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Sundance 2019: Here Are the Cameras Used to Shoot This Year’s Documentaries

Nonfiction Cinematography: Filmmakers on how they shot their films and the unique production demands that dictated equipment choices.

Shooting "Ask Dr. Ruth"

Shooting “Ask Dr. Ruth”

courtesy of filmmakers

Section: World Cinema Documentary Competition


Shooting "Advocate"

Shooting “Advocate”

Adi Mozes

Format: prores HQ (HD)
Camera: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera ( 4 of them)
Lens: sigma art 18-35/1.8-cooke 10.4 -52/2.8-various nikkor lenses

Directors Rache Leah Jones & Philippe Bellaiche: Most of our film is cinema verite, shot in the hallways of the courthouse or in [Israeli human-rights lawyer] Lea Tsemel’s office. In court, there was a lot of waiting around. Since we couldn’t film inside the courtroom, we had to hang out in the corridors and stay ready to press record at any moment. When Lea and her clients came out of the courtroom, there was no alert or time to prepare or adjust; we just needed to be there as present as and close as possible. I wanted to work with a lightweight hand held camera for those moments. So while lots of cameras could have answered this need, I shot the research footage with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, and loved it’s look, especially when using the right lenses. Shooting day after shooting day, I began to adapt to this strange little camera, as much as I could, to my needs. I added evf, microphone, lens adapter, batteries…). I enjoyed the versatility and mobility of hand held filming (as opposed to shoulder held). It allows one to get very close to the subjects you film in a less offensive way than shoulder held.The film is mostly shot with three focal lengths (20mm, 35mm, 50mm), even though I mostly film with zoom lenses, I stuck to these focal lenses/ angle of views. This constraint helped me to film better, i.e. to feel my placement in the space, which lends the film a more organic and constant (as opposed to eclectic) feel. I want to believe that it helped the characters to get used to the “camera” (and the crew) and hope it will give the viewer a unified sense of “closeness” while watching the film.

“The Disappearance of My Mother”

"The Disappearance of My Mother" director Beniamino Barrese

“The Disappearance of My Mother” director Beniamino Barrese

courtesy of filmmaker

Format: Mini dv, HD, 2K, 4K, 16mm, 35mm Various mini dvs,
Camera: Sony f7s, Canon c300, Arri sr3, Aaton 16mm, Arri cam Lite LDS
Lens: Zeiss P+S Technick for the digital and a mixture of Canon k35, Zeiss and Cooke for the 16mm and 35mm

Director Beniamino Barrese: One of the questions behind the film has to do with the power and role of images. While my mother refuses them, I am somehow dependent on them. The craft of image-making is therefore one of the very hearts of the documentary and the challenge was to find ways to effectively convey this abstract theme through the cinematography of the film. Although at the beginning the type format was mainly dictated by production reasons (as I got more support, I could also access better equipment), gradually I identified a visual language for telling the story coherently. I decided to capture my mother’s present with the best digital camera I could get (mainly, the Sony f7s, but also Canon c300 whenever the Sony wasn’t available). I used 16mm for the casting scene and the ‘recreated archives’, mixing color and black and white, to mimic the style of the original 1960s archives. And finally, I chose to use the ‘mother’ of every filming format, 35mm, for the imagination of my mother’s future. We also edited in the film some old footage I shot as a teenager with a mini dv. To help navigating through the different timeframes and layers, we decided to associate specific aspect ratios to the each segment of the story: 4:3 for the past, 1:1.85 for the present and 1:2.40 for the future.


Shooting "Gaza"

Shooting “Gaza”

courtesy of filmmaker

Format: Cinema 4K
Camera: Panasonic Lumix GH4 + GH5, Canon 5D MKII, GoPro
Lens: Canon + Lumix lenses, Sigma 18-35 1.8, Speedbooster

Co-Director Andrew McConnell: From the start we were determined the film should have a cinematic feel and be as visually rich as possible, to reflect the vibrancy and uniqueness of Gaza. Budget was very tight but with the GH4, and later the GH5, we at least didn’t have to compromise on picture quality. For such small cameras the image is extraordinary and combined with the right lenses gave us the aesthetic we wanted. Much of the footage is up-close and personal and long days were spent with the characters working hand-held, so the small setup was ideal and allowed an intimacy a larger camera wouldn’t have afforded. Also, during the war and border protests it was expedient to be able to move very quickly.


Shooting "Honeyland"

Shooting “Honeyland”

Courtesy of Filmmakers

Format: DSLR
Camera: Nikon d5. Nikon d810
Lens: Nikon Lenses: 50mm f1.4; 85mm f1.8; 105mm Macro f2.8; 24-70mm f2.8; and 80-400 f5.6-6.3

Directors Ljubomir Stefanov & Tamara Kotevska: The making of “Honeyland” was quite challenging, but shooting it was just as tricky and demanding. It was of outmost importance to use a very sensitive camera, as it also had to be light and compact since we had very tight interiors to shoot in, with nothing but available natural light during the day and candlelight and light from oil lamps during the night. It is important to note that we shot for days on end in a rural area with no available electricity, therefore we didn’t use any additional artificial light sources. I believe that this just ended up adding to the Cinéma vérité style of the film.

Of course, the choice for the cameras and lenses had to address the quality
and the distinctive “look” of the photography we were going for and some of the priorities were the depth of field, the contrast, skin tone and depicting the vivid colors that are unique to the area we shot at. This is why we ended up using Nikon D5, Nikon D810 and Nikon D800E with Nikon Lenses. We also used Cannon 7D for certain scenes as well Cannon Zoom Lenses. Even though it was a long production period of about three years with around 90shooting days, we successfully managed to color grade and balance out the
material during postproduction.


Shooting "Lapu"

Shooting “Lapu”

Niños Films

Camera: Red Dragon
Lens: Leica R Rehoused

Directors Cesar Alejandro Jaimes & Juan Pablo Polanco: Since the first moment the film was conceived it was thought as a film with an small crew. Not only for budget issues but also as a need for intimacy, a need for time. Angello the DP of the film tried to keep things as light as possible, so he reduced the RED to the lightest configuration. Another reason why we choose the RED is because some difficult light situations, so we need a camera with a good dynamic range and color rendition. An important decision in the film was to shoot in 4:3, it was something we had thought a lot about. We ended up deciding this format because it allowed us a form of composition more vertical than horizontal. This cinematographic space allowed us to approach the bodies, gestures and landscapes in a way that attracted us more, a way where the important thing were in the things that were not seen, rather than in those that could be seen. That narrow image that gives the 4: 3 gave us the possibility to fill the film with non-visible presences that could only be felt through sound.

“The Magic life of V”

Shooting "The Magic Life of V"

Shooting “The Magic Life of V”

courtesy of filmmaker

Format: 2.8K ARRIRAW
Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Arri Master Prime

Tonislav Hristov: We used quite a big crew. I like to use big cameras and lights, because I really care about the image. In this film the role of the camera was very important also because there was the game world of LARPing, and I wanted it to look as much fictional as possible. This was the way the players imagine it.

“Sea of Shadows”

Richard Ladkani shooting Mexican investigative journalist Carlos Loret de Mola for "Sea of Shadows"

Richard Ladkani shooting Mexican investigative journalist Carlos Loret de Mola for “Sea of Shadows”

Terra Mater

Format: 4K UHD
Camera: ARRI AMIRA (main), Sony FS7 (second)
Lens: Canon EF Lenses 11-24, 24-105, 24-70, 100-400 and Walimex Primes

Director Richard Ladkani: From the beginning I imagined this film to be more of a thriller than a wildlife documentary. I wanted to be embedded with my characters on the undercover missions into the dealing of the Mexican and Chinese cartels. Most scenes were shot with two cameras, the other being the Sony FS7, which matches remarkably well with the Amira.

My second camera DoP Tobias Corts and I have worked together on so many films, that no prep-words are necessary, prior to covering a scene. We know how to stay out of each other’s way, while still capturing the moment. The goal was to be up-close to the action, with maximum flexibility and I needed to rely on my gear 100%, no repeats possible. This is why the Amira is such an obvious choice as a main camera. You get great picture quality, especially in regards to skin tones, the color representation is very real and organic, but you also get an extremely robust camera that will never fail you.

The environment in Mexico is rough, with sand and sea water being a constant threat and any technical problems would come at great cost. This especially mattered when we were at sea. I wanted the camera to be an extension of my body and this is were the Arri Mastergrips come in: They allow you to control most functions of camera incl. focus, aperture and zoom, straight from the Mastergrips. I could hold on to a pole as we were speeding across the ocean with one hand, while still controlling most of the image with the other. The Canon EF zoom lenses are of incredibly good quality at low cost and combined with the MiniCforce Zoom bring you great flexibility. In very low light conditions the high-speed Walimex lenses at an aperture of f1.2 allow you to basically film at night. Mexico is extremely colorful during late hours and it was wonderful to be able to capture these powerful moods without compromise.

“Shooting the Mafia”

Camera: SONY PDW 850 XDCAM
Lens: Wide-angle zoom lens

Director Kim Longinotto: I like to have the camera sitting on my shoulder as I want the characters’ eyes to be at the audience’s eye-level, also I like the easy balance of it. The Sony 850 camera is solid and steady which is great in situations like demonstrations where people knock into you. More importantly, it’s a super-reliable camera and has never broken down all the time I’ve been using it. I’m often filming in remote areas for many months where I wouldn’t be able to get anything replaced. I like the 850 as it has physical discs so I can change them and keep what I’ve filmed safe. I don’t want to be downloading. My main extravagance is that I take loads of batteries as sometimes we don’t have electricity for charging. They’re quite heavy to carry round. I only ever take one lens as it would be awkward to have to carry extra lenses around and also be thinking about changing them. I need a zoom lens so I can be choosing shots for editing as I film, rather than having to move. Then I can be very still and quiet and keep the dynamic of the scene. The wide-angle suits me perfectly as I often seem to filming in small spaces. My all-time favorite lens is the Canon 9.5 to 57 which I had on my Aaton but it couldn’t be converted to a video camera. It was beautiful but I don’t want to go back to film. I I remember changing rolls of film in changing bags in toilets and on busy trains. We just did the online and the images from the PDW 850 & lens look great.

“Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire”

Format: Arriraw
Camera: Arri Alexa mini / amira
Lens: Zeiss High speed

Cinematographer Anders Bohman: Since the film is very much based on reenactment and we wanted to create our own look, we first thought of 16mm but the limited budget did not allow us that, so alexa and high speed gave us a free play room to work with simple lighting to create a documentary feeling. The red tone and an added grain helped us to the right expression in the grade.

Feature films in U.S. Documentary Competition are on Page 1, Documentary Premieres Page 2.

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