Ellen Kuras: Cinematographer Extrordinaire

Viewing the statistics for women working in the film business makes for rather depressing reading.

women in hollywood
2014 infographic from http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu

There are understandably lots of think pieces about the lack of women in the industry, so rather than add to those voices, I want to focus and celebrate the women that are there, creating incredible work in-front of, and behind, the camera, and calling the shots in this male-dominated industry. I want to shed some light on these inspirational women and also, educate myself along the way.

I’m going to the world of cinematography to kick things off with the amazing Ellen Kuras.

ellen-kuras-1
Picture from winnepegfilmgroup.com

Kuras is perhaps most well known for her work with directors Michel Gondry and Spike Lee, but she has also been Oscar-nominated for her own work – her 2009 directorial debut, documentary Betrayal.

Starting out as a camera assistant in the late eighties, she worked her way up to her first role as cinematographer for a short documentary titled, Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia in, in 1990, before moving on to higher profile features and documentaries, including BlowAnalyze That, Coffee and Cigarettes, and Away We Go.

As I mentioned earlier, Kuras has worked with some high profile directors over a period of films. With Spike Lee she worked on He Got GameSummer of Sam, and Bamboozled, emphasising Lee’s message with stunning photography. Take a look at the opening to He Got Game as a prime example – a series of shots of kids playing basketball across America, lit beautifully, and making good use of the magic hour to reflect the idealised dream that many associate with playing basketball.

In her work with Gondry in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, she evoked the bittersweet, ethereal feeling of travelling back through one’s own nostalgic memories; some lit soft and dream-like, whilst others, like this scene below, lit in a harsh light, echoing the protagonist’s clarity of thought, whilst still appearing otherworldly.

Kuras isn’t remarkable because she is a female cinematographer, she is remarkable because she is one of the world’s best. An opinion that is supported by her multiple awards including a Primetime Emmy for her directorial debut The Betrayal, and an unprecedented three-time winner of the Best Dramatic Cinematography award at Sundance for Swoon, Angela, and Personal Velocity.

If this has peaked your interest in this amazing woman, I highly recommend this fascinating video, Filmmakers in Conversation: Ellen Kuras, where she discusses her career thus far. It is a little long at one hour and forty minutes, but it really is worth it.

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