By Zack Medicoff
Monday, day five of the Toronto International Film Festival and it’s almost two p.m.
Inside his downtown Toronto apartment, Jonathon Cliff is hurriedly selecting clothes at the very last minute. He doesn’t want to be a second late. This is, after all, a Brian De Palma premiere and one that Cliff acted as Director of Photography on.
The film, <em>Redacted</em>, received it’s official premier in Venice in early September where it came away with two awards including Best Director for De Palma. Inspired by true events, it’s a fictional story about a squad of American soldiers in Samarra, Iraq. It juxtaposes the experiences of a soldier running a checkpoint with those of the media sent to cover the events, and the local Iraqis who film themselves caught in the middle of a civil war.
Shot in High Definition to achieve a cinÃ©ma vÃ©ritÃ© feel, it’s slated to be released on entrepreneur billionaire Mark Cuban’s and Todd Wagner’s HDNet Films.
For cliff, the <em>Redacted</em> shoot is a far cry from the glitzy commercial world of products ranging from golf stars to newspapers that he’s used to, but the experience working with De Palma was simply unforgettable.
“He knows his craft inside out and is by far the most experienced director I’ve ever worked with,” Cliff says. “When I started this project I felt kind of terrified because of his great volume of work, but I got over that quickly.”
Born in Toronto, Cliff majored in Philosophy at Ottawa’s Carlton University. After graduating in 1990 he pursued photography courses at Montreal’s Dawson College and worked at several local production companies. Not too long afterward, he became a photographer at the newly-launched <em>National Post</em>.
“I’ve always loved movies and the way visuals tell a narrative. That’s what interested me in being a director of photography. I’m really inspired by works like <em>Days of Heaven</em> and <em>Apocalypse Now</em>,” he says.
Cliff works closely with Untitled Stones Productions in Toronto, where he’s collaborated with Oscar Nominee Hubert Davis on commercial shoots from <em>The Toronto Star</em> to <em>SportChek</em>.
“As far as commercial productions, I try to gravitate to more organic shots. I love the visual of a condemned building for example, or that of an empty city street. The most rewarding aspect is the ability to work with a variety of directors. It’s always a different result and it’s a great way to learn the craft.”
While his favourite media to work with is 35mm film, he enjoyed shooting HD for De Palma. “I’ve shot a few HD commercials, so I was really comfortable with it. We were looking for a certain type of mood (with <em>Redacted</em>) and HD captured that perfectly,” he says. “But the budget was like $5 million whereas De Palma is used to $100 million projects.”
Cliff attended TIFF last year for a Canadian feature called <em>Monkey Warfare</em> starring Don McKellar, which he also DP’ed. Now that he’s made the leap across the border by hooking up with De Palma, he’s eyeing L.A. or New York City as his next possible destination.
Though he’s all revved-up to for the Toronto premiere, when he slips off his party shoes it’ll be right back to work.
“This is just crazy a week. I’m in the middle of a Campbell’s Soup national campaign with BBDO and Untitled. We’re shooting in Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Chatham and Toronto,” he says.
“I really have to get going. This is a Brian De Palma premiere after all.”