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People In Film | Anthony Dod Mantle

Anthony Dod Mantle | Making The Eagle Visually Real

Anthony Dod Mantle (l.) with director Kevin MacDonald (Photo by Matt Nettheim)

Much of the epic vision of Kevin MacDonald’s Roman adventure comes from the work of film director of photography (d.p.) Anthony Dod Mantle. Dod Mantle, who’d won an Oscar of his work on Slumdog Millionaire, can pretty much pick and chose his projects. His decision to add his vision to The Eagle came from both a love of the director and the material. Dod Mantle and MacDonald, who’d worked together previously on The Last King of Scotland, were untied in creating a powerfully visual movie. The director and his cinematographer worked out a style using multiple cameras and Steadicam so that, as producer Duncan Kenworthy emphasizes, “the audience will feel that they’re right there in the thick of it.” As Dod Mantle explains, “we couldn’t have carefully composed set-ups with the multiple cameras, given the unpredictable weather we’d be facing on location.” Dod Mantle’s kinetic camera style allowed him to capture the immediacy of man and the elements, an aspect that revealed the personal nature of this story. For him, “The first thing I look for is always a story that touches me. The Eagle is character-driven, about men seeing their worlds and the world as a whole.”

Anthony Dod Mantle | From London to Denmark

Boundlessly creative, always at the forefront of new shooting technologies and a vital visual collaborator to some of the most important directors of our time, the half-Scottish, U.K. born director of photography Anthony Dod Mantle is entering the third decade of his professional career by continuing to expand the expressive visual possibilities of film. The winner of the Academy Award for his loose-limbed depiction of the streets of Mumbai in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Dod Mantle began his career in London as a stills photographer but took a turn towards cinema when he moved to Denmark in 1979. “Got involved with Denmark via a woman, of course,” he told Shari Roman in an interview for her book Digital Babylon. “After the relationship fell apart, I thought, ‘Why the hell have I been learning this language? There had to be a predestined reason. I refused, because I’m so stubborn, to get on the next plane back, and instead applied for the National Film School.” In his new occupation as d.p., Dod Mantle first came to major notice for his lensing of an uncategorizable and controversial project: German director Philip Groning’s The Terrorists (1992). Depicting in near documentary fashion the preparations of a terrorist cell targeting a leading politician, the movie, wrote Geoffrey Gilmore in the Sundance Film Festival catalog, is “very dynamically structured and shot, [and] the scenario alternates between film and video, setting up a point of view which neither condemns nor condones. The film is never political or ideological, appearing to be less about terrorism, and more about making an impact in a post ideological world.” The film was banned by German chancellor Helmut Kohl and is now a cult favorite.

Anthony Dod Mantle | Dogme 95

Following The Terrorist, Dod Mantle continued to work on European projects from his home base of Denmark, where he was soon drawn into the orbit of local director Lars von Trier and his newly launched Dogme ’95 movement. After lensing a doc about the auteur, Tranceformer: A Portrait of Lars von Trier, Dod Mantle would shoot the film that further catapulted him onto the world stage: The Celebration. Made under Dogme ‘95’s notorious “Vow of Chastity”—a spartan series of filmmaking rules mandating location shooting and handheld cinematography and prohibiting things like non-diegetic sound, fancy lighting, and genre storylines—The Celebration became the movement’s improbable breakout success. This tale of a toxic family reunion was given an expressive digital beauty by Dod Mantle’s cinematography, which employed a tiny Sony PC-7E video camera. (Per Dogme guidelines, the director is not allowed to be credited… but it was Thomas Vinterberg.) As the film’s long day journeyed into night, Dod Mantle let his image become increasingly grainy. He told critic Gerard Peary in an interview, “For The Celebration, I let my conventional lighting go and thought instead about emotional movement. I wanted to become one of the witnesses, to react as if I were an actor in the drama. One of the characters, Christian, tries to find truth in the middle of lies and deceptions. I wanted to commemorate his search: mine was an agile Darwinian camera. As the family slowly disintegrates, I wanted my emulsion to organically decompose." Two more Dogme ’95 films followed: Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune’s Last Song and Harmony Korine’s julien donkey-boy, the latter being America’s first official Dogme production. Mifune’s Last Song was shot on celluloid and Korine’s film on digital video, nearly bursting the limits of the “Vow of Chastity” with its artfully saturated imagery. Of these films, Dod Mantle told critic Shari Roman, “Oddly enough, these bloody Dogme films have drawn more attention to me as a D.P. than anything else I’ve done. It’s partly hype, but perhaps it’s because in these kind of films, the cinematographer’s work becomes incredibly visible. There you are, hung out for the count, and there’s no coming back.”

Anthony Dod Mantle | Madness and Sadness

Von Trier was one of the principle architects of the Dogme ’95 movement, and as the d.p. who shot three of its most notable films, it was inevitable that Dod Mantle and Von Trier would wind up collaborating. But it took a few years. Mantle told Shari Roman, “I was meant to shoot [Von Trier’s] The Kingdom, and I couldn’t — I was shooting a film in Mexico — and that was the beginning of a very strange relationship between us where journalists thought something weird was going on because I said ‘no’ to Lars. Honestly, I was just tied up.” Dod Mantle operated camera for parts of von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark and then became the d.p. on von Triers’ next two radical experiments: Dogville and Manderlay. Both films were caustic moral fables set in the American past — and shot entirely on soundstages in a deliberately artificial style. Sometime following Manderlay, von Trier sank into a well-publicized depression, emerging in 2009 with the extraordinary Antichrist. The story of a couple dealing with the emotional aftermath of their child’s death, the film was stunningly shot by Dod Mantle in tones of grey and blue. Said Dod Mantle to Time Out London about his more daring techniques, “When Charlotte’s character visualises the place she’s going to go back to, where her deep anxieties are rooted, the images were broken up into several layers, like a painting. I dislocated the cohesion by pointing the lights in different directions and by changing camera speeds, not just within the shot but within certain areas of the image. That creates a lack of logic which makes your brain perceive differently, and that’s a major part of the potential disturbance the viewers visit in the film. It’s not just about the graphics or the content, it’s also about the language of the film.” Did the film’s grueling emotional content make for a tough shoot? “Yes,” Dod Mantle said in the Time Out interview. “In those eight weeks I experienced everything on set from joy and, yes, amazement to depression, frustration and loneliness. Also, the sort of feeling you can’t quite put a word on. It was a strange space. Very intimate and intense, but there were also moments of beauty when we were touching on things that were almost apocalyptic.”

Anthony Dod Mantle | From the Apocalypse to Mumbai

About the director Danny Boyle, who Dod Mantle has collaborated with on five films, Dod Mantle told Filmmaker magazine, “I’m possessive about him. It’s not even a love-hate relationship; it’s a love relationship. I adore the man, and I feel I’ve kind of matured with him. Every time we’ve done a new film we’ve developed and encouraged each other.” Dod Mantle and Boyle first worked together on the stunningly evocative post-apocalyptic 28 Days Later. As he had done on The Celebration, Dod Mantle chose to shoot on a small video format — in this case, miniDV. The small camera helped with the logistics — because the film imagines a destroyed, depopulated London, the production had to clear large areas and shoot quickly — but also the aesthetics. “"I saw an artistic, logical justification for shooting this film on this format because it was a very violent script - very disturbing, gritty and anarchic," said the d.p. to American Cinematographer magazine. After 28 Days Later, Dod Mantle and Boyle worked together again on Millions, a charming fable about a seven-year-old boy who unexpectedly comes into possession of a bag of money. Next came Slumdog Millionaire, the film that would win both men Oscars. Using both video and film, Dod Mantle captured Mumbai with all its frenetic and overwhelming energy, his camera hurtling down alleys, across neighborhoods, and through the crowds of a city in transition. Of the production, Dod Mantle told the Los Angeles Times, “Danny and I talked at first about shooting most of it on film, on celluloid, and some of it on this other format in the slums, because we had to find a way of just getting in there. What happens is, [Boyle] falls in love with the cameras, he falls in love with the way I kind of move with them, and it was a new language we started to explore. Originally, we thought we were going to shoot about 70% on film and 30% on digital. We ended up shooting 60% on digital. And a small percentage was shot with a still camera on continuous burst, which intensifies the moment. Then I had to marry it all together.” Dod Mantle and Boyle most recently collaborated on a film as confined as Slumdog Millionaire was expansive: 127 Hours. Boyle had the idea to use two d.p.’s (Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak) for the grueling shoot in which the cameramen were wedged into a narrow crevice built to the exact specifications as the one that in real life trapped mountaineer Aaron Ralston. Of his relationship with Boyle, Dod Mantle told Filmmaker, “The reason I make films is for films. It’s not for my vested interested in my name going down in cinema somehow with little gold men on my shelves. The film is more important than anything else, and I think a good director is a person who makes films too because of the film and not his name. And I think Danny makes films for that reason.”

Anthony Dod Mantle | From Africa to the Highlands

When Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Kevin Macdonald decided to make his first fiction feature, The Last King of Scotland, he turned to Anthony Dod Mantle to shoot it. As he has done on all of his films, Dod Mantle didn’t start the production by ordering the same old 35mm package. Instead, he thought carefully about the film’s production and aesthetic demands and came up with a scheme that used both 16mm and 35mm film. He told Variety, “Mixing 16mm and 35mm I felt was better than going pure 16 because it wasn't just about the lights, it was about getting close to the madness of Idi (Amin), getting close to his face, really seeing the bubbling eyeballs.” He ended up shooting on the Aaton Minima, the Aaton Super in Super 16mm and the Arricam LT on 35mm. "The idea was to find a kind of texture that was appropriate, finding texture that had slightly more grain and had slight grit to it, which I thought was appropriate to the story as we traveled deeper and deeper into the depths and demise of Idi's domain…. There is a panache and a sheen to '70s Uganda. It was quite a sophisticated time there. People were quite wealthy…. Gradually as (Nicholas Garrigan) starts to get sucked into that world more and more, I start to work more with cyan and deep reds. I actually changed the stocks, moved the speed of the stock and changed my lighting for the birth and as they go to the hospital and the horrible things there. Basically go darker and darker and end up as dark as you can possibly go.” For the Roman adventure The Eagle, Macdonald said he wanted to work “with the key members of the Last King of Scotland production,” including Dod Mantle. Detailing Dod Mantle’s approach, the film’s costume designer, Michael O’Connor, said, “What Anthony likes to do is have everything quite muted and then hone in on things that will reflect the light. With the Seal People, he asked to have a mirror or something comparable within the costumes. Our solution was to lacquer and polish shells that were placed in the Seal warriors' necklaces and headdresses. These then reflected back the light and gave off a glint. Things like that add to the movement that Anthony imparts into scenes that Kevin works on again and again until he gets what he wants out of them.”

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