Strolling down the River: ARRI Alexa Mini and Mudbound.
- Release: 2017, Dee Rees (Dir). Netflix
- Cameras: ARRI Alexa Mini
- Lenses: Panavision C & D Series Anamorphic Lenses
- Cinematographer: Rachel Morrison
Concluding our series of close examinations of the camera & lens systems used in the 90th Academy Award season. We put on our waders and take a stroll down the Mississippi in the post-WWII Deep South with Dee Rees’ Mudbound. Depicting the migration of two rural families, one white and one black, as they cross the delta searching for a new beginning. Tackling racial tensions, segregation, PTSD and poverty, garnering the first woman to be nominated for Best Cinematography for Rachel Morrison’s achievement here with ARRI Alexa Mini.
The Rundown: Mudbound’s performance at the 90th Academy Awards
- Best Supporting Actress – Mary J. Blige: Nominated
- Best Adapted Screenplay – Dee Rees & Virgil Williams: Nominated
- Best Original Song – “Mighty River” – Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq & Taura Stinson: Nominated
- Best Cinematography – Rachel Morrison: Nominated
After an overwhelmingly positive reception at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. The reception of Mudbound was one of a gorgeous, stunning depiction of a brutal land torn by segregation. Much more than just a ‘Grapes of Wrath of our time’, Mudbound was clearly a film that had power in it’s image. As quite often occurs, an independent feature can premiere at Sundance with the option of being picked up for a distributor for cinematic release. In a twist of modern intervention, Netflix procured the distribution rights, granting Mudbound a very contemporary method of streaming for a period piece.
“We chose older lenses, a mix of Panavision C and D Series anamorphic as well as Vintage Super Speeds from the 60s and 70s that had inherently reduced contrast and many optical aberrations. We decided to embrace the aspherical softening around the edges because we felt that even on a subconscious level, this would help the imagery feel more like the FSA [Farm Security Administration] photography of the era.”
- Rachel Morrison
“We tested both anamorphic and spherical 16mm on the ARRI 416 (which to this day is still my favourite camera ever designed) as well as anamorphic and spherical lenses on 35mm vs the ARRI Alexa shooting ARRI Raw…In the end, we shot Open Gate ARRI Raw on the Alexa Mini, and I am proud of what we were able to achieve. It still feels a bit sacrilegious, but I hope the film gods (and FSA [Farm Security Administration] photographers) will forgive us and provide enough to go analogue the next time around.”
- Rachel Morrison
Whilst sacrificing the original ambition of filming Mudbound on analogue film stock, Morrison chose the digital route, utilizing the ARRI Alexa Mini camera in combination with older Panasonic anamorphic and spherical lenses. By selecting the C & D series, this helped to contrast the sharpness of the digital sensor, remeniscient of the older age of 1940’s photography.
“We shot on two ARRI Alexa Mini cameras, predominately with anamorphic lenses. They were Panavision C-series, some Ds, and actually a few B-series, of which there are only a handful in the world. It was an eclectic compilation of glass, partly because of what was available and what we could afford, and partly because we were actually looking for glass that was imperfect.”
- Rachel Morrison
The culmination of both production requirements, budgetary restrictions and artistic choices helped to fuse the choices for Morrison here. Clearly the old adage of ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. Its suiting that in a film discussing the breaking of borders went on to achieve the first nomination for a woman in a cinematography role. Moving rapidly on to join the production of Black Panther, we look forward to seeing the future achievements of Rachel Morrison’s career.
No Film School