NAHID, from first-time director Ida Panahandeh, explores women's rights in Iran through the story of the title character, a divorcée who is balancing a rebellious son and a salary that barely covers her rent against the romantic attentions of a middle-aged man named
Masoud. The romance might save Nahid from her financial troubles, but Iranian law would forbid her from
retaining custody of her son if she were to remarry. Cinematographer Morteza Gheidi spoke with ARRI about why he chose ALEXA and the ProRes 2K format for NAHID, which won a special prize for debut films in the Un Certain Regard section at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
What kind of a look were you and the director going for on this production?
We had to present a woman struggling for love and for life itself, and we were facing a vast range of scenes in terms of color and lighting choices. For scenes in Nahid's house we imagined a pale, cold and unclean look with realistic lighting, and for her mother's place we thought about the same look, but a bit rougher and with higher contrast lighting. On the opposite side, for scenes with the Masoud character, we considered a more colorful, warm atmosphere with soft lighting and a mixture of tungsten and daylight for the interior and exterior day scenes. Keeping in mind that this is a personal story, I decided to picture it all in a realistic way in order make a better link between the audience and the storyline. In the end, Ida, our set designer Mehdi Mousavi and I discussed all the visual ideas and came to a conclusion.
Why did you choose to use ALEXA?
I have followed ARRI's cameras from the beginning of the digital era and I believe that these cameras make the closest images to a color negative, with natural, exquisite skin tones, great dynamic range and colors that look just the way they really are. I'd used ALEXA on previous projects so I knew it was user friendly and I knew that it allows cinematographers to reach the best result in a short time. I suggested ALEXA to our production manager and with Ida I discussed the cinematic look of the ALEXA's image in comparison to other cameras.
I like that ARRI has followed a different way than other companies and chose not to enter the resolution competition. It took the risk of being one step behind, but time has proved them right and with ALEXA we have a camera in our hands that has a great cinematic look, a pleasing dynamic range, and also has options for 4K and even beyond, which for me is total perfection.
Can you explain how ALEXA's dynamic range benefited this film?
On NAHID we had everything from bright day scenes with extreme highlights to night scenes using street lights and their reflections in the river, but having had experience working with ALEXA I knew that I would have a reliable range. For interior shots I refused to put ND filters on the windows from time to time, because when I checked the Log C image I could see that the windows were holding fine. In addition to the highlights, shadows and darker areas in the image also held a good amount of detail, and this gave me the capability to record whatever I had imagined. For instance I wanted to capture the cloudy sky over the actors' heads while also maintaining a suitable exposure for the actors themselves, and the ALEXA's dynamic range let me do it.
Were there any particularly challenging sequences?
I was worried about the night sequence beside the river because if we were to light it in a massive way, we would have lost track of the schedule. I wanted to shoot it with realistic lighting and after visiting the location a couple of times I came to the decision to use the existing street lights and to shoot at ISO 1,000. The streetlights in the background were exposed properly and we supplemented the foreground lights just a little. Ultimately our trust in the camera resulted in a successful and glamorous sequence.
Were you shooting on location a lot?
All the shooting took place in Anzali, a city in northern Iran with high levels of humidity and a lot of rain. In spite of the environmental and climate conditions, the shooting process went uninterruptedly and we didn't face any difficulty with the camera.
Why did you record ProRes 2K? Was it an easy workflow through postproduction?
After picking the ALEXA I shot tests with ProRes 2K and sent them to the digital lab. Our colorist Nima Dabirzadeh graded the test footage and informed me that the format is highly compatible for the postproduction process. Recording Log C gave me the capability to reach my desired result in the grading process and there were no difficulties in making the dark areas as detailed as we needed.