Scene from Bai Lu Yuan(White Deer Plain)
German cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier was awarded a Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement at the 2012 Berlinale Film Festival for his work on the Chinese feature film Bai Lu Yuan (White Deer Plain). The film marks the fifth co-operation between Reitemeier and director Wang Quanan. Tuya’s Marriage won the Golden Bear at Berlinale in 2007 and Tuan Yuan the Silver Bear in 2010.
Based on the sweeping historical novel by Chen Zhongshi, Bai Lu Yuan follows developments in two families in White Deer village across half a century of political upheaval spanning the fall of imperial China in 1911 through the Nationalist warlord period to the Japanese invasion and to civil war between the Communists and Nationalists. Significantly both the novel’s author and the film’s director come from Shaanxi province where the majority of the movie’s scenes were shot.
Director Quanan initially wanted to shoot the film digitally but was persuaded by Reitemeier to use classic analogue film. Reitemeier explains, “I wanted this movie to have a human touch. It needed to accurately depict the lives of the main characters as they carried on their daily struggles in the dirty and poor Chinese hinterland of the beginning of the last century. Film emulsion conveys highlight gains much more naturally than the steadiness of digital.”
“I was also looking for a good cinematic translation of the fantastic and very realistic film sets and costumes,” he continued “and film with its soft grain is a much better recording medium for audience perception than the density of pure HD recording. From a practical perspective too, film and film equipment is robust and reliable. We were working in a remote area in dirt and snow and sandstorms. At one point I almost lost a toe as the temperature plummeted to minus 26 degrees but there were never any problems with the film gear.”
Following tests in Beijing, three Kodak 35mm film stocks were used; KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219, KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 and KODAK VISION2 50D Color Negative Film 5201. The 250D was the ‘workhorse’ stock for the majority of the scenes, candlelight situations were handled comfortably with the 500ASA and the 50D was used for exteriors.
Reitemeier acknowledges that all film recording media have their advantages and disadvantages but one thing he particularly likes about film is that it’s easier and more natural to assess and control the impression of light. “With film,” he explains “you get what you see but lighting for HD is different. The whole light level is higher but then you have to keep the contrast to go darker in post. You have to be careful with HD not to clip the highlights and to prevent signal noise in the blacks.”
The cinematographer concluded by praising the Chinese. “In spite of our differences in culture and language,” he said “I was very impressed with their understanding, their organization and their flexibility. I also like their confidence, their curiosity and their will to learn.”
Cinelabs (Beijing) Ltd handled post-production on Bai Lu Yuan. Cinelabs (Beijing) Ltd is a joint venture between Kodak China Ltd and the Beijing Film and Video Laboratory. Accredited to KODAK IMAGECARE Program standards in negative film processing, Cinelabs (Beijing) Ltd has provided services to many notable productions including color negative film processing for The Kite Runner, Mummy 3 and Red Cliff. Reitemeier described the lab as “very clean, very modern and top quality.”