Cinematography is essentially defined as the art of making moving pictures; however there is so much more to the practice than just pointing a video camera at a scene and pressing record. Depending on the cameras, lighting, staging, and a number of other factors, cinematography makes the difference between the trash heap and the blockbuster (Pahle, 2013). Anthony Dod Mantle, the cinematographer for the film Slumdog Millionaire, is well-known for his digital cinematography, which, he says, is strongly influenced by some of the old greats. Working out of England, Mantle is one of the first cinematographer to use the Red One digital camera when shooting a popular British television show called Wallander. His work on the series gained recognition in the form of the British Academy Television Craft Award.
He was also nominated for the RTS Craft and Design Award in the category of lighting, photography and camera – photography – drama. In 2009, he won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on the film Slumdog Millionaire. “Whether you are working in photography or film, it’s about contrast, luminance, density, exposure … I’ve become known for movement. Why and how you move the camera is an essential part of our job” (Feeney-Hart, 2014). Looking at a scene from the film Slumdog Millionaire helps illustrate what he means.
The film itself follows the story of a young Indian boy, Jamal Malik, who grows up in the Juhu slums of Mumbai to become a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Even though he’s an uneducated child from the slums, he is able to get every answer on the show correct until just before he is asked the million dollar question. At that point, he is taken in by police on suspicion of cheating. Therefore, the film traces his responses to the police regarding how he knows the answers to each question. Each one relates in some way to his past experience: obtaining a much-coveted signature from a big Indian film star only to have his brother sell the photo; running from the Bombay riots when his mother was killed; surviving on the trash heaps until he and his brother, Salim, and their friend Latika are conned into working as a street kid; his brother saving him from being blinded as a means of making more money for the conman; and, eventually, his brother’s betrayal in taking Latika while kicking Jamal out. Through it all, Jamal’s one drive in life has been to try to save Latika, which was also the primary motivation behind him wanting to appear on the show in the first place.
The artistry of Mantle’s work can be seen within the scene in which the children have run from the riots and are attempting to fend for themselves in the Mumbai trash heap, in particular, the moment just before Maman the conman comes to add them to his gang of street children.
In this scene, the two boys are seen sleeping within a small tent they’ve fashioned for themselves out of patched burlap and other trash they’ve found in the heap. Latika can be seen just barely on the horizon, distant, almost lost in the haze, but scouting for something to help the group. The shot sets up the gross disparity between the children living on the trash heap in the most primitive of tents and scavenging for food scraps while the pristine lines of a modern office building can be seen peeking up from behind the trash, almost mocking the children in its luxury and comfort. Just at the edge of the scene, a cow can be seen roaming through the trash heap as well, symbolizing the impending action in which the children are added to the conman’s stable of beggar livestock. While the immediate foreground is lit with a clear yellow glow, indicating the children are still full of hope that they will find a way to survive, the background atmosphere is hazy, indicating their way forward might not be as bright as it seems.
- Feeney-Hart, Alison. “Top 10 Tips for being a cinematographer.” BBC News. (November 22, 2014). Web. http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-30128725
- Pahle, Rebecca. “Wisdom: Sol Negrin on Teaching Cinematography.” MovieMaker. (August 5, 2013). Web. http://www.moviemaker.com/category/articles-cinematography/