American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 40

Rising Up
Cinematographer Elliot Davis
takes on The Birth of a Nation
with bold workflow choices and
innovative lighting.
By Patricia Thomson
*|*

T

he year was 1831, three decades before the Civil War.
Tensions were rising between abolitionists and slaveholders. A drought furthered the stress. Both a slave and an
impassioned Baptist preacher, Nat Turner witnessed
unspeakable brutality that curdled his conscience, and he rose
up to lead a 48-hour slave rebellion that left approximately 60
whites dead. In retribution, mobs and militias killed between
100 and 200 slaves and freed blacks - and Turner himself was
tried, convicted and executed. The revolt reverberated all the
way to the Virginia legislature, where ending slavery was
considered and rejected. It would take many more years for this
"peculiar institution" to be abolished, but the debate had begun.
Like most Americans, actor Nate Parker wasn't taught
this piece of history in school, and when he did learn of it, the
story became a passion project that consumed his life for seven
years. After co-writing the script and workshopping it at the

40

November 2016

Sundance Institute Feature Film lab, Parker co-produced,
directed, and starred in the film he called The Birth of a Nation.
For director of photography Elliot Davis, the film was a
natural fit. Davis was trained as an architect, "so I have all that
social consciousness that architecture brings - for housing
and social responsibility," says the Berkeley-based cinematographer, who has alternated between major features and independent films throughout his four-decade career. "When I
went to UCLA grad school for film, I fell in with a group of
people mostly from out of the country - Africans and people
from the Middle East - who exposed me to another worldview; they really taught me about the social/political power of
film. I said to myself, 'If I ever get into the Hollywood structure, I want to take what I learned and apply it to films that
otherwise would never have that expertise - films that are
trying to promote social consciousness.' That's really what I've
built my artistic life on."
Davis' projects range from Spike Lee's Get on the Bus
(AC Nov. '96), Charles Burnett's The Glass Shield and Haile
Gerima's Harvest: 3,000 Years; to collaborations with Steven
Soderbergh (Out of Sight, King of the Hill [1993], The
Underneath [1995], Gray's Anatomy) and Catherine Hardwicke
(Twilight, Thirteen [AC Aug. '03], Lords of Dogtown [AC June
'05], Miss You Already); to prestige films like Phyllida Lloyd's
The Iron Lady and mainstream fare like Jessie Nelson's Love the
Coopers.
For The Birth of a Nation, Davis says, "I handpicked all
my head people. I really questioned them to make sure they
were going to be there for the right reasons." The production

American Cinematographer



American Cinematographer - November 2016

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - November 2016

Contents
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - Intro
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - Cover1
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - Cover2
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 1
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 2
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - Contents
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 4
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 5
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 6
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 7
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 8
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 9
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 10
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 11
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 12
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 13
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 14
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 15
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 16
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 17
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 18
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 19
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 20
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 21
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 22
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 23
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 24
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 25
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 26
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 27
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 28
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 29
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 30
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 31
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 32
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 33
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 34
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 35
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 36
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 37
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 38
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 39
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 40
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 41
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 42
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 43
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 44
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 45
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 46
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 47
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 48
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 49
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 50
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 51
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 52
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 53
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 54
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 55
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 56
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 57
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 58
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 59
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 60
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 61
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 62
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 63
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 64
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 65
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 66
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 67
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 68
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 69
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 70
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 71
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 72
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 73
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 74
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American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 76
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 77
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 78
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 79
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American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 81
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American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 84
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 85
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 86
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 87
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - 88
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - Cover3
American Cinematographer - November 2016 - Cover4
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