Festival de Cannes 2024

Interview with Kadri Koop : "Pierre Angénieux Special Encouragement" 2024

"Koop de grâce", by François Reumont for the AFC

Contre-Champ AFC n°356

[ English ] [ français ]

The 2024 winner of the Pierre Angénieux Special Encouragement Award is of Estonian origin. She has been based in the USA for 12 years, spending time in China first, just after finishing high school. This was her first experience living abroad, where she studied, learned a bit of the language and shot her first documentary films. Kadri Koop is a curious young woman, with varied experiences around the world, now working between Europe and Hollywood, where she resides and tends to a beautiful vegetable garden under the Californian sun.
She’s here at Cannes to talk to us about images, faces and zoom lenses ! (FR)

Hi Kadri, what’s Cannes like ?

Kadri Koop : I was lucky to be invited last year by a French friend who I was able to accompany. The actress Aude Pépin, whom I’d like to thank warmly, and who enabled me to discover the full scope of the event. This festival truly surpasses everything else in its category. The line-up is phenomenal. There’s so much great cinema here, it’s impossible to see it all ! I’m not even talking about the social aspect, and all the opportunities that the event can bring. I’ve had some experiences at other festivals before, but here, after four days immersed in this whirlwind, it’s just too many images, too many people, too many parties for a normal human being ! So, I’ll be containing myself a bit more this year, thanks to Aude !

And this award, what do you think about it ?

KK : It was a complete surprise ! Not that I didn’t know about Angénieux before, as their lenses are very popular, and I use them a lot ... But I don’t really follow their activity on social media, or keep up to date with the latest news on the brand. I also don’t know anyone from there... This award left me completely confused at first. You know, there are so many talented young cinematographers on the planet...I have absolutely no idea how they heard about me, or why I was chosen, but it’s certainly a privilege and an extraordinary opportunity to receive this award this year. Although I’ve been bordering on imposter syndrome for the past month !

You’ve already travelled a lot... is that important to you ?

KK : When I went to China, it was right after finishing my studies, and I wasn’t really paid. I was doing internships, dabbling in a bit of everything. The idea of becoming a cinematographer was still unknown to me, partly because I met very few women in that role, and partly because I wasn’t even sure what it really was. I saw myself more as a documentary filmmaker, doing everything on my own with a very ‘learn as you go’ approach. I remember, for example, filming without much preparation with my DSLR camera, and putting all the rushes on the iMovie’s timeline to see what I could make of it. At the same time, I was also studying Chinese at university - which was probably too many challenges at once for me ! But if I look back at those months in China, I still have very fond memories. I can still see myself filming people in the street, actually understanding what they were saying to me. It gave me the perfect excuse to observe life in front of me without any reason to justify it. My first real thrill of excitement as a DOP !

What about moving to the United States ?

KK : The opportunity to study film in the United States (Stanford and the American Film Institute in 2020) gave me a lot more clarity in my mind and in terms of my practical skills. In any case, if you want to offer your services to a director, whether in fiction or advertising, and make a living out of it, you need to acquire enough qualifications. After a while, shooting documentaries or doing a bit of everything yourself won’t be enough. However, if the demand is there, I remain very open to expanding my role and going beyond the strict framework of cinematography. For example, helping the director make sure we get everything we need ultimately helps the project. When you also have experience in production, sound recording or editing, I think that’s a plus, definitely.

Can you give us an example of a film where zoom lenses were important to you ?

KK : Well, the latest short film I shot (Curtains, directed by Oskar Peacock) was mainly done with an Angénieux Optimo 19.5-94mm. Even though it’s perhaps not the tool I use the most usually, I realise that my keenness for zoom lenses comes mostly from my photography practice. I use an old Japanese camera, the Yashica Samurai X3, that I love. It’s a compact 35mm from the late 80s - with a funny shape - equipped with a fairly powerful x3 zoom (25-75mm). I use it to photograph my everyday life, having fun myself watching what I do through this zoom ! That’s when you suddenly realise that you can get really close to the action while still being quite far away. With this unique ability that the zoom has to offer, you can slowly narrow in on the face, on an action, almost imperceptibly.
However, the lens you choose must serve the story of the film. I wouldn’t shoot every project with a zoom. When it comes to making documentaries or fiction that resembles documentary, they remain the most valuable tools.

Photos prises au Yashica Samurai X3
Photos prises au Yashica Samurai X3

Last year, Barry Ackroyd confided in us his passion for the constant reframing that zooming from shot to shot offers... is that your approach as well ?

KK : I mostly frame over the shoulder. I have to admit that the zoom lens isn’t always ideal in this kind of setup. Its ergonomics in terms of balance with all of the weight on the front are not an advantage, plus the microforce zoom controller and the stepper motor which add even more weight... not easy compared to a fixed focal length configuration, which is much more compact and where you become one with the camera. Sure, compact zooms exist and don’t have all these drawbacks, but their range is generally too modest to be able to move away sufficiently when you feel the need to. Another example : on a new film I’m currently working on, the two main roles will be played by 8-year-old girls, who are not professional actresses. When discussing with the director, we immediately agreed that it was crucial to give them as much privacy as possible for their performances. Not being directly in contact with them, and preferring the zoom to again disappear and capture things from a distance. This approach of combining documentary techniques with fiction writing is something that fascinates me. I think it’s also one of our responsibilities as image-creators to infuse reality into films, and push back against this kind of ’Marvel’ approach where everything is artificially enhanced, contrived. But, at the same time, I’ll be honest with you... If my agent called me tomorrow to do a Marvel movie, I’d probably say the opposite !

Why do you like to mix fiction and documentary ?

KK : Quite simply, it’s the kind of films I love to watch as a viewer ! Those where you don’t feel like you’re sitting in the theatre, where the narration unfolds effortlessly, without artifice. That’s something I’m discovering about cinema, especially in Hollywood. Many images have become too perfect, with characters losing their realism. We need to return to more storytelling rooted in reality. Seeing a face in its natural state is almost revolutionary these days !

On set, do you tend to be more in control or let go ?

KK : It’s hard to answer a question like that... you know, it’s complicated to see oneself on set. I’d say that I stand up for my vision of the script, and the one I propose for the film, and therefore control things... But at the same time, I’m someone who tends to give a lot of freedom to the people I work with. When you’re young in the business, why not listen to certain colleagues who can offer you decades of experience on sets ? Whatever one may think, sometimes you have to accept having much less experience in certain areas, and listen to advice.
It’s also a way of encouraging others to think for themselves. To make decisions, to take responsibility and to assume the consequences ! This question also brings me to the delicate balance one faces at times as a woman at the head of a camera team. I don’t want to generalize, because there are already so many women occupying various positions on shoots nowadays... but still, most of the time I find myself working with predominantly male teams. There’s always the question of how often I, as director of photography, should or shouldn’t respond to everyone’s suggestions.
Even though I’ve never really had a problem as such, it’s something that comes up every time, and that I have to know how to balance. Setting the limit between asserting your vision, listening to others, and not finding yourself in a student position. This leadership question is essential for me... and I am still wondering myself how to handle it !

Are you one of those cinematographers who prefer to film situations... or actors ?

KK : It’s funny because no one has ever asked me that question, and yet, a few years ago, I remember telling myself that I didn’t like filming faces that much ! Honestly, I find that there’s an over-saturation of faces in modern cinema. I’d say that I’m more sensitive to the photographic combination with the environment to convey emotions, rather than using the face alone. This is why to me, shooting on location remains the basis of my work. The detail encountered in reality nourishes me, and that’s what allows me to connect with the character, to create the cinematic space imagined by the script. When I start, I have no preconceived ideas, I just observe how the action in the place can visually interact with the light, and stage the performance with all these elements. This also means that I’m not necessarily looking for the beauty of the image or the face, but rather for the accuracy relative to the story.

Any influences to mention ?

KK : I have a lot of respect for Arseni Khachaturan’s work. He made this incredible Georgian film called Beginning. It’s a real source of inspiration for me.
To make an analogy with your previous question, he’s someone who first illuminates the atmosphere and the space before even worrying about the faces. That’s the kind of cinema I want to see. There’s also something very Tarkovsky about it, who liked to create a kind of dream space... by offering a painting of each character’s inner world rather than simply describing them on the surface. Another reference that suddenly comes to mind is This is Not a Burial, it’s a Resurrection, by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, a film from Lesotho, a tiny monarchy landlocked in South Africa. It’s a film that absolutely shook me, and one that confirmed my decision to keep on travelling abroad to film !

(Interview by François Reumont for the AFC and translated from French by Chloé Finch)