Cinematographer Ari Wegner to Receive TIFF Variety Artisan Award – Alexandra Heller-Nicholas reports

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Although not quite a household name, Ari Wegner, the celebrated Australian cinematographer has just been announced as the recipient of the TIFF Variety Artisan Award at this year’s TIFF Tribute Awards speaks of just how respected she is in the industry itself. With one of her most recent projects – Janicza Bravo’s Zola – premiering at Sundance earlier this year and picked up by prestigious distributor A24, the calibre of Wegner’s work largely speaks for itself, with her films screening internationally at big-name festivals including Cannes, Locarno, Berlin, Rotterdam and Tribeca.

Wegner studied at Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts, a prestigious institution whose alumni include Gillian Armstrong and Elizabeth Debicki. During her final year of study in 2009, she participated in both the Berlinale Talent Campus and the Budapest Cinematography Masterclass. After shooting Zia Mandviwalla’s New Zealand short film Night Shift in 2012 which played at Cannes, although Wegner had worked in a variety of capacities behind the camera since 2003, it was Michael Cody and Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s 2013 film Ruin in particular that brought the intensity of her work to a wider audience and won the Special Orizzonti Jury Prize at the 2013 Venice Film Festival.

Shooting the popular Australian television series The Kettering Incident in 2016, it was on the back of the success of Ruin in particular that led Wegner to the UK, and that same year William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth was released. Starring Florence Pugh in the title role, her dazzling performance was captured immaculately through Wegner’s electrifying work which saw her win the Best Cinematography Award at the 2017 British Independent Film Awards.

While still working for the small screen on series such as The Girlfriend Experience for which she shot nine episodes in 2017, it is her most recent feature film work that has seen the impressive range of her craft make her one of the most in-demand cinematographers working today, including Peter Strickland’s In Fabric (2018), Jed Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang (2019), Zola, and Jane Campion‘s highly anticipated 2021 feature The Power of the Dog, starring Kirsten Dunst and Benedict Cumberbatch (the latter playing at TIFF this year also).

While awards such as this at TIFF commemorate her work as an individual, as Wegner notes in a 2017 interview with Sarah Hall at the University of Melbourne arts blog Precinct, for Wegner filmmaking is crucially about teamwork. When asked how directors and cinematographers work together, she answered, “Ideally, in collaboration. Some directors are really loose and free-form; some work best when everything is planned out meticulously. Some have a very clear idea of what they want, and others prefer to have a cinematographer lead the visuals a lot more.” She continued, “Every project and director is so different, which is a huge part of what I love about this job. Of course, there are so many other people involved too: the production designer, the editor, the cast, wardrobe people, location, sound – it’s such a team effort, and really needs to be for the whole thing to look great.”

Upon the announcement that Wegner was to receive the TIFF Variety Artisan Award, TIFF Co-Head Joana Vicente praised her work in the industry, noting “We are absolutely thrilled to honour Ari Wegner with this year’s TIFF Variety Artisan Award and to showcase her illustrious career in film and television”. She added, “Ari brings such a transformative and unique style to all of her projects, including her stunning cinematography in The Power of the Dog. We can’t wait for our audiences to see the Special Presentation of this powerful film during the Festival.” Likewise, Variety’s Steven Gaydos added “Ari approaches every project she works on with such a thoughtful and creative gaze…Her work is inspiring and groundbreaking, and we are looking forward to being able to honour her incredible work and contributions at this year’s awards.”

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from 9 – 18 September.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi award-winning film critic from Melbourne, Australia. She was an editor at Senses of Cinema from 2015 to 2018, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic for ABC Radio in Australia, She has written for Film International, Diabolique Magazine, Vulture, Overland, The Big Issue and her own website, The Blue Lenses. She has written eight books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema and co-edited collections on Elaine May, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Peter Strickland, and Alice in Wonderland in film. She frequently contributes commentaries, liner notes and video essays to home entertainment releases from companies such as Arrow Video, Kino Lorber, Eureka Entertainment, Second Sight and Severin Films. She is a Research Fellow at RMIT University and an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).