The Cinematographic Empathy of Vittoria Campaner
To understand others, one must first truly see one’s self. Venice, Italy native and international cinematographer Vittoria Campaner is the favorite DP of many directors not only due to her ability to mold her skill to their vision but also because of her remarkable ability to create an intuitive intimacy with the characters of a film. While she will rebuke most classifications of a personal style as a cinematographer, it’s unquestionable that she has a knack for displaying the perspectives that define a relationship via her camera. It’s through a copious amount of world travel in her work as well as an examination of her own roots that Campaner cultivates this. “While I left home at a young age,” she relates, “Italy travelled with me. In my work, I often reference Italian cinema as well as, more broadly, our artistic and cultural heritage, trying to establish a dialogue between different traditions in order to discover something new and transnational.” As the DP on productions in numerous cultures and countries, Vittoria has absorbed influences from the places and people she presents in these films, arriving at a personal style that simultaneously eludes definition and evokes a clear personality.
Dye Red is an Official Selection of the Nashville Film Festival as well as the Winner for Best Experimental Narrative Short Film. As both cinematographer and director, Campaner set a baseline for the film’s dark, surprising, and humorous tone with an opening scene that displays a woman dressed in a plastic poncho and gloves hovering over another woman’s motionless body in a bathtub of crimson fluid. In reality the blood-red stains on the walls and her hands are merely hair dye but the duplicity of the storyteller has been established; not in a nefarious way but in a manner that infers the potential violence in friendships which could result from accidental insults or passive-aggressive actions. The persuasion which Vittoria wields with the movements of the camera transcends the visual perspective to imbue these moments with a strong psychological element. As the proxy for the two main characters, Aurora (Fabianne Therese Gstottenmayr) and Celeste (Ana Coto), Campaner delivers not only an experiential perspective but, even more importantly, an emotional core of how the different women feel about the relationship. The relevance of this film for all of us at this time in history is hard to overstate. The jury at the 51st Nashville Film Festival praised the film and its exceptional cinematography, declaring: “Dye Red represents the very best of cinema in the Covid era. Economical in both conception and execution, this one-location exploration of the fraught and fraying relationship between two cooped-up housemates, reflects the anxieties of a time when personal space truly is everything. The looming specter of sickness and the threat of impending violence perfectly captured that sense of dread particular to this horrendous moment we are in. Campaner’s use of long takes and nearly invisible edits shows off the two excellent performances and exemplifies what can be accomplished when the technical and the aesthetic mesh in service of a narrative.”
An Official Selection of the 2020 Palm Spring International Short Fest, as well as a Nominee for Best of Festival, Citric Acid is a film about a very different kind of relationship than that of Dye Red, but one that also benefitted greatly from Vittoria’s position behind the camera. The production saw her reunite with gifted Dye-Red co-screenwriter Elenie Chung, this time in the director’s chair. Shot between LA and Norway, this platonic romantic film revolves around two fine artists named Aino and Yu Xing who are best friends while also being in competition with each other in their creative careers. The presentation of the story intersects documentary-esque moments of artist portraits, surreal subjective moments, and slice-of-life scenes in an examination of the boundaries which challenge close friendships when competition is present. The substantial challenge of cohesiveness among these different filming approaches is masterfully maintained and is a pronounced indicator of Campaner’s versatility in these varied styles. Vittoria is keen to give her input in the cutting room, too, and the film further stands out for its ingenious editing, which deftly combines these different tones and formats thanks also to the talents of editor Leonardo Campaner, another returning Dye-Red collaborator.
It’s easy to forget that a cinematographer is more than someone who fixates on lenses and framing. Vittoria reminds us of this in the upcoming release State of a Cat, directed by Hsing-Che Lin. The story follows a young couple as they search for their lost cat across Taiwan and argue over their future. The camera assumes at times a unique perspective originating low on the ground: the POV of their missing pet. Through this unseen character, brought to invisible life by Campaner’s skill, the audience experiences the emotional journey of this husband and wife. After the actors, it is in fact the job of the camera to evoke emotions. As Vittoria relates: “Good DPs must connect with a story on a deep empathetic level in order to transpose it to images. They do not only figure out how to create beautiful frames but must also examine how they respond to them personally and question their own decisions. In many ways, we are translators, interpreting the written word of the script as well as the director’s vision and transcribing them into light, color, composition and movement.”