Sundance 2017 Q+A — Beach Rats Cinematographer Hélène Louvart

Harris Dickinson, Frank Hakaj, David Ivanov and Anton Selyaninov appear in Beach Rats by Eliza Hittman, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Tayarisha Poe.

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Sundance 2017 — THEATRE TIME & DATE & LOCATION — Beach Rats — Cinematographer Hélène Louvart Interview — Sundance Film Festival

6:00 PM
MON 1/23

9:00 AM
TUE 1/24

12:15 PM
THU 1/26

9:00 PM
FRI 1/27

11:30 AM
SAT 1/28

Sundance 2017 Q+A — Beach Rats — Cinematographer Hélène Louvart Interview — Sundance Film Festival

David Alexander Willis: Since 1986, you’ve produced more than 65 features in addition to numerous shorts, docs, television and other projects. You must feel incredibly at home behind the lens; do you ever feel that you have more to learn?

Hélène Louvart AFC: Since 1986, I worked on many projects (features, shorts, documentaries, few tv projects). I started to work as a DoP following two years of school curriculum at “The Louis-Lumière National Higher School” (1983 and 1985). I started to shoot in Super 16mm, it was cheaper than the 35mm, for low budget films and for documentaries. And for the last few years, I am getting used to shooting in digital, an I like it also.

David Alexander Willis: How do you manage such a frequent pace of shooting? What initially inspired such a wholehearted lust for cinematography?

Hélène Louvart AFC: Since 1986, Cinematography has been my passion, and I continue to be passionate. I have always chosen interesting projects, and even now, I continue to choose projects precisely, which seem to be interesting from my own perspective. Each movie is still a new experience, because of the director, because of the story, because of the characters, because of the time we get to do it, because of the crew, because of the locations, and, the most important thing for me, is the wish of the director, and all what he or she is sharing with me, for the project. Each project helps a lot in learning more, of course. I’m also a mother with 5 children and my family’s life helps me a lot to continue to be totally inspired by this job. And I still like to shoot features “keeping an eye” on the documentary experiences that I have had before.

David Alexander Willis: How did you first become involved with director Eliza Hittman on the project? Was there something in particular that called to you about filming Beach Rats?

Hélène Louvart AFC: It’s perhaps because of this feeling (“keeping an eye” on the documentary’s experience) that Eliza Hittman decided to contact me, for her next project “Beach Rats”. She also spoke with Tim Sutton, a friend of hers, the director of “Pavilion” and “Memphis”, with whom I had worked a few months before on his last film “Dark Night”. Eliza saw also my film, “The Wonders”, directed by Alice Rohrwacher, which was awarded with the Grand Prix Cannes 2014.

I read “Beach Rats”, and started with Eliza to do some Skype meetings together. I felt her script was very “clever”, and “sensitive”, in a deep way, very intense for the story, and for the characters. I felt she totally knew her subject and the atmosphere she described: Brooklyn, the subway, Coney Island, and the heat and the boredom when you stay at home during your holidays.

David Alexander Willis: What were behind the decisions to shoot not only in film but on Super 16mm? Why was ARRI chosen as camera, in addition?

Hélène Louvart AFC: For her, it was clear we should shoot in Super 16mm, from the beginning. Without any doubt. I met her in April, in Brooklyn, and we did some scouting and we spoke a lot about the script, and about her wishes for the shooting. Before the shoot, we knew we had to take care of the Kodak stock we’ll use each day, and Eliza had confidence in her characters and the way they’ll act, so she was not anxious, and we shot 4 or 5 takes each time, rarely more than this ratio. (We were supposed to use more or less 7 cans each day, which is a good ratio for shooting film.) And we shot with the Arri 416 Plus, which is the best ARRI Super 16 camera with eye-piece definition, as well as the weight.

David Alexander Willis: Does your lighting approach differ from digital to film? What was primary lighting on Beach Rats?

Hélène Louvart AFC: Of course, the light approach differs from digital to film. In the darkness and night, the 500 asa Kodak (even if we push it 1/2 stop, no more) with the lens full open is less sensitive than with a digital camera. But the Super 16mm is still so good for the highlights (less than 35mm, but still very good). An “over-exposed” window in the frame is more accepted visually in film than in digital…. And the natural grain adds something also in the picture. During the grading, we tried to avoid the tools of digital color correction, enhancing the brightness only “overall”, as if we had to close or to open the iris. W started again, for each frame, to grade it from the scan to avoid the LUT’s aspect, who is not so appropriate for 16mm or 35mm Vision film.

David Alexander Willis: You’ve filmed narratives and documentaries for world-class film directors like Wim Wenders, Agnés Varda and Claire Denis. These three directors in particular also tapped you specifically for documentary work. What is it about your eye as a documentarian that brought you to their attention?

Hélène Louvart AFC: For Pina, when I met Wim, we never spoke about “documentary style”…. we were supposed to shoot with one or two 3D rigs, (side by side, or parallax, through a mirror) with a crane on stage, using a Steadycam, with a big crew just for the lighting and for the camera settings. With that much crew, we were very far removed from the non-technical aspect of the documentaries. With Claire Denis, I worked with her because her DoP Agnès Godard was not available during a short period for this documentary. I’m friends with both of them, and Claire asked me to shoot with her, during the few days Agnès would not be available.

With Agnès Varda, I met her after she saw the movie “Will it Snow for Christmas” directed by Sandrine Veysset in 1996. She contacted me for “The Gleaners”, but unfortunately, I was not available. She wanted to work with me also on “The Beaches of Agnès”, because she was looking for a DoP who could be flexible, and also who knows how to light with a very small crew, in a “nice way” but also “in a simple way”, to shoot herself and her own family. With Agnès, we were on the edge of “documentary and feature-style”, exactly what the film needed. And because I knew her since many years, she trusted me for this flexibility she was looking for.

David Alexander Willis: Agnès Varda has said that The Beaches of Agnès, which you shot in 2008, was likely her final film. Was the shoot maudlin, at all, or perhaps a celebration? You’re so incredibly prolific. Do you think that you will ever slow down as a filmmaker?

Hélène Louvart AFC: Agnès said “it would be her final movie”, because it’s an autobiographical documentary, but she said it during the editing, and of course the shooting was not maudlin!!!! She is such an energetic woman, and all the time, going “forward”, day after day!!! Never sad, all the time full of hope, hope for cinema and for the life in general! And yes, I’m still prolific, because I like my job a lot, and my family’s life gives me each day the energy to do this job, and this job helps me to enjoy totally my family life. Everything is linked of course.

I’ll slow down as a cinematographer, when I’ll have no more the opportunity to do “good projects”. As I consider a project is good and interesting, from my own perspective, I’ve done this job through passion the whole time, and I’ll continue to do so, for sure, as a passionate person.