Michael Apted Gives ‘Bending the Light' Doc a Human Touch for Canon (Video)
"I didn’t want to make a technical film; I wanted to give it human context," Apted tells THR of his doc, which premieres at the Traverse City Film Festival.
Director Michael Apted — whose work has spanned features such as the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough and documentaries including the Up series — turns the camera on photographers and their lenses in his new documentary, Bending the Light, which is scheduled to premiere this weekend at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival.
Canon commissioned the documentary, in part to mark its production of lenses — it has produced more than 90 million of them, a statistic, it claims, that is higher than other lens manufacturers.
Apted had creative control over his unique look at Canon’s iconic lenses as he explored the art of photography through the words of photographers themselves, as well as through interviews with the craftspeople who lovingly make the glass at Canon's Utsunomiya, Japan factory.
“I didn’t want to make it a technical film; I wanted to give it human context,” Apted tells The Hollywood Reporter.
He worked on the production, on and off, for roughly a year, during which time he also directed four episodes of Showtime's Masters of Sex, while also working on other projects. The most time-consuming part of making Bending the Light was deciding who would appear in the on-camera interviews, which Apted conducted. He noted that the interviews in Japan were particularly difficult because so few spoke English, therefore he had to work with a translator. Before production, he actually interviewed between 30 and 40 Canon employees as likely candidates.
During that time, he also sought out photographers from around the world. Once the participants had been selected, Apted filmed the documentary in just 12 shooting days, though it involved a lot of travel to Japan, Egypt, the U.S. and the U.K.
Among the interviewees are still photographers representing a range of work, as well as two-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, who was one of the final interviews completed, as he was in the process of wrapping photography on James Brown biopic Get On Up (which opens Friday).
Apted conducted the interviews, asking photographers questions such as “What is your relationship with your camera?” and lens craftsmen questions that included “Are you proud of your lenses?”
The segment with Goldblatt includes B-roll from Get On Up. “But that was tricky,” Apted admitted. “I had done a couple of films with Mick Jagger (who was a producer on Get On Up), and he and his associate Victoria Pearman helped get through the bureaucracy to get us a bit of B-roll to see Stephen at work on the set.”
The documentary also includes the Canon lens that was developed over two years for the Subaru telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii — the first time Canon allowed filming inside its Utsunomiya factory. The director was granted three days to shoot at the facility from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. “The security was on a very high order,” Apted said. “When I was filming in the factory I was always being supervised, which I completely understand. We were in the realm of industrial espionage in a sense, because that market is so fierce.”
The documentary was photographed by cinematographer Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler, Taxi to the Dark Side) using Canon’s Cinema EOS C500 camera — and of course, a collection of Canon lenses — in 4K resolution. “It was much more mobile than I thought,” Apted said of the gear. “My fears that it would be cumbersome or take a long time to set up were not the case. It’s quite lightweight stuff, which for a documentary you’ve got to have.”
Bending the Light was edited by Douglas Blush, who was one of the editors on the Oscar-winning feature documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. Apted noted that editing his documentary took a long time. “The hardest part was constructing it once we shot it,” he said. “Not that the idea wasn’t clear, but to execute it and make it flow together and have so many people interviewed [was challenging].
“But that’s the writing of the documentary; that’s the fun of the documentary,” he adds of the filmmaking process. “The more we worked on it, the more it changed, the more it grew, the more it came to life.”
Bending the Light was finished in 4K resolution. Apted has submitted it to additional film festivals and is also exploring a theatrical release.
Watch the trailer below.