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Hot Docs Jots

Storytelling and Cinematography

Iris Ng has developed a reputation as one of the most versatile cinematographers within documentary. For over a decade, Iris has collaborated with award-winning directors Min Sook Lee, Fredrik Gertten, Vikram Jayanti, Angad Bhalla, Liz Marshall, and Rama Rau on a variety of documentaries. She was also Director of Photography for Sarah Polley`s 2012 hybrid masterpiece Stories We Tell. This year, League of Exotic Dancers will be opening the Hot Docs Festival on April 28th. 

Hot Docs: As a seasoned DOP, can you talk about some of the creative challenges in filming for documentary that you are grappling with in your current practice?

Iris Ng: I think for me right now, I feel aware of falling into my own conventions and the way I’m used to approaching capturing something. Without completely avoiding working with what I’m used to, I feel there are also the universal conventions that I need to strike a balance with; not using defaults, but also not using visual devices that draw attention to themselves.

Technology also affects this balance in the way lighter, faster, higher resolution image capture has become accessible, and taking advantage of the technology available without letting it affect the capturing of the story is something that has become more of a challenge for me lately.

HD: I imagine it can be difficult maintain creative control over events happening in real time . Can you offer any advice to emerging filmmakers who are trying to reconcile creating beautiful images and filming events as they unfold?

IN: I think one has to define ‘beautiful image’ to them self before addressing how to achieve it. I don’t necessarily believe the conventional definition of beauty is the goal of every story, but that it can be defined within the context of each film.

Once that has been established, I think all the concepts one talks about with the director can be brought into the unfolding event, where it has to be balanced with the reality of the situation, or even thrown out the window entirely. With shooting vérité I think adapting quickly and being flexible while being guided by those prior expectations is essential, whether it’s in a matter of a split second or over the course of the entire project.

HD: What are you working on right now?

IG: Since most of what I work on tends to shoot over a longer period of time, I’m working on a bunch of projects right now. ‘Shirkers’, a film about Singapore’s first indie film which had been rediscovered after being lost for 20 years, ‘Pictures of Infinity’is an experimental narrative about Nikola Tesla, ‘A Better Man’ which looks at the root causes of violence against women, along with other feature documentaries and films for artists. I’ve also been working on the final post stages of several films that are going to be released this year which I’m excited to see completed; including League of Exotic Dancers about the legends of burlesque, The River, which is a doc about the Drag The Red Movement in Winnipeg, An `American Masters’ episode about Loretta Lynn, and a 3D short called `Isla Santa Maria 3D’ which will be an installation at this year’s Images Festival.

Learn more about the art of Cinematography and Storytelling from Iris’ session from the 2015 Hot Docs Conference.

Learn more about the 2016 Hot Docs Conference here. 

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