Emmanuel Lubezki: Why He’s One of the Best Cinematographers of All Time

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Why Emmanuel Lubezki ASC is One of the Best Cinematographers of All Time

Emmanuel Lubezki, nicknamed Chivo, is a Mexican cinematographer. He was born into a Jewish family. He chose a career in the entertainment industry just like his father, Muni Lubezki, who is a producer and an actor. Emmanuel Lubezki studied film at Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematograficos (CUEC), Mexico. He met Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who later became his collaborators. He is married to Lauren Strogoff, and they had two daughters. The family resides in Los Angeles.

emmanuel-lubezki-the-revenant-cinematography-photo-credit-kimberley-french1

In the late 1980s, Emmanuel Lubezki engaged in the production of TV series and Mexican film. In 1993, he shot “Twenty Bucks,” which was an international film. He has worked with renowned directors like Michel Mann, Joel and Ethan Coen, and Mike Nichols. Besides his two friends, he has also collaborated with Terrence Malick. He has produced six movies with his Mexican filmmaker friend, Alfonso Cuaron. They include Children of Men, Gravity, Great Expectations, Solo Con Tu Pareja, A Little Princess and Y Tu Mama Tambien. The film, Children of Men, received public approval due to excellent scenes shot in it with advanced equipment and unique techniques.

Image from Tree of Life (2011)

He became popular for his exceptional application of continuous, uninterrupted shots and natural lighting in cinematography. His excellent skills earned him awards and praises from his audience. He was nominated eight times at the Academy Award for the “Best Cinematography.” He became the first person to receive awards for three consecutive years in this category. He was honored for the following films: The Revenant (2015), Birdman (2014) and Gravity (2013).

Emmanuel Lubezki first award in 2013 was in the science-fiction thriller, Gravity. This Cuaron’s film set in the outer space was outstanding for it’s the technique used in merging two shots to give the impression that both scenes were acted in a single shot. The following year, he received a second award on the Birdman, an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s movie. The scenes in this film seem to be in an uninterrupted one shot. The Oscar award winner disclosed that the single shot look of the film made its production exciting.

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The story of a movie actor who appeared on the Broadway to begin his career appeared as if it was shot in a single extended shot. The cinematographer disclosed that most of the scenes shot in the movie lasted about 10 minutes while the longest one is in the 15-minute range. The $18 million movie, was filmed using distinctive techniques. The lighting of scenes was timed to avoid shadows. Emmanuel Lubezki commended his team for an excellent production.

In 2016, he won the third award for Inarritu’s The Revenant, his third consecutive win for the Best Cinematography. He became a record breaker as the first person to receive such honor. This film was set in the wilderness during a cold period. Only natural lighting was used for shooting the scenes. Despite the difficulties encountered in the production of the movie, Emmanuel Lubezki did a great job.

The award winner described himself as the luckiest cinematographer worldwide for receiving the third award in the same category. His skills and techniques in giving the illusion of an extended take in the Birdman as well as the use of only natural light in The Revenant have made him famous. Just like Cuaron remarked, Emmanuel Lubezki became a celebrity with Chivo as his trademark. He starred in a commercial that was aired during the Academy Awards on the Mexican television. Also, people do stop him on the streets for autographs.

Image from Sleep Hollow (1999)

Emmanuel Lubezki does not like attracting people’s attention or being in front of cameras. When the beer company, Indio, contacted him to be part of their commercial, he did not accept the offer immediately. The ad agency had to convince him to star in the lyrical 60-second piece. With three Oscars to his credit, he will overcome his uneasiness about being in the spotlight. Though he is excited about the award but he is not at ease with the attention that follows it.

Image from Gravity (2013)

Image from Gravity (2013)

Also, he admitted that some of the cinematographers nominated along with him are famous. According to him, they are pacesetters whose works he has cherished for a long time. He disclosed that he felt uncomfortable to be recognized among the prominent artists, some of whom are his teachers. Also, he pointed out that cinematography is a combined effort as each artist works with a crew.

Emmanuel Lubezki revealed that it is not easy to get recognized at the Academy Awards. Marching to the podium to receive the gold statue has become tougher for him. For the award on The Revenant, he has to overcome the cold in the wilderness. He recounted that being on the podium makes him nervous as he cannot recall his any of the speeches he made when he received the awards. He felt that he was not the person talking when he viewed his previous speeches.

However, the award-winning artist is not shy when it comes to shooting films. His collaborators described him as a motivator to the crew whenever he is on a shoot. Inarritu disclosed that he was very helpful during the shooting of the Revenant. Emmanuel Lubezki sense of humor eased the difficulties they were facing in the cold wilderness.

On his part, the cinematographer described the strenuous movie shoot as “a life-changing experience.” Though the weather condition was harsh but he enjoyed the shoot. He praised his collaborator for his zeal for filmmaking and his persistence to achieve the best despite the circumstances. Emmanuel Lubezki stated that “The Revenant” has set standards for him. The experienced has challenged him to shoot exceptional films in the future.

The brilliant cinematographer shot two other films before The Revenant. These movies are the “Last Days in the Desert” and “Knight of Cups.” He revealed that his collaboration with Rodrigo Garcia, the “Last Days in the Desert” is a virtual reality project. The artist has shown interest in telling stories in an immersive environment. This development is innovative as the movie will be viewed in VR.

Also, he won the 2016 Lumiere Award by the Royal Photographic Society for his accomplishments in animation and cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki also received other industry awards as well as critic awards. Also, he got several nominations as an indication of his excellent performances.

Some well-known cinematographers like Ernest R. Dickerson and Barry Sonnenfield have upgraded to directing careers. However, it seems that Emmanuel Lubezki has no passion in becoming a film director. In reply to a question about this issue, the artist stated that he would only direct if none can a story the way he will do it.

Some of his well-known works are Reality Bites, Like Water for Choco, The Birdcage, The Assassination of Richard Nixon and Sleep Hollow. The Reality Bites is a comedy by Ben Stiller. It was set in the early 90’s and was a snapshot of the culture then. “Like Water for Choco,” is an adaptation of the novel “Like Water For Chocolate.” The movie tells a story of a young woman who lived under the dictates of her mother. The lady was forbidden to marry, but to look after her mother until her death. Tita found out that she possesses supernatural power. With his skills, the cinematographer threw more light on the emotions displayed in the film.

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The Birdcage is a Mike Nichols film. This Hollywood movie displayed the collaborators’ visual ambitions. The scenes from the Miami’s South Beach to the dance floor of a club were amazing. The unique technique applied in its production is similar to the one Emmanuel Lubezki used for the Birdman. Niels Mueller’s 2004 film, the Assassination of Richard Nixon is related U.S history. The camera captured the expressions of the lone assassin, Sam Byck. He appears like any normal individual to his neighbors and friends. Emmanuel Lubezki emphasized on Byck’s threatening looks and carelessness

Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow shows landscapes with distinctive details. The movie is interesting with its Gothic aura and Halloween artifacts. The ghostly pallor painted by Emmanuel Lubezki portrayed his expertise. The scenes on Crane’s flashback dream were fantastic. The movie was an outstanding production.

Emmanuel Lubezki excellent skills in cinematography were displayed in his productions. Consequently, he was honored for his works.


Emmanuel Lubezki’s Remarkable Filmography:

 2015 – The Revenant
 2015 – Knight of Cups
 2013 – Gravity
 2012 – To the Wonder
 2011 – The Tree of Life
 2008 – Burn After Reading
 2006 – Children of Men
 2005 – The New World
 2003 – The Cat in the Hat
 2001 – Ali
 2001 – Y Tu Mamá También
 1999 – Sleepy Hollow
 1998 – Meet Joe Black
 1998 – Great Expectations
 1996 – The Birdcage
 1995 – A Little Princess
 1994 – Ámbar
 1994 – Reality Bites
 1993 – Miroslava
 1993 – Twenty Bucks
 1992 – The Harvest
 1991 – Sólo con tu pareja
 1991 – Bandits




Children of Men – The Cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki

A closer look at Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera work in Alfonso Cuaron’s film Children of Men. Excellent flick.


Birdman Interview – Alejandro G. Iñárritu & Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki

Director Alejandro and cinematographer Chivo discuss “Birdman,” the motivation behind the film, and their past projects. Interview conducted by Elvis Mitchell from KCRW at Landmark Theaters in Los Angeles.

If cameras and lighting are your thing, I’d suggest you take a listen to these knowledge filled episodes of the IFH Podcast.


If you liked Emmanuel Lubezki: Why He’s One of the Best Cinematographers of All Time take a listen to:
Alejandro Inarritu: From Indie Filmmaker to Oscar Winner

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