This Weekend: Ellen Kuras and Joshua Bonnetta’s American Colour
This weekend is once again packed with film events, as Winnipeg opens its mitten-clad and parka-wrapped arms to welcome two visiting filmmakers.
First up on Friday night is Joshua Bonnetta who will be showing his film American Colour and other works at 9:15PM at the Cinematheque. American Colour screened a while back as part of TIFF’s Wavelengths series, and is likely the last feature film ever to be shot on Kodak’s legendary and discontinued Kodachrome film stock. The film chronicles Bonnetta’s journey across the American Midwest from Kodachrome’s birthplace to Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas, the last lab to process Kodachrome film. Bonnetta will be attending the screening and no doubt doing a Q&A afterwards with the audience.
On Saturday and Sunday, Winnipeg will be welcoming esteemed cinematographer Ellen Kuras to Winnipeg. The Cinematheque will be showing three films on which she sat behind the lens: The Betrayal (which Kuras will introduce in person), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Blow. She will also be doing a master lecture on cinematography at The Rachel Brown Theatre, on the 2nd floor of the Crocus Buidling, 211 Bannatyne Ave. Kuras is one of only five females that are members of the American Society of Cinematographers, whose total membership is over 350. She has been cited as an influence by many, including the prolific Ben Kasulke who has been working at the side of Winnipeg’s Guy Maddin among many, many others. When Kasulke was recently named one of ten cinematographers to watch by Variety Magazine, he cited Kuras as a major influence.
“When I saw what she did on ‘Personal Velocity,’ it was very liberating. It was shot on the same gear and with the same means I was using, but it looked like a real movie. She has a very holistic idea of what a director of photography does. She works on very diverse projects, and she broke into the boys’ club. She is definitely a hero,” said Kasulke in this article.
Needless to say, Kuras is sure to have some interesting tips, tricks and stories for any with a passion in photography and/or cinematography. Below is more from Uptown Magazine and The Uniter on Ellen Kuras’ visit to Winnipeg.
For details about these screenings, please consult the Cinematheque calendar here!
Originally published by Uptown Magazine, 8/03/2012
Every shot tells a story
Famed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind cinematographer/documentarian Ellen Kuras will discuss the less visible-but-essential role of director of photography at her WFG master class
BY: KENTON SMITH
Talking with cinematographer and Oscar-nominated documentarian Ellen Kuras, one senses a satisfaction taken in being less “visible” in the films to her credit.
“People call my work as a cinematographer ‘eclectic,’” says Kuras, who’s in Winnipeg this Saturday to give a master class on cinematography through the Winnipeg Film Group.
She’ll also be introducing both her collaboration — as director of photography — with director Michel Gondry on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and her own Academy Award-nominated documentary, The Betrayal – Nerakhoon (2008), which she co-directed. (2001’s Blow, another of her cinematographer’s credits, will play Sunday night.)
“I also did a film with hometown boy Neil Young in 2006, Neil Young: Heart of Gold,” Kuras laughs. “That really should have been on the program, it would have been a propos.”
Kuras’ stamp, or lack thereof, is a function of her so closely serving the director’s needs. “I’m there to serve their vision, after all,” she says. Having also worked with such auteurs as Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch, she describes herself as the creative eyes, ears and mind of the director on set, and as a manager of the crew tasked with fulfilling that same function, which is why she prefers the term DOP.
Every film — indeed, every image — has proven to have its own story to tell.
“Every shot is a discrete visual metaphor,” Kuras explains. “The images aren’t merely illustrations of what’s happening, they help to tell the whole story and allow the audience to vicariously experience what’s happening.”
Each shot, she continues, has a beginning, a middle and an end — and should stand on its own before it’s part of the whole. The power of the finished film is cumulative, with one story upon another story upon another.
As far as stories go, The Betrayal was one for which Kuras did not work to capture someone else’s vision — rather, it proved to be one Kuras couldn’t personally let go. Beginning as a thesis film for her masters degree, it took over 20 years to complete.
“The challenge was, I was trying to tell the story of the memory of the place,” she says of the film, which follows the journey of her co-director, Thavisouk Phrasavath, and his family after they fled from Laos following the U.S. abandonment of its Laotian allies to that country’s subsequent communist regime.
“I couldn’t get into Laos, it was a closed country to non-believers in the party line,” Kuras continues. “So much U.S. government archival material was classified. And for decades, I didn’t have the Internet.”
For that matter, Kuras’s own career as a cinematographer kept her away from the project for years at a time — but when she finally was able to interview her subject’s mother and hear her own dramatic side of the story, she “knew she could finish the film.”
Nor will this be the last time Kuras intends to enter the “all-encompassing black hole” that is making a film, once again in the director’s chair.
“It becomes less daunting with experience,” she assures.
Tickets for Ellen Kuras’ cinematography master class at the Rachel Browne Theatre (211 Bannatyne Ave.) are $25 for both WFG members and non-members, $15 for students. For complete registration and showtime information, visit winnipegfilmgroup.com.
Filmmaker Ellen Kuras has worked on many renowned films as a cinematographer, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Blow. Hear her speak in Winnipeg on Saturday, March 10. by Supplied
Who are you in a room full of faces? A colour? A name? An ideal?
We grapple with “identity” – try to wear it around the neck or have it sewn into our clothing. But the truth is, we just can’t seem to get a firm grip on that fickle and fleeting notion of identity.
What changes when it is ripped from you by force?
“At what point does culture leave you?” Ellen Kuras rhapsodizes over the phone from New York.
Her 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) attempts to chart, and follow, the loss of identity associated with dislocation and war. The richly woven multi-strand narrative follows Thavisouk (Thavi), and his family, after their escape to America from the secret air war waged in Laos.
“I didn’t want to make cinema verité,” she says. “I wanted to reflect a world view.”
So what began as a university thesis project sputtered and gasped and grew a pulse of its own.
The film, shot over 23 years, was rife with obstacles.
Kuras is particularly concerned, as a filmmaker, with visual metaphor and the creation of meaning. In her project, she hoped to reconstruct memory and depict what it was like to be a Laotian living with memory in the United States.
“In order to create memory, I needed archival footage,” Kuras states.
This presented a challenge.
The American government would not admit to military involvement in Laos, and footage of the air bombing was considered classified material.
The Freedom of Information Act would later provide access, but “people don’t realize that access to the country itself became important.”
So, in an act of sheer ballsiness or insanity, she managed to sneak into the country and gain access to Laotian archival footage, only after a bit of bribery and a pretty dicey encounter with the CIA.
The troubles didn’t end there, though.
Kuras had a specific vision for The Betrayal, but was having difficulty interpreting this vision to the hired cinematographer – so she picked up the camera herself.
“It’s difficult to be one and the same; to have the long view (of the director) and the viewfinder.”
However, she credits this duality as the key to her career.
“All art is logical. Art may seem random, but it’s very logical.”
During the interim, Kuras kept busy. She has worked as director of photography on 35 movies over two decades, averaging out to two or three films a year.
Among her film credits are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Blow and Away We Go.
She has worked with acclaimed directors Spike Jonze, Martin Scorsese and Michel Gondry. Her career has been prolific and her presence has been felt.
“It was never about the paper for me,” she says about never completing her thesis. She, like all those driven by passion and hunger, is more concerned with “using a very specific situation (to get at) the universality of the message.”
Ellen Kuras will give an artist talk on Saturday, March 10 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at The Rachel Browne Theatre, 211 Bannatyne Ave. Tickets are $25 for both Film Group members and non-members, and $15 for students. The talk will be followed by a screening of The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) at Cinematheque at 7 p.m. andEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at 9:30 p.m., which Kuras will introduce. She will also introduce Ted Demme’s Blow on Sunday, March 11 at 7 p.m.