Christina Ienna is a Canadian cinematographer and filmmaker currently based in Toronto, Ontario. She has spent five years working in Alberta on various productions for companies such as CTV, VICE and TRAVEL ALBERTA. Learn more about cinematographer Christina and her creative approach as a visual storyteller.
How did you get started as a cinematographer?
I’d like to say it was a camera but that came much later. I was a pretty imaginative kid. Loved to draw, I liked to pull things apart and put them back to together in my own way. Theatre and dance were also a major part of my childhood. By eleven, I was pretty certain I was going to work in architecture or design – even helped plan out the blueprints for my family’s second home. So composition was always subconsciously developing there.
I also spent a ton of time watching films with my father, particularly when they started adding behind the scenes videos. Eventually, I stumbled upon my dad’s old Pentax ME Super camera and started photographing more seriously. But I did not really think filmmaking was going to be a viable career choice for me until I started researching it in high school.
I went to post secondary for film and communication studies but within the first month maneuvered my way onto a small indie feature in town as a production assistant. That kind of kick-started my hands-on learning experience. An internship at a small production house followed and I kept making my own projects on the side with friends between class and work. I got a taste of all the departments but was drawn to the camera and began to invest more energy there. I guess I’ve always liked the tangibility of it, creating an image and telling a story that way.
What obstacles have you faced being a Cinematographer and Director?
Building relationships. Convincing someone to trust you to bring their idea or vision as a cinematographer means taking risks of your own and investing time, energy and creativity that may never be reciprocated. As a director, convincing others you have a great idea or vision can feel nearly impossible some days.
Describe your visual style?
Motivated. I light and move with intent. There is more than one storyteller beyond the acted script – camera, light, and sound narrate everything between the lines. Unless the project calls for a more unconventional creative approach, I try to maintain that every source is believable within the realm of each shot within each scene.
At the same time, I can be fairly malleable. Trying new techniques is always a welcoming experience. Anything to further my skills as a storyteller and cinematographer is an asset, whether they work out or not.
What are some of the challenges you are facing on set? If any?
I come from a world of makeshift MacGyver type movie making. Over the years, I’ve had to work with extremely limited resources and crew but still managed to find creative ways to uphold quality over budget. I just try to be strategic with rentals that I cannot function without and gear I can supplement with alternative means. I’ve lit many sets with homemade rigs, frequenting hardware and craft stores for supplies. I also had a brilliant friend out in Alberta that could build more ambitious contraptions in his workshop- thank you, Larry!
Documentary-wise, the challenge is always integrating yourself into your subject matter without contaminating it with your own bias. Distance or comfort lead people to quickly forget that the camera is there. Reading a room fast enough to make snap decisions to capture things as they unfold develops with time.
Challenge is good, it generates innovation. The insight gained feels much more authentic. You really do learn a great deal about yourself and your crew in a bind.
What projects are you currently working on?
I just finished a post on a mini-doc series I produced, directed and shot. In pre-production for a short film shooting next month and have two documentaries on the books, one as the main DP and the other as a second shooter.
What traits do you feel are necessary to be successful as a cinematographer?
Understanding your tools is very important but often we get caught up in the technical too much and forget to focus on the craft. Cinematography is moving imagery after all. As much as an artist is aware of what type of brush, canvas and paints are being used, the technique, intention, and visual aesthetic are what makes it art. It should all have meaning. There’s also an emotional connectivity in creating. Your perspective is always there in some way, within framing choices or through the mood of the light.
We should also always be evolving, taking risks. Studying others work in film and other mediums. Be critical of your work to push yourself further but still be confident in your abilities. As a head of a department, you have to be a solution, not a problem. Shoots rarely go off as planned, being adaptable and thinking on your feet are the only ways to survive.
What advice would you give young women following your lead into Cinematography?
Focus on your craft. Eventually, your work will become great enough that you can’t be ignored.
Knowing how to work alone is important but so is being a good leader and team player. It’s part of the job to motivate the crew you work with. When people feel like they are a part of something – great things happen. Collaboration is incredibly valuable in creative growth.
You’re also going to have to pick yourself up time and time again. Do what you can to not stay down there. Surrounding yourself with supportive people – that helps. Build a team(s) and encourage each other, there’s a higher chance to succeed.
About Christina Ienna
The music video GROWING YOUNGER by Michou, which she both shot and directed was selected in the National Screen Institute 2016 online short film festival. Filmed in the mountains of Kananaskis, HIGH by Sun City won “Music Video of the Year” at the 2013 Australian Independent Music Video Awards.
Christina also worked on Canadian Screen Award-winning CBC documentary series THE GREAT HUMAN ODYSSEY for over 18 months, assisting the editor as a digital image technician. She is also credited as one of the main cinematographers for the project’s mini documentary MAKING OF A FILM SCORE. Both films were recipients of 2015 Rosie Awards.