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Jieun Yi • Cinematographer

“I like the role I have as a cinematographer and I want to make films with others, not alone”


- The cinematographer, who studied at the Babelsberg‘s Konrad Wolf Film University, talks about working with German independent filmmakers

Jieun Yi  • Cinematographer

Cinematographer Jieun Yi is part of the annual signature campaign Face to Face with German Films. The national promotion agency for German films worldwide offers the opportunity to get to know some of the players of the German film industry. We talked to Jieun Yi, born in South Korea, who started to work with German independent filmmakers after she graduated from the Konrad Wolf Film University.

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Cineuropa: Why did you choose to study in Berlin?
Jieun Yi: Originally, I wanted to go to Paris because I know French and am a fan of French cinema. But for personal reasons it didn't work out. Berlin was the next big city that came into question.

What career opportunities can Germany offer to you compared to South Korea?
I had no contact with the Korean film industry before I left. Just like in Germany, I would have had to work for everything myself there. I wanted to go abroad, get out of my comfort zone and give everything for my education. It was hard at first because I didn't know the language and I had to deal with the culture difference. But at the same time, I enjoyed it very much and achieved complete freedom. I'm happy to work for the German film industry, but I wish that German films, like Korean films, were more experimental and brave about the stories that are told. The same thing goes for the funding organisations that need to support that.

How would you describe your style as a cinematographer?
So far I've only made seven films and all of them are stylistically very different, which I think is great. It's important for me not to lose myself in way too complicated concepts. On the contrary, I want to develop a simple concept and follow through with it. The visual concept doesn't usually come from me alone. I want to know and understand exactly what the director wants. Only when I have understood that, can I be creative.

You have filmed Berlin in several projects. How did you research the city and what were you keen to show?
Having emigrated to Berlin myself, I had no friends or acquaintances. To get to know the city, I walked around Berlin with a photo camera, mostly at night, taking portraits of people on the street. Berlin is a special city for me. Many director and producer friends live in Berlin, and when we're working on a film, we're together a lot in the city, open to discover new things all the time. 

Is the urban environment what interests or inspires you the most aesthetically?
Every city has a certain character, but it depends on people's perception. For me, Berlin is the city of lonely souls, it has something melancholic about it. But you can also portray it in a completely different way. I don't want to make a film about the city of Berlin, but create a fairy-tale landscape from the urban environment in each case. Together with the directors, I want to create a world that is true to itself.

How do you prepare for the shooting of a film?
I don't choose my films according to career opportunities or salary. It's more important for me that I like the project. So before I accept, I think carefully about how much I will be able to contribute. I get to know the project, I want to know how the director works and what they want. It's important that I feel like he or she can inspire me. Then I also want to get to know the characters. I look through the camera at people I want to understand and find something likeable about. Then I develop a concept, for which I need to know the location where the film is to be set, because that's what decides the atmosphere of the film. To create the concept, I depend on the material.

How important is it for you to be able to help create the aesthetic concept?
Personally, I don't feel the need to determine the aesthetic concept myself. The directors already know it themselves, or usually it's more a feeling they have about it. Once I understand it, I can transform the original blurred concept into a concrete and sharp one.

When a film is in post-production, are you still involved in it?
I get involved early on in a project, already at the preparation stage. Then I'm on the shoot and stay in close contact with the team during the editing process. The decisive moment for me is the colour correction, which is very important and time-consuming because the image has to be redefined for certain scenes.

Does it appeal to you to do your own project, which you would then also direct?
I tried it once when I wanted to make a long documentary from my Berlin photographs. It ended up being only thirty minutes, because it's not my thing at all. The energy and responsibility you have to put into it is too big for me. I like the role I have as a cinematographer and I want to make films with others, not alone. 

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