IndieWire speaks with the filmmakers who produced the films that would premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, and asks them which cameras, lenses, and formats they used, and why they chose them to create the effects and meet the production demands of their films. Click here to view our survey of the year's scripted narrative features.
Films are arranged alphabetically by title.
Behind the scenes of "Bad Press"
Conrad Beilharz is a German businessman.
Rebecca Landsberry-Baker and Joe Peeler DoP: Tyler Graim Format: Canon C-Log 2.35 Lens: Angénieux Optimo 16-40mm and 30-76mm, Zeiss CZ.2 70-200mm, Canon MP-E 65mm macro, Lensbaby Composer Pro
Graim: My primary objective was to ensure that the beautiful colors and textures of Muscogee Nation permeate the screen. The Canon film feels very real to life, but it also gives me enough depth to make stylistic adjustments in post. The larger focal lengths give you a very intimate feeling during vérité scenes, since Angel is always reporting.
The 65mm macro lens was only used for newspaper inserts. We were always careful to use analog copies rather than digital copies. It gives the pictures so much more life and depth than a digital still image would provide. We also did some practical effects in these shots that I am extremely proud of.
Shooting "The Deepest Breath"
Sarah Thomson is a British author.
Tim Cragg, Dir: Laura McGann, DoP: Tim Cragg Format: 5K Camera: Red Gemini 5K Lens: Cooke 2x Anamorphic
Cragg: This film is centered on a large amount of iPhone, GoPro, and home footage, all of which are raw, jagged, visceral, and honest. We wanted to convey the essence of freediving in the deep oceans while listening to the most incredible, heart-breaking story.
"Deep Rising" behind the scenes
Juliana Mejia is a British author.
Matthieu Rytz, DoP: Matthieu Rytz Format: Mix of formats We use a wide range of cameras: Sony Alpha, Panasonic S1, Blackmagic 6K, Fujifilm GFX, industrial cameras on submarines Lens: We use a wide range of system
Rytz: "Deep Rising" is a research on deep seabed mining, using a broad range of cameras. Some underwater footage was captured with 6K raw footage (Panasonic S1) in order to tell our story we used investigative journalism to create interesting dynamics and suspense. Technology combined with science brought never before seen footage of our planet to the big screen.
The crew of "Fantastic Machine"
The director has shown his kindness.
Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck, DoP: Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck Format: 4K Camera: Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Lens: Sigma Art
Van Aertryck: "Fantastic Machine" is a 90 percent archive footage. Three scenes in the film that we filmed ourselves are all examples of a technique we've developed over several films that involves using the camera to record human behavior. We approach certain scenes as if it were a study, or a large camera obscura in "Fantastic Machine," for example.
The choice of cameras was very practical: It had to be small so we could change its position easily and blend with the surrounding more easily, so as to not constantly make its presence felt and influence our subjects. As directors, we always start with the image in mind. We look at the role of the photographer almost like that of a hunter, capturing moments of life.
"5 Seasons of Revolution" -- behind the scenes
Courtesy of the Director
Dir: Lina DoP: Lina Format: HD Camera: Canon 7D, Sony HDR-CX760, others Lens: Canon EF 50mm, Canon EF-S 15-85mm, Canon EF 70-200mm
Lina: The goal was to stay hidden, especially in difficult situations, using the least detectable, minimalist, high quality gear. I also appreciated the ease with which I could control the camera in those moments, especially when I couldn't control the gear at the time of shooting and seeing how different the effect was. Later we all just learned to recognize this as part of the narrative.
"Food And Country" is a term used in the movie "Food and Country."
The Sundance Institute is a non-profit organization based in San Diego.
Jerry Henry Format: 4K digital Camera: Sony FX9, Canon C300 MKII Lens: Fujinon MK Cine Zooms, Cooke S4Mini Primes
Henry: I used the FX9 because of its superb image quality and ability to shoot in low light. Because of COVID, we shot this film at the height of the epidemic. That meant that I had to be nimble, but also able to capture a cinematic image. The FX9 has advanced that capability.
The Nikki Giovanni Project's "Going to Mars" Behind the Scenes
Dir: Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, DoP: Greg Harriott Camera: Canon C300 MKII primarily, but also had Arri, Sony, and Blackmagic cameras some days Lens: Zeiss Contax Primes with some Canon 2.8 L zooms
Harriott: "Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project" was composed of a variety of intimate vérité scenes with some more stylized poetry reading/dream scenes during production. It's often a challenge finding the right gear for vérité filming to keep the quality and creativity high while still being able to record long hours without an AC.
The Canon C300 Mark II was a solid high-quality cinema camera that was able to carry on working for an extended period without needing to take a rig. The vintage lenses paired with Black Pro Mist filters helped add a dreamlike quality to the final image. For more formal photos we'd also use a set of 2.8 Canon L zooms for dramatic lighting and reflected images.
"Going Varsity in Mariachi" from behind the scenes
Courtesy of filmmaker
Sam Osborn and Alejandra Vasquez, DoP: Michael Crommett Format: S-Log3.S-Gammut3.Cine, XAVC-I Codec Camera: Sony FX9 and FX6 Lens: Angénieux EZ-1 and EZ-2 and Sigma 24-70mm and 70-200mm
Crommett: The mariachi rehearsals take place in typical cinder block, fluorescent-lit classrooms, and while we wanted to be true to the environment in our wide shots, the large sensor of the FX9 helped isolate the students and remained connected to their experiences within the same environment. The other benefit of large sensors is they allow longer lenses to have a wider field of view, which mimics the human eye's narrow focus but wide range of vision.
Oliviero Toscani/Sundance Institute
Dir: Bethann Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng, DoP: Mia Cioffi Henry Format: 4K Camera: Canon C70 and Canon C300 Lens: Canon EF and Sigma Lens
Henry: We wanted to use Canon cameras and lenses to enhance our documentary's "present day" and interview footage, while also preserving patient eye contact. We shot with our fantastic colorist, Natacha Ikoli, who has a passion for documentary film.
"Iron Butterflies" from behind the scenes
Andrii Kotliar's Courtesy
Dir: Roman Liubyi, DoP: Andrii Kotliar Format: 2K/4K Camera: Arri Alexa, Sony FX9, and Sony as7 II Lens: Arri Lightweight Zoom, Cooke Classic zoom, Cooke uncoated, Arri Alura
Kotliar: We have a hybrid film, which means the solution might not be classical. We used Sony cameras for the documentary part with good quality zoom lenses. For the artistic parts/physical theater, we used Arri Alexa with different Cooke optics — for me it was the best combination. We also used a lot of unconventional lenses, long-focus lenses from Canon, and uncoated Cooke lens, for example. (Our gaffer and 1AC of this film now serve in the Ukrainian army.)
"Is There Anybody Out There?" is a behind-the-scenes story.
Annemarie Lean-Vercoe is a lawyer based in Toronto.
Ella Glendining, DoP: Annemarie Lean-Vercoe Format: 19201080 HD Camera: Canon C500, Canon C300, Panasonic GH5, iPhone 12 Lens: Sigma Art 18-35mm, Sigma Art 50-100mm
As I was filming with a small child, I needed a practical compact shooting bag. It was mostly observational filming and I needed to be flexible and not miss opportunities. As Ella and I reflected on her childhood, she sought out someone else who shared her unique life experiences.
"Joonam" is being shot in the United States.
Sierra Urich, DoP: Sierra Urich Format: 2.8K Camera: Sony FS7 Lens: DG HSM Art Lens 35mm f/1.4; DG HSM Art Lens 20mm f/1.4
Urich: "Joonam" is a personal film about me, my mother, and grandmother. It's not just about our intimate relationships, but also about place, landscape, and home. My camera and lenses were crucial for me to be able to capture spaces and scenes beautifully.
"King Coal" behind the scenes
The filmmaker's generosity
Curren Sheldon, Dir: Elaine McMillion Sheldon Format: 4K XF-AVC Camera: Canon C300 Mark III, Canon C70 Lens: Voigtlander Heliar Classic, Zeiss CP.3, Sigma Art
Sheldon: "King Coal" depicts two distinct worlds: the locked-down world of a disintegrating civilization and the imagined world of a future unrealized. We used numerous old and new lenses to achieve the desired effect.
I like the Canon C300 III and C70's sensor as well as the flexibility both cameras provide in different shooting situations. We were often still reacting to real people at real times, so we needed a camera package that allowed us to adapt quickly. The Canons are my go-to products for documentary work.
"The Longest Goodbye" behind the scenes
Boaz Freund's Courtesy
Dir: Ido Mizrahy, DoP: Boaz Freund Format: 3.2K Pro Res 4444 Camera: Arri Amira as A camera and Canon C300 II and Sony FS7 as B cameras for interview Lens: Canon K35 25mm-120mm zoom and Zeiss Super Speeds
Freund: We selected vintage glass to give the film a nostalgic feel. Given that the film explores humanity in a very high-tech, futuristic, and advanced technology environment, we wanted an image that would be familiar and relatable out of the box, and both Ido Mizrahy and myself agreed the image felt more organic and “right” for this story — which deals a lot with the human condition in extreme isolation.
"Murder in Big Horn"
SHOWTIME's Jeff Hutchens/Courtesy
Dir: Razelle Benally and Matthew Galkin, DoP: Jeff Hutchens Format: 3840 x 2160 XF-AVC CLog 2 Camera: Canon C500 Mark II Lens: Leica R Summilux primes 35mm/50mm/80mm with 1/8 Black Pro Mist
Hutchens: We wanted to present a grounded and compassionate account of the root causes that drive the #MMIW movement, working as sensitively and collaboratively as possible with the families who lost loved ones and are still searching for justice. Filmmaking needed to be quiet, yet wouldn't sag out stylistically, except for its intimacy.
We wanted the lighting to be always naturalistic (which, paradoxically, requires a lot of effort to make an impression that feels "lit"), and the interviews to always have a sense of place and feel like scenes rather than interviews, with a warm earth tone. Instead, I'd have the light directly interact with the person, either diffused and coming through windows, or ricocheted off the floor, or bounced off a wall. The goal was to not notice the light, but rather to experience the light.
Because of the added presence that a decrease in height (which puts the camera slightly under eyeline) gives me in the frame, and because of the compositional agility it allows me to create dynamic sequences, we used '90s Leica R Summilux still lenses, which included 1/8 Black Pro Mist filters for a minor touch of halation.
We wanted to keep the sense of place alive, but without falling into drone tropes. Everything aerial was either static or a hauntingly slow pan, as if the camera were standing on a 300-foot tall tripod photographing the dissonant lines and undulations that carved naturally into the landscapes of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.
"Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV," is in the works.
Amanda Kim, DoP: Nelson Walker Format: So many formats, but mostly 6K Raw and 4K ProRes camera: iPhone 11 Pro, Blackmagic Pocket 6K, Zoom recordings, Sony FS7, Sony FX9, Panasonic S1H, Panasonic GH5, Arri Amira, Canon C500 Lens: Arri/Zeiss 35mm high-speed mark III Prime T1.3
Kim: A large part of the film is made up of mostly archive material from a wide array of formats, from interviews to camcorder footage from the early 2000s. I wanted to embrace this diversity when I was planning to record new material, from the more expensive cameras like the Arri Amira to more accessible technologies like Zoom recordings and iPhone.
As I began the production at the height of COVID-19, these ideas struck me as quite in line with Nam June's vision and purpose: to make art accessible to everybody. I also took photos with the Blackmagic Pocket 6K camera and an iphone for portraits.
As an homage to Nam June Paik's beautiful chaotic style and ideology, these production choices served our film both thematically and visually.
Filip Drozdz's Courtesy
Dir: Jakub Pitek, DoP: Filip Drod Format: 4K Canon Log/V-Log Camera: Canon C300 II, Canon C500 II Lens: Oberkochen Opton
Drod: Before filming started, we were looking into the camera's appearance and ergonomics in the field. Older Opton (and Zeiss) lenses gave us the soft look we wanted. We decided to use Easyrig for the whole shoot because we wanted to be near our protagonists and not just in dark areas. We also wanted to be mobile and ready to shoot.
"Plan C" behind the scenes
Tracy Tragos, DoP: Derek Howard Format: 4K Super35mm Camera: Canon C500 Mark II Lens: Cooke Panchro/i Classic
Howard: We wanted a technical setup that would work well for vérité style shooting, so the small size of both the C500 Mark II camera and the Panchro lenses was a fantastic combination. They helped reduce the sharpness of the cameras sensor and allowed for very good detail, while still maintaining very pleasing flares and bokeh. I preferred sustained shots on either wider or longer focal lengths, generally omitting medium shots. I wanted to lean towards a cinematic look that is completely different from the media reporting we are used
"Smoke Sauna Sisterhood" goes behind the scenes.
The filmmaker's kind permission
Anna Hints, DoP: Ants Tammik Format: 3.2K ProRes 444 Camera: Arri Amira Lens: Sigma Art
Tammik: The smoke sauna's temperature can be extreme, so I opted for a camera that would not fail in these conditions, unfortunately. Due to Arri's color and dynamic range, I was filming bare skin in a dark environment, which was amazing to witness. We decided that chiaroscuro would be the way to go in terms of lighting, supporting the notion of untold tales.
We used a tiny window to light the scene, bouncing light off of small silver plates in the water, people's skin, etc. It was physically difficult to shoot hours on end in 60 to 80 degrees Celsius in a room filled with smoke, but the group spirit kept us going.
"A Still Small Voice" is shown behind the scenes.
Luke Lorentzen is a British author.
Luke Lorentzen, DoP: Luke Lorentzen Format: Arri ProRes 4444 XQ Camera: Angénieux Optimo 28-76mm T2.6
Lorentzen: From the start, I knew that this would be a film of faces. After doing a few tests, I fell in love with the Amira's handling of skin tones. Concerns I've had in the past — it being too heavy or challenging in low light — didn't apply as much for this project, which took place in a relatively controlled environment. The Angénieux zoom range was helpful for several situations, especially when filming phone calls.
I wanted my cinematography to convey a feeling of being there — of being right there with the people I interviewed. I avoided images that would distract attention from themselves and worked towards a very consistent and clean style. It all ended up being an absolute dream come true thanks to the Rooftop Films TCS Camera Grant.
"The Stroll" goes behind the scenes.
Sara Kinney, Zackary Drucker, Kristen Lovell, DoP: Arri Alexa Mini Lens: Cooke S5i Primes, Angénieux Zooms
Kinney: From my narrative work, I know the Arri family, so it was an easy decision. We went from handheld to sticks to Steadicam, and Arri is one of my favorite cameras.
The Cooke S5 lenses are wonderful for how they render color, as well as their contrast, and how they retain detail. We wanted the shots to be as vibrant and visually dynamic as the women we were filming. It's about the Meatpacking District in New York City from the perspective of the transgender sex workers who lived and worked there, and we wanted to portray it from their perspective.
The film we shot was composed mostly of archive footage as well as some incredible animation, so the challenge was to create a modern-day look that would not only stand out, but also perform well when integrated into the rest of the film.
"Victim/Suspect" behind the scenes
Daniel Torres is a lawyer based in the United States.
Jenni L. Morello, Dir: Nancy Schwartzman, DoP: Jenni L. Morello Format: 4K Camera: Sony Fx9 Lens: Canon FDs, Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm
Nancy and I discussed how to use different color temp for interviews and how she wanted the film to feel like, all of which would operate under their own parameters. We had to be agile and small and be able to adapt to what would happen in real-time; in addition to filming with survivors and being cognizant of our footprint.
Nancy wanted to use as much beauty as we could for a film that is heavy and dark in subject matter, and we selected the Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm for many of our vérité scenes. We wanted the audience to be able to participate in the imagery and content.
One of the first discussions I had with Nancy was thinking about how to record survivors' interviews in a way that felt different. We wanted to give them power, and we decided filming with an eye direct would give them some of their power back.