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“Is this your light?”
“Is this your shitty blocking?”
This is how Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki characterized their early relationship as director and cinematographer once the two graduated from film school in Mexico together and got their first professional gigs on a TV set. The two spoke at length Wednesday night as part of a Directors Series at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival about their intense partnership that has spanned decades and resulted in movies like Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Little Princess and Children of Men.
Lubezki, who made history this year as the first cinematographer to win three consecutive Oscars (beginning with one for Cuaron’s Gravity 2013), started the conversation with, “This is awkward … ” before launching into his memories of a 15-year-old Cuaron standing outside the local movie theater, surrounded by girls, waxing philosophical on the colors used in an Antonioni movie. Cuaron, for his part, recalls that Lubezki was often doing the same, except that his subject of choice was “more music” than film. That changed when Lubezki followed Cuaron, two years older than he, into film school and discovered his true gift for lighting.
The two recounted in detail the experiences of making their first films together, from the Spanish Solo con tu Pareja in 1991 to Great Expectations in 1998, which Cuaron called a “complete failed film” and admitted the script “was not there” and that he “didn’t understand what we were doing.”
That experience marked what he now sees as a turning point, after which he went back to the drawing board and came away with the idea for Y Tu Mama También, which, despite the technical marvels of his later films, still remains for some his hallmark achievement. He also lavished praise on Lubezki (who goes by “Chivo,” Spanish for “goat”) for his “magical” transition from film into digital cinematography. And like all good friends, he also found a way to get in one last dig at his old buddy:
“He had the reputation for having the most lights, and being the slowest person, on planet Earth.”
At this, Chivo just nodded.
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