Resistance Isn't Futile

Letter From America / Stephen Lighthill ASC

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Resistance Isn't Futile

Letter From America / Stephen Lighthill ASC

Stephen Lighthill ASC, senior filmmaker-in-residence/cinematography, at the AFI Conservatory/American Film Institute, reports on recent events in the Hollywood cinematographic community.

Talk about heavy seas; one could sit in front of the flatscreen watching the news literally 24/7 these days with the shenanigans of the Trump “administration” ever unfolding. Affording us all a constant civics lesson in reverse.

This year – a still young one – seems to be the year of the push-back. Democrats – including a record number of women – took their seats in the US House Of Representatives. Teachers are striking in several major cities – while LA just settled with its teachers. Cities are pushing back against Uber Scooters. Athletes are pushing back against club owners on a number of issues, and musicians, reacting to the same owners, refused to perform at the Super Bowl. And cinematographers are pushing back, too.

Wait. What?

Right. Cinematographers, and their allies, reacted strongly to the decision by The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to not show the cinematography Oscar award on-air during the televised ceremony this year. Suddenly, the Academy were faced, during the week of February 10th, with a snow ball – we had record snowfall on our mountains this year, ending fear of another drought – thrown first by ASC president Kees Van Oostrüm.

And that ball, got bigger each day, pushed along by many, particularly by Kees, the ASC, cinematographers such as Mandy Walker ACS ASC (Hidden Figures), Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki AMC ASC, among others – followed by a few hundred others, including actors, directors, cinematographers, editors, etc.. It culminated in a meeting at the ASC Clubhouse on Valentine’s Day with several cinematographers and top Academy brass.

This involved the Academy’s chief executive, Dawn Hudson, its president, John Bailey, and a handful of prominent members of the cinematography community – Kees, Chivo, Hoyte van Hoytema FNF NSC ASC (Dunkirk), and Rachel Morrison ASC (Black Panther).

"Are the Oscars telecasts to honor achievement, or to provide entertainment to a mass audience?

There has always been a tension – not always happily resolved – between art and commerce, if you will, and this year we’ll see if those running the show can resolve those warring issues."

- Stephen Lighthill ASC

After the meeting, an official statement from the Academy’s leadership said, “The Academy has heard the feedback from its membership regarding the Oscar presentation of four awards — Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling. All Academy Awards will be presented without edits, in our traditional format. We look forward to Oscar Sunday, February 24th.”

Kees’ statement after the meeting read: “The Academy has returned to its roots. If you look to its mission statement, it’s exactly this. The mission statement has nothing to do with entertaining the people – it has all to do with honoring the creative arts of the people that make movies. And I’m thrilled that it’s back to that.”

 Which isolates the main issue: are the Oscars telecasts to honor achievement, or to provide entertainment to a mass audience? There has always been a tension – not always happily resolved – between art and commerce, if you will, and this year we’ll see if those running the show can resolve those warring issues.

The first weekend of February, on Super Bowl Sunday, we hosted the Camerimage Winners Show at the American Film Institute (AFI). This year we initiated interviews with the filmmakers after screenings of their films. Lively conversations were held by us with the filmmakers of Cold War (DP, Łukasz Żal), Horse Riders (DP, Tomasz Wolski) and Nina (DP, Tomasz Naumiuk), all category-winning Polish films from the feature, short film and Polish Films categories. The AFI, ASC and Camerimage also hosted Dan Sasaki VP from Panavision on the Emotional Characteristics Of Lenses. This is an always evolving presentation, which we have heard before and always come away with new insights. Dan filled the AFI Theatre, despite driving rain outside, on Super Bowl Sunday. Sorry, I said that.

We asked for the presentation during the Camerimage Winners’ Show as lenses are a hot topic. Interest is being driven by the introduction of large format sensor cameras and the constant rehousing of old glass, glass from the stills world, etc.

I would be remiss – actually probably drawn and quartered – if I did not mention this year is the ASC’s 100th anniversary. We had a lovely little party, on January 9th, the actual day the state charter was originally issued in 1919. Folks being casual with their RSVPs meant it was standing room only at the ASC Clubhouse, as it should be. Spontaneous speeches all addressed the “bad old days” of the Clubhouse. The monochromaticness of it… and in the same breath, celebrated the “new” ASC with many new, young female members.

On this anniversary, we all remarked on the threats to our profession (such as the Oscars), and also the resilience of those carrying on as filmmaking evolves.