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EXCLUSIVE: Nick de Pencier shares the challenges and highlights of filming “Watermark”

Written by Nick de Pencier, Producer & Cinematographer, WATERMARK

The logistical challenges of this global project were daunting: 20 stories, 10 countries, 200 hours of raw footage, 29 different media formats, 8 languages. By the end, we had used over a dozen different cameras to answer myriad practical and creative considerations. Amazingly, none of them fell in the water. I only fell in a few times myself. Our most ambitious technology was the Epic 5K camera from RED which was so new at the time we started production that we had to use one of the hand-assembled prototypes from California. We were striving to have moving images that could stand up to the incredible detail of Burtynsky’s 60 megapixel stills, and knew that this camera was our best option. It was often difficult to position in our more precarious vantage points, but when we did, the results were dramatic. Our collaboration with FreeFly Cinema was especially fruitful as their engineering for remote controlled helicopters with gyro-stabilized controllable gimbals let us release the camera from the laws of gravity and explore some of our locations from soaring, aerial perspectives.

Nick de Pencier with Mike Reid filming Watermark in the California desert.

Nick de Pencier with Mike Reid filming Watermark in the California desert. © Jim Panou

For cinematography to successfully capture the essence of a place, it requires more than two dimensions. This means the cinematographer (and then the viewer) needs time. As a cinematographer, you need to be in a context long enough to feel it before you can successfully try and capture its image. As a viewer, you need an appropriate amount of time to apprehend the image. Sometimes this can be a short tease. In other instances, you need to let the image linger so that you have time to reflect and even develop a kind of dialogue with the image you are seeing.

I especially liked the time we spent with the ice core scientists from NEEM who consider the world in geological time: water as archival medium echoing film as archival medium.

Images that I shot on celluloid twenty years ago, will be available to be viewed long after I’m gone. Images that I’m shooting on digital formats today will be hard or impossible to retrieve ten years from now as the technology changes so fast and is hard to archive.  Part of the magic of film is capturing moments in time and then displaying them in another time and place – this effect is diminished if the images don’t last. Our society would do well to try and think farther into the future (and consider more of the lessons of the past) than we do in most things.

It was important to us that the film was carbon offset and we were happy to work with the team at Less to help us accomplish this. It is not lost on us that as we endeavour to tell stories that expand consciousness around issues of climate change and water pollution, we are complicit in many of the cycles that can contribute to these.

Water is life, and when organizations like WWF take on initiatives like their current one on water, they are choosing one angle in a complex matrix of environmental issues, but one which has the potential to capture the imaginations of many people and bring them to a place of change. This is also why we chose to make the film Watermark.

Watermark opens in select cities across Canada on October 11th.  For trailer and engagements, please visit here.

Acclaimed Photographer and Director Edward Burtynsky will be in attendance at the Princess Cinemas in Waterloo after the 7pm screening on October 24th to answer your questions on his film WATERMARK!