The 100th Anniversary of the ASC

By François Thomas

La Lettre AFC n°295

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As part of the “Toute la mémoire du monde” Festival, held on 13-17 March 2019, the Cinémathèque française has celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the ASC. François Thomas, who has spoken as part of this event, sheds light on some of the facets of this highly-historic association for the AFC.

The oldest professional association of cinematographers in the world celebrates its hundredth anniversary in 2019.
Two separate clubs were founded in 1913, the Cinema Camera Club in New York and the Static Camera Club in Hollywood, had failed to take root, and were both dissolved in February 1918. The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) on the contrary benefited from an uncontested recognition following its creation in 1919 in Los Angeles by former members of the earlier clubs “in order to promote art through artistic sense and technological advances […] in order to perpetuate what has become the most important means of expression the world has ever seen.”
The first film that featured the letters “AFC” after the name of its cinematographer in the credits was the 1920 western Sand, directed by Lambert Hillyer with cinematography by Joseph August, cofounder for the association and future regular cinematographer of John Ford for two decades. The ASC quickly began to play a role of advisor to the technical industries, such as Kodak, for the introduction of panchromatic film in 1922, or for the design of film containing a sound track in 1927. This collaboration continues today in all areas, including television, special effects, or digital image.

The latest structure to perpetuate these activities outside of the studios was the 2003 creation of the Motion Imaging Technology Council, which brings together active members, associate members, and experts from the technical industries, who reflect upon subjects such as the design of new cameras, the perfecting of lenses, cinema projection, and the demands of film conservation. In 2014, the ASC welcomed its first active member working exclusively on animated digital film, Sharon Calahan, director of photography of A Bug’s Life and Finding Nemo at Pixar Studios. The ASC has opened itself to foreign cinematographers working regularly in the USA, and Bruno Delbonnel, Darius Khondji, Willy Kurant, Denis Lenoir, Philippe Rousselot and Eduardo Serra all are dual members of the AFC and the ASC, as is the Belgian cinematographer Glynn Speeckaert, SBC, and the American Tom Stern, who was Clint Eastwood’s cinematographer.

American Cinematographer, the ASC’s monthly journal, founded in 1920, will dedicate articles to the hundredth anniversary in each of its 2019 issues, and will have a special issue on the anniversary in August. There will be a number of celebrations throughout the entire world. In France, they will take place from 14-16 March at the Cinémathèque française, as part of its “Toute la mémoire du monde” festival of restored films, because the ASC is very attentive to the preservation of its cinematographers’ images. The celebration will features : the gangster film The Dragnet (1928), by Lewis Milestone, lighting by Tony Gaudio ; The Killers (1946) by Robert Siodmak, and The Killers (1964) by Don Siegel, two adaptation of the same Hemingway short story with cinematography by Woody Bredell and Richard L. Rawlings, respectively ; The Cotton Club (1983), by Francis Ford Coppola, which will be presented by its cinematographer, Stephen Goldblatt ; and The Cold Blue (2018) by Erik Nelson, who used dailies filmed in 16mm Kodachrome by William H. Clothier and William W. Skall for a governmental documentary directed by William Wyler on the role of an Air Force bomber in the fight against Nazi Germany and paired them with contemporary accounts to create a reflective piece on bravery and the awareness of death.