Director Kenneth branagh and director of photography Haris Zambaloukos were putting the finishing touches on the next “Death on the Nile” sequel while working on this project and everything else in Hollywood came to a halt. It was March 2020, and the early days of the coronavirus pandemic put an end to Branagh and Zambarloukos’ plans to travel to Egypt for additional photographs on the Agatha christie drama. But friends for years, the couple kept in regular contact through the spring and summer of 2020, both over “Death on the Nile” and a new project Branagh was writing, “Belfast.”
Months later, the Oscar-favorite – which won the prestigious Audience Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival – is in theaters and marks Branagh and Zambarloukos’ eighth collaboration (although the seventh has been released, as “Death on the Nile” has been postponed to 2022). According to Gold Derby odds, “Belfast” is one of the first to win awards in multiple categories.
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Set in the late 1960s, the semi-autobiographical film shows Branagh grappling with his own divided homeland and the strength of his family during tumultuous times. To convey the emotion and the evocative nature of the play, Branagh and Zambarloukos shot “Belfast” mainly in black and white.
“My feeling about black and white versus color is really one of the audience selection processes,” Zambarloukos told Gold Derby during our “Meet the Experts” cinematography panel. “As filmmakers, we would have some control over the information the audience receives. I find the color to be very descriptive and fantastic for immediately giving you information – it immediately tells you what someone’s hair color is or the time of year, and so on. But that’s a lot of information. I believe in telling a story you need a certain brevity and minimalism. It’s not just the color against black and white, it’s something that we expressed with Ken in the way we block a scene together, in the way we’re pretty minimalist in the movement, in the way of which we space the actors.
But according to Zambarloukos, black and white photography helped make the film “more lucid and immersive in its representation of emotion”.
“We felt you could feel what the actors felt a little more deeply in black and white,” he says. “It’s one of the attributes of black and white. It will not create a feeling or an emotion that is not there.
The filming of “Belfast” took place during the pandemic, and Zambarloukos says Branagh was particularly attentive to new rules and safety measures which had never had to be considered on filming before – something particularly important given that the cast includes both a young actor (Jude Hill) and Oscar winner of 86 years Judi Dench.
“Ken made the job very safe in these conditions,” he says. “He took such care in the protocols when there was no track record.”
“Belfast” also featured Jamie Dornan, Caitriona balfe and Ciaran Hinds and is now in Focus Features theaters.
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