Canada’s Leading Cinematographer Jonathan Bensimon

Jonathan Bensimon
Cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond (left), Jonathan Bensimon (center) & László Kovács (right)

Jonathan Bensimon is a rare breed of visionary. As both a director and cinematographer, he exercises precise control over both the storytelling and artistic aspects of his craft. He has worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment, and his exceptional talent behind the camera has earned him a myriad of awards from some of the most prestigious institutions in the business. His work with a camera knows no boundaries in genre or format, and includes everything from feature length and short films, documentaries, dramas and comedies, to music videos for major artists and commercials Fortune 500 companies.

Bensimon began his training in Toronto, and before long earned a coveted place in the exclusive Budapest Cinematography Masterclass, a program funded by Kodak and taught by Vilmos Zsigmond. Zsigmond himself has had an enormous impact on the field, having won an Oscar for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a BAFTA for The Deer Hunter, as well as an Academy Award nomination for the latter film. During this period, Bensimon worked hand-in-hand with Zsigmond on the inimitable Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda.

You Might As Well Live, Bensimon’s first feature film as a cinematographer, was a dark comedy about a “loser” trying desperately to change his fortunes. The film also marked the first feature film collaboration between director Simon Ennis and Bensimon, and garnered praise from critics at publications such as Variety and The Toronto Star. The film stars Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol. I & II), and won the award for “Most Interesting Film” at the Slamdance Film Festival where it premiered in 2009.

Having proven his innate ability to capture the essence and vision of a story on film, Simon Ennis once again chose Bensimon as the cinematographer on his film Lunarcy!.

The film premiered at the world renowned Toronto International Film Festival, and has since aired on television channels around the world.

Being that the film Lunarcy! is a documentary and the subjects aren’t actors, missing the right moment means the moment is lost, it can’t be fixed by calling another take. Bensimon had to be constantly aware of the subjects in order to catch them at their most earnest, and sometimes most vulnerable, moments.

“Although this film had a comic undertone, it was also filled with heartwarming moments,” Bensimon said when describing the challenges of the documentary. “As the cinematographer on such a documentary I had to make sure the camera was in the right place at the right time to capture these moments.”

Bensimon’s artistic vision behind the camera is perhaps best exhibited in The Long Autumn, a film set in a land where seasons last 10 years. Filmed entirely in a studio, he had to rely on his raw talent to portray a beautiful environment where the passing of seasons and years is completely fabricated, yet wholly immersive and believable.

“A climactic scene takes place just before winter sets in,” said Bensimon, describing his signature technique and unique visual approach. “To light the surreal set, I used blacks and deep blues to illustrate the darkness and the drama of the scene. The film was shot on Super 16 to give the images texture and grain.”

Bensimon again applied that vision in his work on The Death of Chet Baker, a dark film about the jazz icon’s mysterious death. Exhibiting his adaptive style, Bensimon filmed primarily on a handheld camera in low light to capture the haunting mood.

His critically-acclaimed work is by no means limited to his work on films, however. He’s been receiving recognition and praise for his cinematography and directorial work on music videos for nearly a decade, and has been credited on more than 25 videos for international recording artists. Among those musicians is Grammy and Juno Award winner Nelly Furtado; Bensimon exhibited his diverse talent for cinematography in Furtado’s video, Spirit Indestructible.

Bensimon’s cinematography in the video for Canadian artist Kreesha Turner’s hit song Rock Paper Scissors was also nominated for a MuchMusic Video Award in 2012.

In addition to this immense catalog of work, Bensimon has also served as both director and cinematographer on dozens of commercials and advertising campaigns. Notably, his work directing and filming the hilarious Canadian Zombie short film, promoting the Canadian Film Festival, earned him one gold and two silver medals across three categories from the Advertising and Design Club of Canada. The promo also made the short list for the Cannes Lions, the branch of the Cannes Film Festival that awards filmmakers of advertisements; the Cannes Lions festival has been referred to as the world’s biggest ad-film festival.

His immense commercial resume also includes gold medal-winning work on several public service announcements for the World AIDS Organization, as well as both director and cinematographer credits on advertising campaigns for massive international companies such as Walmart, Honda, Mazda, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Budweiser, Tylenol, Bayer, Hitachi, Keurig and Hershey’s, just to name a few.

Nobody else in the field today can match Jonathan Bensimon’s cinematography chops. He is without a doubt one of the most talented and prolific filmmakers in the business, and his credits and commendations are sure to multiply exponentially over the coming months. Most importantly, Bensimon has exhibited a rare and masterful ability to produce work that is at times commercial, at other times entertainment, but no matter the project, his work without exception possesses the touch of a visionary and an artist.

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