Matthew Libatique, renowned for his cinematography in BLACK SWAN, in an interview about how digital technology has effected filmmaking.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique

In a filmmaking world that’s becoming increasingly digital, Matthew Libatique longs for the old ways. The 2010 Academy Award nominee for Best Cinematography admits that he tries really hard to emulate the look of celluloid every time he works with digital. “I am half-joking when I say this: I like digital as long as it doesn’t look like digital. It’s inexplicable what you’re missing in digital. In film, you have these layers of emotion. In digital, you only have a flat field of pixels.”

For Libatique, film is not mere chemicals. “It is a medium packed with countless human sensations. When you use film and look at the images, you could see variations in every frame. In digital, every frame is exactly the same.”

It was the experience of making NOAH, Darren Aronofsky’s feature to be released in 2014, that made Libatique realize how digital technology has effected the film industry. “We shot the film on 35mm, but there are very few labs in the world that could process it. This is where digital has really taken over: in the lab and in post-production”, said the cinematographer. “Ten years ago, we chose labs based on the people who worked there and how they process the film. You have options because every lab renders differently. Now, we have fewer choices to finish on film.”

Libatique sees an advantage in digital technology for trying out new approaches. “One thing, perhaps the only thing, I like about digital is that it’s like a lens test. I could pop any lens on a digital camera and see how it turns out. In a commercial I made recently, I experimented with older lenses.”

Experimentation is important for Libatique – as it opens up new perspectives that are vital to his work. “Darren [Aronofsky] used to call me a method cinematographer. When I’m working, I try to mimic the main character; I try to become him or her. It happened in BLACK SWAN with Natalie Portman, it happened in PI with the Max Cohen character. It happened on many occasions in EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED with Elijah Wood. It didn’t happen in IRON MAN, naturally. It’s such a large-scale film, it’s not personal. As a filmmaker, I prefer the personal, because it allows me to focus. It’s not that I don’t find value in films like IRON MAN. I do. Making sprawling spectacle requires a different kind of focus, a different kind of skill set.”