Magazine article Variety

Picture of a Winner

Magazine article Variety

Picture of a Winner

Article excerpt

When Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki won the cinematography Oscar for his work on "The Revenant" on Sunday night - his third consecutive in the category - he was tempted to make a joke in his speech. "I wanted to say, 'To my family and friends: Lower your expectations.'"

He's only somewhat kidding. It's the morning after his historic win for "The Revenant," which also took home honors for director Alejandro G. Inarritu and star Leonardo DiCaprio, and Lubezki is aware he's unlikely to ever top this year: No director of photography before him has won three consecutive Academy Awards. "I am the luckiest cinematographer in the world," notes the 51-year-old, Mexico Cityborn Lubezki. "My daughters think that going to the Oscars is a normal thing that happens every year, and it's not. I might never come back to the Oscars. I might never get another nomination again."

Odds are that the man who took home last year's cinematography Oscar for Inarritu's best-picture winner "Birdman," and a year earlier for Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity," will soon enough be a contender again, considering he's one of the most acclaimed cinematographers working today. Since launching his feature career in the 1990s, Lubezki has collaborated with a who's who of directors, from Tim Burton to Terrence Malick to Cuaron, who he met when both were film students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

"I always wanted to be a director, but I thought I would also d.p. my own films," Cuaron tells Variety in a phone call the morning after the Oscars. "But when I met Chivo, it became very clear to me he was so much better. I said: 'That's a d.p.!"'

The beauty and style of Lubezki's work, featuring long, unbroken takes in "Birdman" or the exclusive use of natural light in "Revenant," has made him perhaps the first superstar cinematographer. Audiences chant his name at Q&As, and he has been stopped on the street by autograph-seekers. He was even courted by the beer company Indio to star in a commercial that aired on Mexican television during the Academy Awards - almost unheard of for a behind-the-camera artist.

As Cuaron says: "He's a celebrity! He's Chivo! His nickname is a trademark now."

Lubezki, who has earned eight Academy Award nominations, resides with his wife, Lauren Strogoff, and their two teenage daughters in Ix>s Angeles. By his own admission, he likes to keep a low profile and has always been press shy - and hates to have his photo taken. "He has three Oscars, and he must be the most miserable man on Earth right now with all the attention," quips Cuaron.

It's true that Lubezki has qualms about being in the spotlight. When he was contacted about the Indio commercial, his response was one of disbelief. "It's so external and foreign to what I really like to do," he says. "I don't like to be in front of the camera, and I never thought anybody would call me or I would accept an offer like that." He was ultimately convinced after talking to the créatives at the ad agency, who put together a lyrical 60-second piece showing him working behind the camera.

As for the repeat Oscar wins, he is thrilled but a little uncomfortable. "Cinematography is a collaborative effort, and the fact you are getting the Oscar is almost a tiny bit embarrassing, because you have a whole crew that should be up there with you," he says. In addition, he doesn't believe in competition among peers. "It's very subjective to pick one movie from another when they are all so different," he notes. He lists off the roster of iconic cinematographers he was nominated against this year: Roger Deakins ("Sicario"), Edward Lachmann ("Carol"), Robert Richardson ("The Hateful Eight") and John Seale ("Mad Max: Fury Road"). "They are truly masters of what they do, and some of my greatest teachers. I've been admiring their work for so long, so you feel like a bit of an imposter."

And while one might think making that walk to the podium to accept the gold statue would get easier each year, Lubezki says it's actually the opposite. …

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