Isle filmmaker nears peak of profession


POSTED: Sunday, December 06, 2009

It's always great to be commended for your work. For Anne Misawa that recognition came in the form of a notable award nomination.

While it isn't the Oscars, being a nominee in the Independent Spirit Awards is the next-best thing for a filmmaker out of the mainstream. The Hawaii-born filmmaker learned she was nominated in the Best Cinematography category for her work on “;Treeless Mountain”; when the ISA made its announcements Tuesday.

“;Treeless Mountain,”; a critically acclaimed Korean film by writer-director So Yong Kim, is about a 7-year-old girl and her younger sister, who must fend for themselves after their mother goes in search of their estranged father.

The film is also a nominee for ISA's John Cassavetes Award, given to the best feature made for less than $500,000. It screened here during Hawaii International Film Festival's Spring Showcase in early April and is available on DVD.

The Independent Spirit Awards—founded in 1986 by the nonprofit Film Independent, dedicated to cultivating the careers of diverse independent filmmakers—has gained more Hollywood interest in recent years as a bellwether for award-worthy movies and performances. The casual party/awards ceremony is held a few days prior to the Oscars.

“;It was really an unexpected surprise,”; Misawa said about the nomination. “;I'm extremely happy about it. I think it says a lot for the piece as a whole. Everything we did was geared to get the best performance from the two kids.”;

The response looked good for the film early on when Misawa first saw it on the big screen at the Berlin Film Festival last year.

In its review of “;Treeless Mountain,”; the business trade Variety said that “;(Kim draws) out beautifully natural performances from her child actors (and) has a distinct way of letting her camera observe her characters with kind thoughtfulness, allowing for a quiet mood to wash over the scenes. Anne Misawa's Super 16mm lensing is sharp and steady, with a great blow-up to 35mm.”;

A product of the University of Southern California's Graduate Film and Television Program, Misawa is an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii's Academy for Creative Media, and a director of photography for independent films made both here and abroad. She also served as the cinematographer for Gerard Elmore's local comedy, “;All for Melissa,”; as well as producer-director of the statehood documentary “;State of Aloha,”; which was showcased at the recent Hawaii International Film Festival.

Misawa said her first professional job came while she was still attending college.

“;My USC short, 'Waking Mele,' which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000, got me my first directing 'work-for-hire' job soon after.”;

Kim knew of Misawa's work through her husband, Bradley Rust Gray, whom Misawa worked with on his film “;Salt,”; set in Iceland. The New York City-based Kim wanted to work with Misawa as well, so off they went to South Korea for a five-week shoot in November 2007.

But they didn't travel together.

“;My teaching at the ACM was starting up that fall, so all the pre-production had to be done long distance over the phone and e-mail. When I flew in to Korea, I picked up my equipment and started shooting immediately. ... I brought (with me) a terrific assistant camera person, Bennett Cerf, from Los Angeles. ... The other people on the camera, grip and lighting crew were local Koreans who did not speak English, so we had a production assistant who translated for us.

“;The crew was a tight team and we had a strenuous but wonderful time shooting. The hardest challenge for me was the cold (and we used) portable heaters that trailed us on exterior shoots.

“;Production was unusual in the sense that So Yong and I had a different approach to shooting the film,”; Misawa said. “;Usually when you shoot, you start with a wide master shot to establish scene coverage. But here, we always went for the close-ups of the kids first. We also tried to do the lighting and camera setups in a way that it would not be intimidating to the two kids. It was an approach that helped bring out the most moving performances from them.”;

After shooting wrapped, Misawa immediately went back to Hawaii and school.

The award nomination is a hard-earned reward for her ability to juggle both being a teacher and a working filmmaker—a lesson she brings into the classroom.

“;I tell my students that even though you primarily want to be directors, doing other creative aspects on a film production will better inform your directing. And, if you work as a cinematographer, you learn priorities in coverage and the power of visual storytelling.”;