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How I Shot That: Sundance Documentary 'E-Team' Gives an Insider's Look on Filming War Crimes

Photo of Eric Eidelstein By Eric Eidelstein | Indiewire January 23, 2014 at 10:40AM

Rachel Beth Anderson, cinematographer of "E-Team," which is a documentary playing at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, discusses with us her experience shooting the film. "E-Team," directed by Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman, follows a group of individuals selected by the Human Rights Watch to document war crimes around the world. Anderson has previously shot for many PBS Frontline Films, HRW features and CNN Hero's 2012 features Nepal and India.
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"E-Team."
"E-Team."

Rachel Beth Anderson, cinematographer of the documentary "E-Team," screening at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, told Indiewire about her experience shooting the film. Directed by Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman, "E-Team" follows a group of individuals selected by the Human Rights Watch to document war crimes around the world. Anderson has previously shot a variety of projects for PBS Frontline Films, HRW features and CNN.

What camera and lens did you use? I used a Sony EX1, Canon 5D Mark II & III and Canon C300. I'm usually working by myself in areas where you have to be quick on your feet so I pack a small kit. I relied mainly on a range of Canon L series lenses (standards 24-105, 70-200, 24 1:4mm, 16-35), and I love the new Canon Cinema lenses. When possible I treat myself to renting Ziess cinema lenses!

What was the most difficult shot on your movie, and how did you pull it off? The most difficult sequence to shoot was when I had to film two of the characters in "E-team" being smuggled into Syria along the Turkish border. It was pitch black as we rode to the crossing and there was absolutely no possibility for lights since we were supposed to be incognito. To top it off, we had to run across an open field and could only bring what we could carry on our backs. Luckily, because the car broke down four times on the way to the border it had allowed the sun to start rising and it was right before dawn so the shadows and colors turned out to look lovely. As we were instructed when the smuggler said "run," well that was it and we took off! I held the camera at my hip and ran next to the subjects so they would be backlit and I could capture the chaotic, frantic moments as we ran towards Syria.

Who is your favorite cinematographer, and why? I really enjoyed the film "Armadillo" in part due to the cinematic moments Lars Skree captured away from the frontline. I was incredibly intimidated and excited when I had the opportunity to assist him a few years later on an Afghanistan shoot. He quickly put me at ease and was constantly offering to teach as we worked, which is very rare during a shoot. I hope I'll get to work with him again!

Do you think the shift from digital is good or bad? I think it allows the world of filmmaking and cinematography to be much more interesting. The vast choices of how you tell a story are enhanced by the range of styles you can create from film or digital. The best part about digital is that it has allowed shooting to be more approachable and a further possibility for amazing moments to be captured.

What advice do you have for cinematographers who want to get to Sundance? The relationship to the subject and the cinematographer behind the lens comes through in the footage. Being aware of your own influence is a fine line to always be very aware of when shooting documentaries.

What's the best career advice you've received? Don't feel pressure to run to the frontline and film. Follow your gut instincts and get in and get out and only if it there are essential moments for you to tell your story.


Editor's Note: The "How I Shot That" series is part of the Indiewire and Canon U.S.A. partnership at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where we celebrated cinematography and photographed Sundance talent at Canon Craft Services on Main Street. 

This article is related to: Sundance, How I Shot That, Cinematographers, Filmmaker Toolkit: Production, E-TEAM, Cinematography, Sundance 2014