the power of Levi’s ability to create fascinating soundscapes. They are certainly one to look out for and their latest film Zola, which is being marketed as the first film to be based on a viral twitter thread, is out now on VOD.