Categories First They Killed My Father

Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle about working with Angelina

Anthony Dod Mantle worked together with Angelina on First They Killed My Father and he was interviewed by the magazine American Cinematographer recently and he talks about them collaborating. You can read the full interview here and some of his quotes you can read below:

You’re introducing First They Killed My Father, which you shot for director Angelina Jolie. Can you talk about how you got onto the project?

I was about to embark on a Michael Winterbottom film about Russ Meyer — a comedy with Will Ferrell — and I was so, so looking forward to doing it. But the production fell apart two, three weeks before I was officially due to start. I was quite shocked when it collapsed. I knew it so well; I was reconnoitering it in downtown Los Angeles with Michael — it was such a fun project.

Angelina knew Michael and knew I was attached to his film. When I flew back home to Copenhagen, she and [producer] Mike Vieira called. We talked for about 45 minutes, mostly about the concept of a subjective camera and how we were going to achieve it.

If I had three months or three years to think about it, I would never had said no to this film. I met the crew, asked them if they wanted to carry on. I said I wanted to make the same film as Angelina. If they wanted to do that, then the film is more important than our egos.

I very quickly brought a few people in to help me. I brought a camera builder in from Sweden who has worked with me on many, many films. He was my teacher from 30 years ago, a close friend and a brilliant engineer. He could work [on location] in the rice paddies with the welder and fix things.

You go to overhead shots several times. How did that decision come about?

I remember showing Angelina some highly magnified photographs of the DNA of tears, which I found on the net. They looked like a mixture of artwork and satellite imagery. The wonderful thing about Angelina, she has an artistic gene. She was always open to debate about color, about light, about shadow, always opens, even under stress.

I showed her these pictures of tears. And then we started talking about satellite pictures, from above, from God’s point of view. I guess out of that, the tear landscapes and God’s point of view became the drone shots. So I heaved a drone team in from Thailand. It was not so much about movement — there are very few moments where the drone actually moves — but looking down at these subjects and asking why is this happening.

A few times during the story Loung has flashbacks to her earlier life.

There’s a yearning. After we’d gone pretty well into the film, to the point where she is experiencing hunger, there is a scene where they’re talking about what they miss the most [about their previous life]. It’s before the father is taken away, at night. At that time, in that scene, it’s yearning. We go into her face and she’s in her old clothes and we’re back in her flat.

We decided to shoot it differently, to have it half back in the flat, so you see the food with pinks and yellows and cyans, a boar’s head, all the things that she dreamed of — overcolored, like surreal, enhanced, saturated colors.

And then I felt there was something slightly wrong about that. Angelina and I chatted about it. We decided to put in the fencing of the hut [in the Khmer Rouge labor camp] into the picture. So you’re halfway back in the home, but there’s also the fencing of the prison hut in the frame.

Did you use visual effects for that?

I built the bloody fencing in the flat in this ridiculous location in Battambang. Not me, but Tom Brown, the production designer — he lugged the fencing and we built it and I lit it. I dimmed the light so I could move the color temperature from colorful to cold, and then there’s a [Khmer Rouge] guard walking by. It just got more and more complicated. I was tracking round this flat that I think Angelina has purchased — a very nice flat that had seen better days. That’s where we shot their home.

But that’s the yearning. The color — because she’s been more and more deprived [in the camp]. The deprivation factor starts at the first roadblock, where she sees her mother’s red dress. This young soldier just takes it and holds it up and throws it into the bag.

Again, Angelina’s casting. That young actor who plays a Khmer Rouge soldier, at this stage of the fight he’s an example of what they believe in. Which is why this film is extremely important today. Whether we talk about ISIS or we talk about European children, if there’s one thing we unanimously links cultures, it’s how we treat children. Because if you don’t treat your children properly, if you don’t do the best you can with your children and others, they will lose their way, and, if worse comes to worst, they’re going to turn on you.