Roger DEAKINS, BSC/ASC, THE LAUREATE OF THE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD “GOLDEN CAMERA 300”
THE LAUREATE OF THE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD “GOLDEN CAMERA 300” AT THE 39 INTERNATIONAL CINEMATOGRAPHERS’ FILM FESTIVAL IS THE ENGLISHMAN ROGER DEAKINS, BSC/ASC
Roger Deakins was born on 24 May, 1949, in the town of Torquay, Devon, England/the United Kingdom. He studied still photography at the Bath School of Art and had the idea to become a painter, but under the influence of the English photographer Roger Mayne, who was teaching there, he devoted himself to photography which remained his lasting love and he continued his education at the National Film School (1972-75), where he definitely opted for filmmaking as his future profession. In his first, post-graduation period he also came upon the films IN COLD BLOOD (1967) and FAT CITY (1972) by the cinematographer from the older generation, the triple Oscar-winner, Conrad Hall (1926-2003) that he says, had serious influence on his decision to devote himself to filmmaking. Back then Deakins also showed his basic love for documentaries by shooting: FARMER’S HUNT (1974, which he directed himself during his studies at the National Film School), then ZIMBABWE (1977, which he also directed himself and which was planned to be travelogue, but ended up being a documentary about the then civil war) and AROUND THE WORLD WITH RIDGEWAY (1979, which he spent an entire year filming, living on a yacht). Thus, the young Deakins, fostering this love from his student days, started to shape his creative and artistic character: “All I’ve ever wanted to do is take stills of people, or take documentaries about people…”; “…I like character films. I like photographing a human face. I find that more interesting than anything else, and that‘s what I will continue to do”. Consistently to this determination, he always advises young cinematographers to first start shooting documentaries, and only then proceed to shot feature films. Speaking about the documentary genre, Deakins, believes Frederic Wiseman to be the greatest modern documentary author (which is something I absolutely agree with), choosing his film HOSPITAL (1970) as an anthological one, while I myself would dare to add Wiseman’s last film EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY (2017) to this.
In his early, British phase, Deakins also shot TV films, most of them for Channel 4, as well as music videos.
Before I move on to the most significant films from his rich creative opus, I would like to briefly outline his professional characteristics which determine his style and expression. First and foremost, this his rare commitment to the duality of acting as both, camera operator and chief cinematographer, which is a complementarity typical of great filmmakers such as himself. He is also professionally tied to the same crew of permanent collaborators that he speaks the same language with, and who meet his aesthetic criteria, such as his loyal gaffer/lighting technician, Bill O’Leary that he has been working with since the first film they made together, the now already anthological SID AND NANCY (1986). Despite his, now already Oscar-winning reputation, among his colleagues he is known as the cinematographer who has never shot a film with anamorphic lenses, he is keen on working with spherical lenses for the visual appearance of his films, most often creating his imagery in camera, with Digital Intermediate (DI), without using light filters, thus changing the lighting, saturation and contrasts without depending on post-technological effects. It will be extremely interesting to hear about all these professional and technological means of expression, as well as creative processes at his master-class as a Laureate of the Golden Camera 300, in Bitola, at the “Manaki Brothers” Festival. Otherwise, another case in point to the greatness of the artist Roger Deakins is his openness to all of his fans and supporters, as well as cineastes, is his readiness to always answer a question addressed to him, or clarify a certain phenomenon at the web-site that he decided to launch together with his wife, on the occasion of the screening of his favourite film from the anthology of world films, the French ARMY OF SHADOWS (1969, by director Jean-Pierre Melville, where the cinematographer is our last year’s laureate, Pierre Lhomme), after which he was contacted by hundreds of students asking him for advice.
Deakins has two periods in his career as a cinematographer: the first, the British one — starting from the mid-1970 when he made films in British cinema, emphasizing that if it hadn’t been for his education at the National Film School as a turning point, he probably would have never become a filmmaker. Back then he made most of the films together with film director Michael Radford: ANOTHER TIME ANOTHER PLACE (1983), “1984” (the screen adaptation of the eponymous science fiction novel by George Orwell in the exact year of 1984) and WHITE MISCHIEF (1987), while in the meantime, in 1986, together with director Alex Cox and Gary Oldman in the title role of Sid Vicious, the front man of the punk band Sex Pistols, he made the cult film SID AND NANCY, and with director Mike Figgis he made the also famous STORMY MONDAY (1988); It was in the British period, after gaining the necessary experience by shooting documentaries and music videos as a professional training, I shall repeat once again, that Deakins shaped his particular style and expression, emphasizing the work of cinematographer Conrad L. Hall, who worked in the style of Italian neo-realism, as a crucial influence on his expression, comparing him with Godard’s cinematographer Raoul Coutard (who was also our Laureate of the Golden Camera 300 for Lifetime Achievement).
The second period is the American one, as quite significant in his career for both the Oscar nominations and the Academy Award which he was finally presented with (despite earning it a long time ago). It started in 1990, when together with director Bob Rafelson he made his first American film MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON, while in 1991 he shot Joel and Ethan Coen’s first film BARTON FINK (with John Turturro, the first from the multitude of actors that Deakins would paint in such an effective and permanently striking way, who through the main character of the deranged and frustratingly confused writer, hired by the Hollywood machinery, builds a visual Kafkaesque spiral), and proceeded to build a most fruitful collaboration with them, becoming their cinematographer partner and shooting all of their films which have in fact earned him most of the Academy Award nominations. Out of the 13 Oscar nominations which make him a world record-holder, 8 are for films made with different other directors, and a total of 5 are for films made together with the Coen brothers, which are the cherry on the top of his visual artistry, subtlety in the expression, superior cinema aesthetics and technical performances, dominantly focused on emphasizing the personality of the leading actors who push the action and drama forward and that these films are chiefly remembered for. However, it was with director Frank Darabont that he got the first Academy Award nomination in 1995 for the film THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (shot in 1994 which is the year when he also won the ASC Award for this excellent prison drama breathlessly painted through the two immaculate creations by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as prisoners; the camera used was Arriflex 35 BL 4S), then the film FARGO (directed by the Coen brothers, 1997, bringing him his second Oscar nomination for best cinematographer, with the unsurpassable Frances Mcdormand whose Oscar can partially be attributed to Deakins as well, for depicting her with effective concentration as she was building the character of the pregnant, patient police officer who completely casually solves the tragicomic, cold-blooded murders and altercations between the crazy criminals; the camera used was Arriflex 35 BL4). This film was followed by KUNDUN by director Martin Scorsese (AAN in 1998, a visually rich evocation of the time of the young Dalai Lama; Arriflex 535 B). He continued with a few more films by the Coen brothers, starting with OH, BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? (2001, AAN and the BSC Award for another prison comedy-drama about the escape of prisoners George Clooney and John Turturro, shot as an action drama about the hunting of the fugitives; here Deakins used the Arriflex 535B) and continuing with THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2002, that he should have won the first Oscar for, due to the craft shown in handling black and white photography, but in turn this film earned him the first of the 4 awards by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts — BAFTA on top of the ASC award. This is a psycho drama the plot of which revolves around the deranged mind of the barber played by Billy Bob Thornton, whose grey zones of a hidden criminal are masterfully nuanced by Deakins through the black and white chiaroscuro; Arriflex 535B), NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (earning him the BSC Award in 2008 and previously, in 2007, the BAFTA Award for this, even more strikingly directed and shot madman’s drama of violence and murder in the criminal world of drugs and money, contributing a large share to Javier Bardem’s Oscar with his meticulous execution of the actor’s specificity captured with the Arriflex 535B) followed by THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES… (AAN in 2008, directed by Andrew Dominik), THE READER by director Stephen Daldry (2009, a shared nomination with the other cinematographer in this film – Chris Menges, who was also our laureate of the Camera 300 for Lifetime Achievement), then TRUE GRIT (by the Coen brothers, AAN in 2010, plus a BAFTA award), then SKYFALL (2013, directed by Sam Mendes, AAN and the ASC Award for another rich and visually astoundingly depicted version of James Bond – 007 with the necessary arsenal of cameras: Arri Alexa M, Arri Alexa Plus, Arri Alexa Studio, Red Epic), UNBROKEN (directed by Angelina Jolie, written by the Coen brothers, AAN in 2015), and then the first — PRISONERS (AAN in 2014), and second film — SICARIO, in collaboration with the Canadian director and screenwriter Denis Villeneuve – that he was nominated for again in 2016; which was featured in our Festival’s Main Programme in 2015, and which was rightfully expected to earn Deakins the Oscar he had already deserved a long time ago). In his work with all the American directors, Deakins demonstrates his superb creative perfection, continuing and building on the initial priorities from his British stage to achieve wholeness in the visual expression, regardless of whether it is black and white or colour photography in question, complemented by the adequate production design providing the spirit of the film, and giving priority to the focus on the drama of the characters shaping the narration, through the prominent close-ups of the actors, thus emphasizing the essence of the film whereby the characters remain permanently engraved in our memory with their performances and acting. This is particularly prominent in all the films by the Coen brothers, whose dramaturgy and plot-structure are striking to a level of recognisability, the planned psycho-drama tension, seeking the bizarre through extorted, as if seen through broken glass, dramatic situations, at times bursting with Kafkaesque tensions, at times slightly mad, whereby Deakins with his visual palette or black and white grading, contributes to the dramatic thrill, the sensations and the way this is experienced on the big screen. However, evidently, it was with Canadian Denis Villeneuve that Deakins reached his creative peak, starting with the first film they made together – PRISONERS, and in particular with the last two: SICARIO and the Oscar-winning BLADE RUNNER 2049. In SICARIO (in which he, as usual, is both the cinematographer and camera operator, for which, after 13 nominations we rightfully expected that he would get the first Oscar) the topic of which are the battles between the bloodthirsty members of the Latin-American/Mexican cartels and the Mexican/American joint task force, led by Benicio Del Toro who is spurred by a personal desire for revenge and whose main target is the liquidation of the cartel “king” and his family, in a similar vein to the quest for the deranged/outcast general Kurtz from Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW, Deakins builds up the visual gradation and growing tension to the point of explosion, whereby one of the most astonishing scenes is the 10-minute longer sequence of the task force raiding the dangerous cartel, shot with a large number of cameras (ARRI ALEXA MINI, ARRI ALEXA XT), which paint a picture of an apocalyptical triumphal march of the task forces, followed by the altercations in a sequence, as small annexed battles, in the overall image of the ruthless war. The visual package by maestro Deakins builds this crescendo which stays remembered for its explosive nature and dramatic uncertainty. In the Oscar-winning BLADE RUNNER 2049, aiming at the double effect of being a sequel to the first prototype from 1982 and its remake at the same time, the tandem Villeneuve – Deakins, set off from the basic premise of the BLADE RUNNER, from 1982, signed by director Ridley Scott and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (Villeneuve, expressing his fascination with the film from his youth, something that I am sure also applies to Deakins with all due respect), who, through the original film, left permanent anthological and cinematic traces worthy of all respect. United through the idea of scriptwriter Hempton Fancher about the dystopian vision of the future and the quest of the young Blade Runner “K” played by Ryan Gosling, after the old, original Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, who is played by Harrison Ford in both films, trying to discover his traces 30 years later, Deakins and Villenevue create a visual symphony (with an impressive number of associations in the visual effects – the credits give an impression that there is an entire countless army of them, a record number, nearly 1000), the digital superiority of which is realized with the state-of-the-art performances (production designer Dennis Gassner and camera operator Darren Douglas) and general build-up conducted by maestro Deakins, who as great fan of new technology used the triple camera arsenal of Arri Alexa Mini, Arri Alexa XT, Arri Alexa Plus. It is exactly in the area of visual expression that Deakins creates the richness of the new version – BLADE RUNNER 2049, which is already considered to be anthological and of permanent value for the future, and which the colleagues from AMPAS also found to be irresistible and after the 13 nominations finally bestowed the well-earned Oscar to Deakins. Moreover, the film has so far won a record-breaking number of 35 different awards, with Deakins’ Academy Award as the greatest achievement.
As a great and deserving British artist, in 2013 Roger Deakins was awarded the prestigious decoration of Commander of the Order of The British Empire.
I already mentioned several examples of the greatness of the artist that Roger Deakins is — first and foremost this is evident from his respect for the authors and works that have left indelible marks on him and have creatively shaped him as an artist, which is further emphasized by his altruism and honest openness and willingness to share his knowledge and experience with people from all walks of life, ranging from film-fans to professionals, something that his web-site is a case in point of. I already mentioned his respect for and fascination with Jean Pierre Melville, Raoul Coutard, Wiseman, Conrad Hall, and I would like to add Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Visconti, and in particular, Tarkovsky with his two anthological masterpieces IVAN’S CHILDHOOD and SOLARIS, signed by the great Russian cinematographer Vadim Jusov (another member of our Club of Greats, winner of the Golden Camera 300 for Lifetime Achievement).
A very indicative example of what Deakins is like as an artist and as a human being is his conduct during the Oscar Ceremony where after expressing his satisfaction that his compatriot Gary Oldman also got the Oscar that night for the role of Churchill in the DARKEST HOUR (reminiscing of their beginnings in SID AND NANCY), in his acceptance speech he proceeded to thank all his loyal associates that he has been working with for decades and dedicated the award to them, because, as he said, they deserve it and because it takes a “team effort”.
After several years of persistent attempts to bring one of the greatest living world cinematographers – Roger Deakins, to Macedonia/Bitola, our efforts finally came to fruition to our great pleasure and joy, and in the same year when he finally became an Oscar-winning author for his creation in the already anthological work of art, one of the many from his rich opus – BLADE RUNNER 2049. Thus Deakins becomes a new member in our Club of Greats after winning the Oscar this year, and to our great satisfaction, when we sent him the invitation to become a Laureate of the Lifetime Achievement Golden Camera 300, we predicted that he would win the Oscar for BLADE RUNNER 2049, whereby finally, after 13 nominations, he was crowned with the Academy Award he had already earned a long time ago.
The outstanding number of 115 various international cinema awards and 148 nominations only serves to prove the greatness of our latest laureate.
Roger Deakins is rightfully a member of both the British and the American Society of Cinematographers, equally respected by these two significant world cinematographers’ associations, which have given him their annual Best Cinematographer Awards on several occasions.
Last, but definitely not the least, his most loyal and most confidential partner in life and business, who has lovingly committed herself to his career with all her might, is his wonderful spouse, James Ellis Deakins, that he has been married to since 1991 and who herself is a film professional, and often the script supervisor in his films.
To us, as organizers of the Manaki Brothers festival, and to the audiences and all film-lovers, the arrival of the Deakins couple in Bitola and Macedonia, as our top VIP guests, will be a great honor, a great pride and joy and the best possible way to head into another super-successful edition of the world’s oldest festival dedicated to the cinematographers’ art, this year together with the biggest star of the 39 “Manaki Brothers” – the Oscar-winner and our Laureate of the Golden Camera 300 for Lifetime Achievement – Roger Deakins.