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Sir Roger Deakins (he was knighted in 2021 for his contributions to the art and craft of cinematography) has achieved iconic status as a cinematographer, so much so that when San Francisco, where I live, experienced a day when the sun did not come out due to local wildfires, the most common comment I heard was “Roger Deakins was right,” referring to his work in Denis Villeneuve’s BLADE RUNNER 2049, in which he envisioned a future of dull reds and dim sunlight.
A two-time Oscar™ winner, Deakins has been nominated this year for Sam Mendes’ EMPIRE OF LIGHT, a film about unconventional attachments, race riots, and the magic of cinema in 1980s England. It stars Olivia Coleman, in another emotionally powerful performance, as a woman coping with personal demons that eventually embroil her co-workers at the movie palace she manages. It begins with Coleman’s character opening the venue for the day, a silent sequence that allows us to soak up the way Deakins can set a mood using light and shadow.
When I spoke with Sir Roger via Zoom on December 1, 2022, I asked him about that opening, but we started with that sunless day in San Francisco that brought him to the collective mind of the Bay Area.
We went on to talk about his groundbreaking work on 1917, including how he found out that Sam Mendes had planned it as seeming like one, continuous take; the pressures of weather; and how he looks back on his early work as a photographer.
We finished up with his collaborations with Denis Villeneuve; his favorite directors (with whom he hasn’t collaborated); and what I consider the final word on the film vs. digital discussion.