WARNER INDEPENDENT PICTURES
Matthew Libatique checks the lighting while filming "Everything Is Illuminated." The film stars Jana Hrabetova.
Filipino cinematographer Matthew Libatique will be honored tomorrow by HIFF
YOU CAN PUT the Filipino kid in Brooklyn, but it's hard to shake the Brooklyn out when the kid leaves town. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique -- whose parents emigrated from the Philippines to New York -- grew up in that ageless neighborhood playing with his father's Nikon F and still feels most comfortable shooting in an urban environment.
Q&A session: Following a screening of his film "Everything Is Illuminated" at 5 p.m. tomorrow
Place: Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 18
His work, though, has taken him all over the world and immersed him in dozens of environments. It brings him to the Hawaii International Film Festival this week, where he'll receive the Eastman Kodak Award for Excellence in Cinematography and host a Q&A session tomorrow.
Libatique's films include his breakthrough film, "pi," to thrillers like "Phone Booth" and "Gothika" to Spike Lee's "She Hate Me" and "Inside Man" to the glowing fluff of "Josie and the Pussycats" to the upcoming "The Fountain" and "Iron Man."
Busy guy. In fact, a film festival spokesman said he might be called back to L.A. before his session tomorrow, in which case he'll fittingly film his own introduction. We had to catch Libatique seemingly moments after he landed here Sunday:
Question: How did you get interested in cinematography?
Answer: Cinematography is a byproduct of my interest in filmmaking. When I started making short films and experimenting, it became obvious to me that what I gravitated to was the camera and the light.
Q: How does one break into the field? What should you study? Is the study never ending thanks to technological improvements?
A: Breaking in takes a great deal of perseverance in combination with constant practice of the craft. It's a tough question, actually, because no stories are the same. I can say this: If your goal is to be a cinematographer, then you must shoot anything. You have to put yourself in the position to make decisions with the camera, the light and the exposure whenever possible. Unfortunately and fortunately this means that you will be working for free early on!
Q: How do you compose shots and lighting?
A: For me the director's word is final. Sometimes they defer to me and sometimes they like to dictate the frame, but a director's working style dictates mine. If they prefer to dictate the frame, then I will focus the light into that frame. If they prefer to improvise with the actors, then I will light the world we create and frame the light.
Q: Where are your favorite and least favorite types of places to shoot?
A: I feel most comfortable in urban settings. It's where I come from, and it comes easier for me to create in these environments. My biggest challenges come in articulating a reality within outdoor settings where practical light has to be faked, like a night scene in the forest.
Q: How much does sheer luck matter?
A: Luck is created through preparation. When I am clear in what I am trying to accomplish, then I am more readily prepared to accept the beautiful mistakes that become the memorable moments in a film!
Q: Who are the great role models among cinematographers? How about among classical artists?
A: I can only speak for myself, but in terms of cinematographers, the classics are Gordon Willis, Vittorio Storaro, Jack Cardiff, Greg Toland, James Wong Howe, Conrad Hall, Nestor Almendros, Raoul Coutard and Henri Alekan. Artists include Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Degas, Vermeer, Goya and Velasquez. Jean Michel Basquiat and Matthew Barney should also be mentioned. With photographers Roy Decarava, Nan Goldin, and illustrators Dave McKean and John J. Muth ... that should be plenty!