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Conversations with Morvarid Reyes Talebzadeh

Today we’d like to introduce you to Morvarid Reyes Talebzadeh.

Hi Morvarid, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Since I can remember, my father has been dedicated to art, when I saw him work, I understood that there are many ways to express and document the intrinsic artistic value of a piece, with time and his fine expertise and skill he began to reproduce works of art on glass, Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, an infinity of great Masters of the pictorial art. Without asking many questions and without really understanding much, I grew up with those magnificent artworks in my home, without a doubt it was of great influence to make a decision (years later) about what I wanted to do in life. I decided to choose the path of photography without knowing, at that time, how tortuous the path would be that I needed to travel, the elusive innocence of thinking that pressing buttons on a simple device was going to take me far. How difficult can it be right? As a filmmaker and constant traveler, I am on a rocky and impractical path. I have stayed there because storytelling and traveling have been a refuge for the past 20 years. In the past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how both art forms – writing and film – can be important now, especially when we as human beings need to connect and communicate so urgently. I started with still photography in Bolivia working for weddings, advertising, fashion in a studio, and retouching photographs for a renowned photographer who taught me much of what I now practice in my career.

Years later in Argentina, I started my way to cinema and I discovered my love for the set. I definitely wanted to be that person in charge of the image who is in constant communication with the director and I wanted to be around the camera on which most decisions occur. On set, I worked my way to specializing as a cinematographer, in Latin America, Europe, Thailand, etc.; working worldwide for feature films in East Asia, Europe, the United Kingdom, Middle East, Africa, South, and North America. After learning about the art and seeing how I could express myself on film, I just fell in love with it, I fell in love with telling stories, writing, directing, cinematography, I love working. I love the pre-production process, finding the best ways to tell the story, choosing the best equipment for the job, going through the references, asking questions, and finding solutions. I love being on set and witnessing the teamwork aspect of filmmaking, and as a geek at heart, I enjoy keeping up with the latest technologies for cameras and tools related to capturing digital images. I learned it all. I wanted to know everything and I’m still working my way through becoming a cinematographer for the past six years or so.

Nothing is more thrilling to me than winning the trust and collaboration of a subject. I feel blessed to have captured such a wide and diverse group of people over my 20 years behind the lens. I’ve had the great fortune of collaborating with brilliant directors in their careers, such as Ang Lee, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Peter Berg, David Whitney, Phil Abraham, Andrew Bernstein, Dennie Gordon, Peter Webber, Mary Darling. I believe in exciting, original projects. I believe in pushing the visuals to see what we can come up with, and most of all, I believe in a good director.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
When I was younger, it was hard to imagine women succeeding in the industry as directors of photography. I was lucky enough to work with several female cinematographers. This encounter unlocked everything for me and helped me overcome my fear of the impossible. From that day, I talked, ate, walked, and dreamt about cinema and focused on becoming a cinematographer. Now the film world has shown progress with more female directors, writers, and DPs. It’s not where we want it to be yet, but I’m hopeful that we’ll see even more progress soon.

A long time ago I had a great contract to work on a Hollywood film in charge of 1st AC for ‘A camera’ of that film, when I get to set, the executive producer arrived and when he realized that I’m a woman, he immediately changed my position. I went from camera A to camera D, that injustice and helplessness made me pick up my tools the same day and resign from the film.

I’m trying to do my part by supporting and encouraging Latin American female artists. I hope to see improvement in how women are portrayed on camera – with more depth and more interesting female characters in film. I’m hoping that a stronger and more nuanced representation on film can empower women across all aspects of society.

I love to share my knowledge generously, I am currently an online teacher of digital cinematography at Film Arche in Berlin and at the National Film School (ENACC) in Bogotá, which has taught me a lot and I am a firm believer in educating women in particular positions that have been dominated by men for so long, as I have also been fortunate to be hired by female directors and collaborate with their vision.

I’ve been lucky to have met many people in the industry that allowed me to learn and grow in the space that I now command. Though I constantly felt that I had to overcompensate for being female in the industry, that pressure also came from my own misconceptions. Once I was able to admit and overcome the personal hurdle of seeing my sex as a disadvantage, it gave me more freedom to explore and expand my voice. We are definitely in a period of change. There are more of us in key roles on set, and that acknowledgment itself becomes a form of encouragement, but I do feel that we have a long way more to go in becoming a more inclusive community.

Whether it’s starting up mentorship programs pairing women with veteran DPs or just having more open conversations with filmmakers of all sex and ages, I hope we can work towards a more communicative and inclusive community. One where our craft is genuinely reflective of our collective voice.

I think women who are working in roles that have been primarily held by men work a heck of a lot harder to prove themselves. More and more though I’m feeling a greater sense of equality and an overall appreciation and recognition for what these talented women are bringing to the creative table. The industry is shifting slowly but surely and people are getting their chance to shine.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Cinema not only shows us who we are but how to feel, and I think it was that definition of a modern film that planted the seed for my career. Images have the power to resonate deeply and connect immediately. I wanted to be part of telling stories that shape our identities at this time. The Motorcycle Diaries, Cemetery of Splendor, Pickpockets [Re-Take], Mile 22, Tom Clancy’s- Jack Ryan series, Gemini Man, Killing Escobar are some of the titles I have worked on. I’ve always wanted to be the person who understands and masters every single facet of the job. I’ve worked as a Grip, Lighting Technician, Camera PA, Digital Utility, Digital Loader, 2nd AC, and 1st AC, Camera Operator, and Cinematographer. I love it when I can connect to the story and shape the emotion of the film through Operating and DPing when I first started working on big-budget films and tv shows, and I wanted to prove that I could handle the “toughness” of a set. Now I believe that I deserve, as does everyone, a safe place to work.

I’m currently working as Cinematographer of a film called GUILLOTINE, directed by Ray Izad-Mehr and produced by Sara Vahabi. We are shooting the film in Los Angeles, it’s been a great challenge because the movie has 5 chapters with 5 different timelines faking France, Germany, Algeria and Iraq. The film tells the story of the Guillotine through several true stories ranging from the French Revolution in 1792 to the murders carried out by the sons of Saddam Hussein in Iraq 2003.  The film is shot on Alexa Mini (Open Gate) and Black Magic Cinema 6K with a combination of anamorphic and spherical optics, which changes the aspect ratio of the film, using 4:3 for the German Nazi chapter, 2.39:1 anamorphic and 1.85:1 spherical lenses filmed in studio and different outdoor locations such as castles around Los Angeles. I feel incredibly proud of the cinematographic work achieved in this film, since there are specific timelines in the film where electricity did not exist and I shot it with many colors such as till, peacock, green, a lot of sodium and vapor lights.

At the same time I finished doing the cinematography of a film called EXEMPLAR, Directed by Mary Darling and produced by The Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa – Israel. The locations we are shooting take place in New York and Boston representing NY in 1912, The film will also be made in locations in Haifa – Israel, (but I will not attend that part of the film). The film tells the story of Abdúl’bahá. In the early years of the 20th century, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá—the eldest Son of Bahá’u’lláh—was the Bahá’í Faith’s leading exponent, renowned as a champion of social justice and an ambassador for international peace. After His release from a lifetime of imprisonment, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set out on a series of journeys which took Him to Egypt, Europe and North America in 1912 Throughout His life, He presented with brilliant simplicity, to high and low alike, Bahá’u’lláh’s prescription for the spiritual and social renewal of society.

In June I will start on the production of the feature film “Memento Mori” directed by the acclaimed Colombian director Fernando López in Colombia. The film is inspired by events that occurred in the Magdalena Medio region during the armed conflict in Colombia, in a town called Puerto Berrío. It is located in the early years of the 21st century: dozens of unnamed corpses were dragged down the Magdalena River and then buried as NN in the cemetery, for respect they called them the “dead of the water.” The ownerless bodies were adopted by the townspeople, they marked their graves with the word “chosen.” They became miraculous presences and protective souls.

Simultaneously I am working on the post-production of my feature film called Bangkok’s Fear, which I shot and directed in Thailand, as well as another film called Art Thou an Artist, which I directed and DP’d in Los Angeles in October 2020.

I work hard to surround myself with the right people in the film industry. I’ve learned how to say no, and how to advocate for myself, I’ve also come to realize that I don’t have to act like the men I work with in order to be taken seriously. By embracing and valuing my own strengths and unique qualities, I find that I feel more comfortable with myself and I’m not distracted by feeling like I need to be someone that I’m not, and I focus on making the film and give my 2000%! The willingness to go the extra mile and be prepared for every situation is something I have deep admiration and respect for, no matter if I’m shooting a low-budget film or a big named blockbuster movie. Confidence is key in this business. As a cinematographer, I’ve come to realize the impact that my state of mind, attitude, confidence, and personality can have on production.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
I made more than 50 films, series, and documentaries from Thailand to Los Angeles
• In 2018, I made Mile22 with John Malkovich & Mark Wahlberg and Gemini Man with Will Smith
• My favorite cinematographer Paul Cameron & Darius Khondji.
• AWARDS: (GUKIFF) SEOUL GURO INTERNATIONAL KIDS FESTIVAL / UNICEF INNOCENTI FILM FESTIVAL (OFFICIAL SELECTION) ISMAEL SHORT FILM was the winner of the audience award for best cinematography at the Belfast International Film Festival in Northern Ireland
• (BBFF) BYRON BAY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (OFFICIAL SELECTION)
• (BIFF) BUSAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
• ZERO PLUS INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN’S AND YOUTH FILM FESTIVAL

I didn’t see my first movie at the cinema until I was 11 years old. My first participation in a feature film was in 2002.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
1. Ang Lee & Morvarid R. Talebzadeh, Director for Gemini Man, Jerry Bruckheimer production company. 2. Art Thou An Artist Director and Cinematographer: Morvarid Reyes Talebzadeh 3. Art Thou An Artist Director Morvarid, Steadicam Operator Michael Sapienza, 1st AC Erick Horn 4. Motorcycle camera 3D rigging for Gemini Man, Jerry Bruckheimer production company. 5. Uncharted in Kenia – Africa Directed by Mary Darling 6. Killing Escobar Directed by David Whitney November 2020 7. The look of the condemned, Directed by Fernando López 8. Mile 22 Directed by Peter Berg

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