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A Conversation with NYC-Based Cinematographer Martina Radwan

The Film Society of Summit will welcome Martina Radwan on Friday, Nov. 18 to discuss her work as Director of Photography on The Promised Band and other groundbreaking films.

As a top notch cinematographer, Martina Radwan has captured many diverse images, from documentaries on world issues, to thrillers, to her first American short film on the color pink. In our conversation with Martina, she’ll share her expertise as a cinematographer of documentaries and dramatic features who not only promotes cross-cultural understanding, but also inspires exceptional cinema.

Early success for the film includes a Best Feature award this year at Cinequest. The Promised Band documentary was filmed in Israel, Palestine and USA. This moving new film is a story about Israelis and Palestinians who meet and form a cross-cultural friendship in spite of the age-old conflict that separates them. Five women and one man who are determined to break down walls cross the Israeli border illegally to do just that.

Two Israeli women were brave enough to make the illegal journey into Nablus to meet Lina Qadri a Palestinian teacher. Since Israelis are forbidden from entering Palestinian Authority territory, they needed an excuse to cross the border. Their solution: creating a rock band. Although they lack musical talent, the idea of the band allows members to find safe spaces to practice together and perform.

“To me, The Promised Band symbolizes the power of film that drew me to shoot documentaries,” explains Martina Radwan, the film’s director of photography.

Martina and the film’s director Jen Heck followed an event that became the catalyst for change. “The crazy part is that they live so close but had never met each other,” Martina explains. The film conveys how the secret West Bank meetings touched everyone involved.

“When I was watching the initial meeting between Lina, Shlomit, Vicki, Noa and Alhan through my viewfinder, I knew I was witnessing a very special moment. It almost felt like a historical moment, because it gave me hope that there’s a solution. Get together, share humus and listen!” Martina says.

“I was very impressed by the Israelis taking the risk to cross the border, “ she said with a smile. They were inspired by Lina and the only way to meet her was to go to Nablus in the West Bank, Martina continued. The Israelis did this fully aware the penalty for crossing into the Palestinian Authority territory could have been prison.

The Promised Band allows the audience to watch the walls that separate two neighboring societies come down. When asked how she managed to capture the emotional impact of the secret meetings, Martina said she shot the scenes in observational style, in natural light only and primarily using small handheld cameras.

Martina Radwan began her career as a cinematographer working as an assistant. She started shooting in 1995 when she moved to New York. Most helpful in learning the art of cinematography, she feels, was shooting student films on 16mm.

When asked if she prefers filming scripted or unscripted projects, Martina took a moment to answer. “Each presents special challenges and rewards,” she warned. “I love lighting large sets, which I miss in documentaries, but I find the realness of documentary immensely rewarding,“ she said.

“Instead of lighting the set, you have to find the right angle, where the available light supports the story you want to tell,” Martina added.

Photographers of documentaries are very much in charge in how to shape the story. “We follow the director’s vision, but when the scene unfolds, we have to make a million decisions at a hundred miles an hour.” This is a challenge Martina thoroughly enjoys.

“The ability to witness and share, like we did in the West Bank for The Promised Band, is what makes documentaries so powerful,” she explained

Cinematographer Martina Radwan inspires exceptional cinema.


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