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Let there be light

Cinematographer Ari Wegner is gaining acclaim for her involvement in high profile TV and film projects, which have seen her travel around the world with the same adventurous spirit that brought her grandfather from Greece to Australia

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Ari Wegner

19 July 2017

"It's been a great couple of years for me," Ari Wegner admits, when we discuss her work via Skype.

"I've been lucky to be working on some really great projects and have fortuitous things happening."

The projects in question include The Kettering Incident, one of Foxtel's most successful dramas, and Lady Macbeth, considered one of the most highly acclaimed films from the UK in recent years (now playing in cinemas around Australia). Ari Wegner worked as a cinematographer in both, gaining praise for her use of light in setting a distinct visual tone for each project. She's been doing much more than that. She has worked in music videos, documentaries, and a lot of commercials, one of which she's now shooting in London, hence our Skype discussion.

"My family is in Melbourne, but I have no full-time base," she says. "I go from job to job, wherever that takes me. That's one of the reasons that I love this job; no two days are the same. While there is something very universal about the film industry, the process, the equipment and so on, you get to be in different places, which may be different culturally."

Like anyone growing up in Melbourne, Ari Wegner is used to cultural diversity - not least because of her Greek roots, the Dellaportas side of her family. Her grandfather migrated to Australia from Lefkas.

"At the time that was a leap of faith, a brave thing to do, go someplace unknown, hoping to find something there," she says.

"Being Greek is part of my history. If it wasn't for him making this decision, I wouldn't be here."

'Here', of course, being Melbourne, and her alma mater the Victorian College of the Arts, where she went straight after high school.

"I gravitated towards cinematography because it combines two of my passions; photography and storytelling."

A still from 'Lady Macbeth', Ari Wegner's claim to fame as a cinematographer with a signature use of light. Photo: Sharmill Films

Cinematographers are the unsung heroes of the film industry, those who are tasked to materialise the director's vision and whose choices can make or break a movie.

"Cinematography is a tool with so many elements to it, such as speed and colour," she explains.

"It is definitely a creative job, but at the same time it has a very technical side to it. A huge part of the job is communicating with people to achieve a common goal.
"I love collaborations, working with people, with directors and assistant directors. You need to understand what they are saying and get as clear an image as you can of their vision.
"But in any artistic endeavour you don't know what you create until it is completed and you see it. Which is equally exciting and scary. I genuinely enjoy the process.
" Ι like to approach each project free of preconceptions and particular visual styles and think about what a film should look like, what look is best suited to the subject. My aim is for a look that brings something extra to the story, for a heightened layer, always having the viewer in mind; how a series of images can have an effect on someone."

Cinematographer Ari Wegner on the set of 'Lady Macbeth' with director William Oldroyd. Photo: Myron Johnson/  Sharmill Films

As for Ari herself, she remembers the first time she became aware of light in film.

"It was in a small Australian film, Mullet, directed by David Caesar. I was in high school when I first saw it and a few years later, I got an internship with the film's cinematographer, Robert Humphreys," she remembers. "It was the first time I saw how light was used".

Before we hang up (or whatever the appropriate term for Skyping is), I ask her about her idea of light in Melbourne.

"A few weeks ago, I was staying at my sister's house in Preston. I had gone out running - as I do very early in the morning, every day. It was a very cold, but sunny morning; there were fruit trees, cherry trees, and plum trees on the nature strip and there was a warm light on the wet grass, and a wooden fence which was about to fall and was tightened by a piece of wire. I stopped and took a photo. This was the most 'Melbourne' moment."

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