Wendigo is about a young man who arrives in a foreign land. Arrogance and naivety can make the strongest of us weak and helpless. The short Canadian project is directed by Erich Foerster and is shot by Sarah Bernier.
The Canadian cinematographer Sarah Bernier grew up in Fonthill, Ontario and moved to Oakville at the age of 18 to attend film school at Sheridan College. In her third-year, Sarah worked on the short dark drama film “Wendigo” as the Director of Photography.
After working in the camera department on several short films in and outside of college, this film is her debut. Sarah will be returning to Sheridan for her fourth-year, to work as the Cinematographer on an upcoming short period piece, “Blood of Ghent”. Her main career goal is to become a Director of Photography full-time in the non-union narrative film industry. Sarah was recently nominated for the best female cinematographer of Toronto Women Film Festival. It is our pleasure to speak with her about her work as a female cinematographer and her latest project.
How did you start your work as a cinematographer and what was the first film project you worked on as a cinematographer?
From a very young age, my passion for cameras and the art of cinematography was evident. I spent all of my time outside of school re-creating movie trailers, famous scenes and even creating a feature length remake of the beloved 80s classic: Back to the Future (1985). As I began my education at Sheridan College studying Film and TV Production, I immediately gravitated towards the camera department. I was determined to create and shoot each project to the best of my abilities, ensuring there was care that went into each shot. After my first-year, I streamed into cinematography and began creating a multitude of short films on my own time. The award-winning short thriller “Free to Go” (2020), was my first credible role as a Cinematographer, achieving the Best New Filmmaker Award at the 2020 Niagara Falls International Film Festival.
How did your fascination with the cinematic language begin?
My ongoing enthrallment to the cinematic language began after watching one of Christopher Nolan’s best films to date: Interstellar (2014). This masterpiece has shaped how I view cinema, and how I perceive written ideas, adapting them to visuals on the screen. Cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema, was able to create such realistic and immersive imagery. From the simplicity and warm natural lighting in Cooper’s Farmhouse, to the scale revealed in the epic sequence of Mountains on Miller’s planet, the cinematic language of this film was breathtaking. Interstellar continues to inspire myself as a filmmaker and my style to this day.
Does cinematography stand to you more than the arts in film? Why?
Cinematography is my main focus point when it comes to viewing films. I find myself subconsciously thinking about specific lighting floor plans and which lens was being used to capture each scene. These mental notes inspire me to apply these ideas to my own projects, and experiment with new styles that I may not have thought to try before.
How challenging is it to be a female cinematographer in the film industry?
In a department that is commonly male dominant, there should be no difference in comparing the work between male and female cinematographers. If you are skilled at your role, you should receive equal opportunities to be successful, no matter your gender.
Let us know what you think of the relationship between the director and the cinematographer.
The relationship between the director and the cinematographer is one of the most essential duos out of everyone on a production. In my own experience, communication between the two is vital for producing the best product you can. Combining thoughts, being honest with each other and sharing inspiration will all contribute to a film that both members have imagined. The director and cinematographer need to understand each other, share commonalities within likes/dislikes, and have full confidence and trust in one another.
What is the most important aspect of cinematography to you?
The most crucial aspect of cinematography is lighting! The mood within a film can be easily identified by one shot in a scene, based on how it is lit. As the cinematographer, you have the power to convey whatever emotion you please. How you transform that emotion onto screen is completely up to you. If a shot is not properly lit, it will stand out to the average audience member. Our job as cinematographers is to draw attention through shaping our light. Camera movements can have jitters that most viewers will not be aware of, but within the art of lighting, there is a subconscious awareness.
What kind of camera did you use for Wendigo? Tell us more about your collaboration with the director on this project.
We had the privilege of using the Arri Amira for the first time on Wendigo. It was a huge upgrade from anything we had ever shot on before, as we were genuinely very excited about our visual results after production wrapped. The collaboration I had with the incredibly talented Director/Writer, Erich Foerster was strong. We have been close friends since meeting in our first-year of college, and after working together as co-directors on our previous short film Sylvie (2021), we began to work on Wendigo. Each of us both had very clear visions on what we wanted this project to look like, from a directing and visual standpoint. Communication was key, as discussing ideas and possibilities daily led us through the development and pre-production process. We supported and trusted each other’s concepts, helping one another into making them a reality. I am very proud of the team we are, and will be in future projects to come.
What are you currently working on?
I am thrilled to say that our next short film, titled Blood of Ghent, is currently in development! “At the end of The war of 1812, A young recruit is torn between his duty and what is right when an ego driven major places the fate of the war in his hands.” I am very excited to be the cinematographer on this period piece, as I will be able to experiment with lighting and camera movements that I have always dreamed of accomplishing.