Giving Life Through the Camera: Cinematographer Vittoria Campaner

(Cinematographer Vittoria Campaner)

            The camera is mighty! Able to sway the masses or speak to an individual’s innermost thoughts, film has altered the human mind in relation to all things. There’s nothing grandiose about this statement. The emotional power of the camera to move us is proven by the still and moving images embraced collectively by us all as a species. Italian cinematographer Vittoria Campaner recognized the magic of moving images early on and has committed her life to channeling it in order to relay messages of importance and inspiration to enlightened audiences. Her wielding this skill so masterfully has enabled her directors/collaborators to materialize the impactful messages to which all storytellers aspire. While still exhibiting her own proficiency and artistry, Campaner uses her visual sense to amplify the voice of the story. “The films I shoot are rarely conventional in their design,” proclaims Vittoria, who is known for her affinity for the long take and inclination to risk taking. “The directors I collaborate with,” she continues, “know this early. Ultimately, I believe that a DP must adapt in service to the story. The director’s vision must become my bible before I bring in my beliefs and thoughts. My work alters and mutates with each collaboration. Thus, my style can be present but should not dominate.”

            Director Liang Zhao wanted to create a film as a love letter to her hometown of Guiyang, China; a film about how people can change in one’s absence. From A Distance shows how those you knew so well can seem unrecognizable and strange upon reintroduction. Understanding that the visual element of this story was demanding, Zhao acquired Campaner as cinematographer for the film. The tale follows a college girl named Yuan Yuan who returns home but, instead of rushing to greet her loved ones, embarks on a spying expedition following a couple and seeking to uncover the secrets they keep from each other. Following the protagonist’s POV closely, the camera indulges playfully in voyeuristic intrigue creating anticipation for a looming surprise. Through Vittoria’s visual contributions, we learn about these characters’ personalities and the connection between them as they engage in their everyday activities. As the DP explains: “We opted to make use of long takes to convey the sense of voyeurism and to play with expectations. What is our protagonist looking for? We also understand the limitations to what a voyeur can see. The camera can only tilt and pan, so vital information may be hidden behind walls. Looking at the neighbourhood from a fixed position, we wanted to make the audience a participant in this young woman’s gaze and to convey the curiosity she feels towards her former community, whom she views without judgment. This POV approach is reversed near the end of the film when Yuan Yuan herself becomes the subject of our gaze.” From A Distance is an Official Selection of this year’s Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, La Guarimba Film Festival, Flicker Rhode Island International Film Festival, and Bogotá Short Film Festival.

            With director/actress Fabianne Therese Gstottenmayr, known for her work on the films Playing It Cool (starring People’s Choice Award Winning actor Chris Evans aka Captain America of the Marvel franchise) and John Dies at the End (starring Oscar Nominated Actor Paul Giamatti), Campaner collaborated on the absurdist romantic drama The Ex, currently in post-production. Starring Odessa Young and Monica Lek, The Ex is a near hyperbolic tale of the irresistible pull a former lover can elicit. The chase becomes literal as one woman pursues the other throughout the city. Award winning actress Odessa Young, one of the film’s two leads, espouses the positive benefits of working with a cinematographer of such consummate skill, declaring: “When I met Vitto her reputation as a cinematographer preceded her. She’s as deft and sensitive behind the camera as she is in real life, in her friendships and as a creator. Vitto is down for anything and her energy and dedication are palpable on set. She’s one of those alchemists with light and image who makes a small budget and a crew of friends feel like an affair of the highest caliber. I’d let Vitto film me any day.”

            Once the Covid lockdown expires and the film industry resumes, Campaner is already set to take the cinematographer’s chair for a duo of tense yet drastically different feature films. For director Jamil Munoz she will DP Muslimah, a story about an American convert to Islam who falls in love with a Somali cab driver, which results in a complicated and forbidden romance. Bryant Terrell Griffin, well known for his decade-long tenure at Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic – where he contributed to films by George Lucas, Steven Speilberg, Gore Verbinski, Guillermo Del Toro, and others –, has procured Vittoria as his cinematographer on his Young Kings, which he will direct. Griffin illuminates his reasons for enlisting Campaner as follows: “I’m very visual when it comes to colors, compositions, space, and movement within a frame. Young Kings is an intense character piece in which I want to explore the interiority of the characters. I want to take internal restrained emotions, subtle and complex emotions, and visualize them without dialogue. It’s extremely difficult. That is what Vitto excels at in my opinion. She can take what’s inside and find ways to make it come alive on screen. Not through crazy tricks or camera moves, but subtle changes in POV, camera placement, angles, and lighting. She knows how to capture stillness in a way that is engaging. It’s very, very tough to do.”

           For her part, Vittoria Campaner sees the camera as a communicative tool. Having filmed in so many different parts of the world – from China to Italy to Norway and North America –, Vittoria has cultivated her skill to allow the images and perspectives to transcend any spoken language. The filmmakers who seek her out for their productions recognize her ability to create intimate connections between the characters of these stories as well as the audience, often in a surprising manner.

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