Rachel Morrison is the Director of Photography on Sundance feature, Fruitvale, which is playing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at this year’s fest. Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer star in the film with Forest Whitaker producing.
Here’s the synopsis:
Oscar Grant [Jordan] was a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who loved his friends, was generous to strangers, and had a hard time telling the truth to the mother of his beautiful daughter. He was scared and courageous and charming and raw, and as human as the community he was part of. That community paid attention to him, shouted on his behalf, and filmed him with their cell phones when BART officers, who were strong, intimidated, and acting in the way they thought they were supposed to behave around people like Oscar, shot him in cold blood at the Fruitvale subway stop on New Year’s Day in 2009.
Since completing an MFA in Cinematography from the American Film Institute, Rachel has photographed nine features, which have screened at film festivals including Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Camerimage. Pulled from her website, Morrison states she “believes in the story above all else and am most inspired when I’m out of my element. I am intrigued by the dichotomy between real and imagined, perhaps because truth can be deceptive. I am especially drawn to stories that ride a fine line between hope and despair.”
Morrison is today’s Guest Blogger and she shares her favorite film and how it influenced her work on Fruitvale.
There are so many films in the Miramax collection that have made an impression on me over the years – Chungking Express, Delicatessen, Velvet Goldmine, Exotica, Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly to name just a few… but none have been so influential to my work on Fruitvale than what is perhaps my all-time favorite film, City of God.
Using a blend of 16mm and 35mm, cinematographer César Charlone captures humanity at its core – gritty and beautiful and raw and real. Humanity is the heart of our movie as well. Fruitvale explores the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22 year old Oakland resident who was shot by a BART police officer on New Year’s 2009. It is the story of a man who is flawed and mortal and hopeful and complex, and the connections he makes with various other strangers and friends during the final hours of his life.
The director, Ryan Coogler and I first spoke over Skype. I usually find Skype interviews so impersonal, but this one was truly magical. Within the first minutes of discussing his script, it became clear we were on the same page visually, citing many of the same references and ideas. By the next hour, Ryan had become like the brother I never had. We knew we needed to shoot Oscar’s story on film. There is something tangible and tactile about film which you can’t put into words; it just feels… real! To Ryan this was the most important thing of all – being true to Oscar, to the Bay Area and to the events as they unfolded that tragic night.
We also knew we wanted to shoot handheld with a fluid energy, feeling almost like the audience is present and along for the ride. This is one of many things Cesar excels at in City of God. The camerawork is dynamic and profound, but not so stylized it draws attention to itself. Each choice feels spontaneous and yet is part of a greater whole – every element in unison to tell the same story. At times the cinematography is intimate and soft while at others it is bold and grabs hold of you and shakes you around – this to me is life with its ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys. Within moments everything can change – as it did for Oscar that night.
Fruitvale is a much smaller movie than City of God but hopefully we succeeded in using many of the same techniques to put humanity at the forefront and engage the audience on a deeply emotional level.
Watch the City of God trailer.
The Sundance Film Festival runs January 17-27 in Park City, Utah.
Thanks to our Guest Blogger, Rachel Morrison. Next up: Meet Rob Simonsen, composer of two Sundnace feature films, The Way, Way Back and The Spectaclar Now.