French cinematographer Johanna Coelho is not only a phenomenal director of photography who has a background working with an array of different genres, but she is capable of shooting on any format, a feature that sets her apart from the masses.
“Film and digital have the same purpose: create images for telling a story. There’s a lot of discussion going on about what is best between shooting on film or digital. For me in a sense, it’s like having a discussion about which lense to use. It’s a decision that concerns one’s choice, taste and style,” explained Coelho.
With the global technological advancements we have experienced over the last two decades, the most noticeable shift when it comes to the film industry can be found in the format in which films are shot.
For instance, feature films that were once shot on 35mm filmstrips are now predominantly shot on digital, the reason being that digital technology is cheaper to reproduce, and easily transferrable.
The question of whether to shoot on digital or 35mm will always come down to the aim of the director and what the film’s director of photography (DP) feels is the most viable option for producing the director’s vision. However, for the DP to even consider taking one of these two routes they must first be capable of shooting on both formats, a skill Johanna Coelho can accomplish in her sleep.
“I think it’s amazing to want and know how to shoot both, because today we still have a choice, ” said Coelho. “I pick one over another depending on the project, story, shooting conditions, and visual style. There is a sharpness to digital that is really appreciated nowadays, and film will always give you this beautiful grainy image that gives a really cinematic aspect to your film. They do not look the same, and that’s the great thing about it.”
Coelho’s talent as a cinematographer and her ability to choose whether to shoot on film or digital depending on what will be the most compelling for the overall project, has allowed her to be far more creative than most in the craft.
The film Broken Leaves, which was directed by award-winning director Sasa Numic, follows two teenage best friends, Lana and Annie, as they go on a picnic with three boys in the woods. The film focuses on Lana’s jealousy over the attention Annie is receiving from the boys, a feeling that quickly turns to anger and leads her to do something that she immediately regrets.
Coelho worked her magic as the director of photography for the film, which was shot solely in the woods using 35mm film. Coelho’s use of the perfect filter and film, in addition to the way she captured the sunlight breaking through the trees creates a hazy, almost dreamlike feeling, one that visually supports the film’s storyline of Lana’s rash actions being grounded somewhere outside of reality.
“Broken Leaves is a story that is supposed to feel like it was shot in the 70’s, so I felt shooting on film was appropriate in order to give a realistic and beautiful grain to the images,” explained Coelho.
“Also, there is a really nice warm look created with the filter I used in the camera throughout the whole film. This particular color created with the filter worked because of the type of film I chose to use, Kodak Vision 3 5213, 200T. So it wasn’t only about the grain, but also about the choice of emulsion. Colors on film can be truly amazing if you know how to use them.”
As the director of photography for the film The Black Room, which was also shot on 35mm film and follows a convicted woman who dances away the reality of her jail sentence by imagining she is a cabaret dancer, Johanna Coelho shows her finesse and versatility with the camera. Because The Black Room was based on the incredible camera tricks invented by French illusionists and cinema genius Georges Méliès, Ms. Coelho chose to shoot on film in order to remain authentic to Méliès’ discoveries.
Creating a mesmerizing sequence of imagery using double and triple exposures on film, Coelho draws audiences in with the way she captures the character’s movements to a place where they too forget that the woman they are watching is in jail.
Concerning the use of double and triple exposure, Coelho admits, “We can do that with digital now, but it’s not as challenging or as fun! Making all of your effects happen in the camera is an incredible experience that shows you the real power of shooting on film.”
While the up and coming generations will most likely switch to shooting solely digital, there are elements of 35mm that continue to be widely cherished throughout the film industry today, and Johanna Coelho’s films serve as a testament to the importance of cinematographers having the capacity to work with both.
“Film is the very first format of cinema, and I think there is something really special about that,” said Coelho.