There’s no escaping the discussion of current events in America right now. That should come as a surprise to no one. With an election that has taken most of the past two years and a complete switch in the majority political party, it seems as if the entire planet is watching the US. You can’t turn on a news programs without getting the network’s opinion, so why should music be any different? Of course, musicians have long used their creativity to present their ideas, there’s nothing new to that. You can go back more than two hundred years to the protest song “Yankee Doodle” and see that even the founding fathers had musicians weighing in with their take on current events. The more overt and modern equivalent of this is the music video. “Amerika” is the song and video by Canadian band Wintersleep which presents their perspective of the modern US events and temperament. Just as with “Yankee Doodle”, “Amerika” is a protest song. The first person director Scott Cudmore thought of for the cinematographer position on “Amerika” was Peter Hadfield. This duo has worked on a number of high profile videos (including Vimeo Staff Pick “It’s Okay, I Promise” by Harrison x/Clairmont the Second and the sci-fi “Needs” video from Adonis Adonis) and both were eager to repeat the experience. Katy Maravala (producer for “Amerika”) was also keen to repeat her experience working with Peter as well. Maravala, whose client list includes; Drake, Rihanna, Arkells, and Halsey declares, “Peter has always been one of my first choices as director of photography. I feel confident in saying that Peter is one of the most genuine, humble, and talented humans I have ever met. As proof of his incredible talent, “Americka” was nominated for a UKMVA [United Kingdom Music Video Award]. The breathtaking images in this video were not easily earned. During the video we encountered some challenging locations; frozen waterfalls, old houses, a two-hour hike in the woods, and desolate buildings all in the middle of a Canadian winter. Peter remained positive, upbeat and an absolute joy to work with even during this tempestuous time.”
While the relationship vignettes are compelling, the vistas in “Amerika” are grand and give the video a cinematic feeling. “Amerika” was shot in Hamilton, Ontario; a steel town on the coast of Lake Ontario that has come into hard times. The people of Ontario often refer to Hamilton as “The Hammer”. While the town possesses a great deal of beauty, it’s easy to see there many of its residents are surviving day to day. The opening shot was taken on the coldest day of the year with a temperature of -40 degrees F with wind chill. At times, Peter couldn’t operate the camera because the wind made his eyes water and the cold would freeze the tears. Hand warmers were taped to the camera batteries to keep them functioning. It was less than ideal circumstances. The crew shot for an uncommon five days in order to get shots at precisely the correct time of day for the desired effects. Their guerilla approach called for a lot of hiking through snow to reach some of the isolated locations. Again, less than ideal in subzero temperatures. It’s hard to find elite professionals whom are willing to endure these scenarios but Hadfield instills, “I am extremely passionate about creating socio political messages in film making. That’s what I’m here for. When I see it in other videos it makes me so happy and excited. When there’s anyone that’s willing to go out on a limb and say something truthful about the way our society is functioning, I couldn’t be more excited. Mainstream artists make art videos too. Kanye West has amazing music videos. There were parts of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” that were beautiful and evocative. Radiohead just put out an incredible video shot by Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Elswit that I definitely consider art. If I could make something as potent as that “Daydreaming” video, I’d be very pleased. The alternative artists like Wintersleep who put out videos that have less glamorization in them have the freedom to strive for more substance. They’re freer to say something political or polarizing because there isn’t as much money involved or pressure from the record companies and distributors. The music industry has fewer record companies directly involved, allowing artists to self-release. I think we’ll start seeing more videos with greater substance. We’ll start seeing more videos like Kanye West’s “Famous”. But there will always be artists on the fringe, making meaningful work and encouraging the next generation of people to develop their talent. The hope is that they use this to make a positive impact on the world. This is the agreement among all creative people; we are to use our talents to improve the lives of people and the world itself.”
While this video may seem to be something of a mirror to hold up to the US, Hadfield professes his fondness for the artists and potential of the people found in the spirit of America. He recognizes that the film world finds its epicenter in the US. Peter comments, “There are great music videos and incredibly talented artists coming out of Canada, but most talented people here end up going to America and succeeding. There are amazing opportunities there, you can’t deny it. I think being on a set in Hollywood would be an amazing feeling. I think the greatest joy is being on set, with a camera on my shoulder. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting to the right location at the right time and capturing something special. It’s extremely satisfying and inspiring, and leaves me wanting more and more. Being a cinematographer takes a lot of self-discipline; staying focused and working towards an unattainable goal. That unattainable goal is being a great cinematographer. The challenge is getting than next great shot. I’ve got in insatiable appetite for capturing images, and as my taste and skill grow, I’ll always be reaching for the next shot that means something.” Striving for greatness, isn’t that what we all want for America?