From the strategically selected cameras, lenses and lights to the composition, angles and the pacing of each shot, cinematography is both a science and an art. A great cinematographer knows how to weave the emotional elements of a story into a film’s visual language in a way that makes the audience feel something without even needing to hear the actors’ dialogue. One powerful woman who has made a name for herself as an extraordinarily talented cinematographer is Olesia Saveleva.
“I love the balance between art and science in being a cinematographer. I love working with cameras, I know I can be precise with settings. I just love the engineering part of it,” explains Saveleva. “The artistic part of it makes cinematography addictive. I love collaborating with a director to find different ways to convey emotions to the audience…. And when the audience reacts emotionally to what you’ve done, that is a pure satisfaction.”
With her increasingly impressive body of work Saveleva, who’s originally from Yekaterinburg, Russia, has carved out an impressive reputation for herself as a diversely skilled cinematographer in the U.S. and abroad. Some of the films she’s become known for recently include IFS Award nominee Jorge S. Pallas’ drama “In Girum Imus Nocte,” which won the Award of Recognition from the 2016 IndieFEST Film Awards, as well as the Diamond and Silver Awards from the LA Shorts Awards, the 2015 crime film “Brothers” with James McVan from the series “Britannia,” the dramatic film “Steady Eddie” starring Robert Daniel Sloan from the horror film “Sinister 2,” and more.
Prior to moving into filmmaking Saveleva, who attended the prestigious American Film Institute Conservatory where she received her M.F.A in cinematography, received her bachelor’s in economics and went into real estate, but the draw of the cinema was too strong to ignore.
Saveleva says, “When I started to make movies my life changed. I had an infinite interest in filmmaking. And cinematography was the main part of it… To be able to share people’s personal stories… to capture the right emotion with the right light through the right framing is fascinating.”
Earlier this year Saveleva was the cinematographer on the multi-award winning film “Immigrant Brothers,” which had its world premiere at the Atlantic City Cinefest earlier this month where Marlon Samuda, one of the film’s lead actors, earned a Best Actor Award. Directed by Nicholas Joseph Cunha, who won the LABRFF Award for the film “Red Souls,” “Immigrant Brothers” is heart-wrenching drama starring Samuda (“RomCom,” Above Suspicion”), Sean Babapulle from the comedy series “The Millionaires” and Orlando Pineda from the award-winning film “Summer with Alicia.”
The film follows three immigrants, all from different countries, who form a brotherly bond as they struggle to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. As each one chooses a different method to make money– with one of them begging for change on the corner and another stealing from people, the intensity of the film’s story is heightened by third boy’s decision to try prostitution. However, on the eve of his first night turning tricks his ‘brothers’ intervene and beat up his first customer, which enrages the pimp and ultimately leads one of them to be killed.
As the film’s cinematographer Saveleva created a powerful visual language with her use of the camera. Choosing to shoot the film in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio (widescreen), which drives the feeling of emptiness when one of the brothers is alone in the frame compared to when all three brothers are in the frame, which makes the shot feel complete, Saveleva’s strategic decisions in terms of the film’s composition were key to driving the emotional aspects of the story.
“The other important thing to us was the angles we used. The characters situation worsens with the progression of the film and the camera angles become more dramatic,” Saveleva explains. “From eye level we go to extreme low angle and to extreme high angle. We either look down on them or we sit low with them and look up trying to make the audience feel in their shoes.”
Saveleva’s seasoned skill in the field definitely shines through in the touching story that “Immigrant Brothers” brings to the screen, something that is proven by the fact that the film took home the award for Best Drama Film from the European Cinematography Awards, in addition to being chosen as a Finalist at the Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival and an Official Selection of the Sanctuary Cove International Film Festival.
For those in the UK, the film “The Perfect Dinner,” another one of Saveleva’s recent works as a cinematographer, is slated to premiere at St James’s Sussex Gardens on December 16 at 7:30 p.m. accompanied by the Notting Hill Film Orchestra. “The Perfect Dinner,” starring Casara Clark from the series “Thirtysomething” and “Trauma,” and Robert Rice from the series “Moms Anonymous,” is yet another one of Saveleva’s collaborations with director Jorge S. Pallas.
“I am a director, but I worked as a cinematographer myself. So I have a strong visual style… Collaborating with Olesia we find new ways to tell my story better, she is like my second pair of eyes, she sees things differently and helps me see them too,” explains Pallas. “She is very creative. She knows without saying if I don’t like something and she comes up with a new solution right away.”