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Tribeca: How the Filmmaker Behind ‘Lucifer’ Shot the First ‘Circular’ Feature Film

Tribeca: How the Filmmaker Behind 'Lucifer' Shot the First 'Circular' Feature Film

READ MORE: Here are the Cameras Used by the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers

It all began over a glass of wine.

“We were drinking wine and I cut the [stem] of my wine glass and then with the [base] we started discussing the concept,” “Lucifer” director Gust Van den Berghe recently told Indiewire while in New York for the Tribeca Film Festival.

This conversation between Van den Berghe and his cameraman resulted in the the development of a new idea: shooting through a cone-shaped mirror, a technique used to capture a panoramic view within a circular frame, what Van den Bergh would eventually dub the Tondoscope.

Screened in the Viewpoints section at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, “Lucifer” is a deeply contemplative and highly-stylized cinematic adaptation of Joost Van Den Vondel’s play of the same name. “Lucifer” is the final installment in a three-part series in which Van den Berghe focused on religion. As the title suggests, “Lucifer” centers on the Devil; although, at the point which we meet him, he is not yet the Devil. Per the synopsis on the Tribeca website, “He is the first being to possess knowledge of good and evil: as he imparts his wisdom on the villagers, he too imparts consciousness and free will, and as a result, most damning of all sin.”

The inspiration to shoot “Lucifer” within the confines of a circular frame — as opposed to one of the more standard aspect ratios — stemmed from a desire, in Van den Berghe’s own words, “to create a paradise.” According to a website where Van den Berghe has published extensive research and development materials on the Tondoscope, “the images filmed using the mirror symbolize the higher power, the all-seeing eye that transports the spectator outside the personal worlds of the characters in the film and shows the entire universe.”

While not unlike an image taken with a Fisheye lens, an image created by a catadioptric system, such as the one devised by Van den Berghe and his cameraman, has the capability to capture a lot more information (particularly on the edges). “You could easily do it with a Fisheye — put a Fisheye upside down — but the Fisheye is always pointing towards the center,” said Van den Berghe. “So the center stands out and the sides become compressed, but the sides [are] the part[s] that I want because that is where my characters were.”

After coming up with the idea and experimenting with various makeshift techniques on their own — namely painting the wine glass to reflect light and trying out a fisheye lens — Van den Berghe and his cameraman consulted Dr. Manly Callewaert, a professor at the University of Brussels, about creating proper prototypes of the mirror. Two mirrors were produced and used on set interchangeably, depending on the distance between the characters and the mirror, as well as the desired amount of focus, because in spite of the persistent circular frame, not every shot was designed to include a 360 degree panoramic view.

Even though the experimentation with aspect ratio in “Lucifer” seems to suggest that the film might make for an appealing installation piece in a gallery, Van den Berghe insisted that he isn’t interested in “Lucifer” becoming an installation piece: “I would not move this film towards a gallery or museum because I want people to sit, the light goes out and [they] start at point zero — walk with me to the end — while with an installation there is a very different approach towards the image, towards the storytelling, how you translate an idea into a film or video.”
Said Van den Berghe: “The power of film is that we all forget that it is film, while the power of an installation is that we are very aware of it.”

When asked whether he has submitted for a patent on the Tondoscope, Van den Berghe shrugged. “I should have and I could have but it’s kind of expensive,” he said. “The film is made and I’m proud of it. People that want to work with it, they can always send us an email and we can send it [to them]. It’s two big boxes.”

To learn more about the Tondoscope visit the website. You can also check out the short video below.

READ MORE: The 2015 Indiewire Tribeca Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During Run of Festival

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