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Let’s Get Physical

Tim Sidell explains why film – and 16mm in particular – is still the most exciting format for the moving image.

Cinematographer Tim Sidell is a walking, talking advert for film.

I adore film," says the artist-turned-cinematographer. "The properties of film, glass, light and projection are really the subject of my own filmic experiments, developed through a physical relationship with the materials."

A veteran of the workshops for artists interested in the moving image, Sidell has a particular passion for 16mm – a format he insists is more flexible and more dynamic than any other filming method.

I can shoot, print, edit, re-film and re-print with a kind of immediacy," he says. "This isn't possible with any other gauge, nor with digital acquisition."

While recent digital developments may have advanced, Sidell says it still can't match the effortless colour, texture and versatility and affordability of 16mm. Fujifilm – unwittingly – helped nurture this passion.

"I fell in love with Eterna 400T," he smiles. "It's endless shadow detail and warm, subdued colour blew me away. Reala 500D has also worked a treat for me on low-budget artists' films that relied on ambient light. That stock's handling of colour in mixed light is incredible, even if it is a little grainy."

Sidell is wary of the cleaner stocks brought to market in recent years, designed to give filmmakers more options in grading. "I'm not convinced by the wave of blander stocks," he says. "I get more excited by Fujifilm's commitment to 'dialing in a look' - in-camera."

Recently Sidell has been using 400T on Vaughan Pilikian's new documentary about a bizarre Guy Fawkes ritual held in the depths of darkest Devon. "It involves locals hauling flaming tar-soaked barrels on their shoulders and running through the streets," he says. "The barrels move very quickly and the crowd swells to clear a path. Vaughan is really interested in close shots of the runners' faces, lit only by the flames they're fighting each other to hang on to. You have to be right in there with them. I use a compact, well-balanced Aaton with a prime lens, then push, shove and run in an attempt to get the shot – without getting burnt! The 400T – pushed a stop or more in some cases – always has the detail, even when overcranking."

But while the stock exceeded his expectations, Sidell found current technology wasn't meeting all his needs. "We realised we needed material with synch sound," says Sidell. "I needed a system that could synch our old Aaton's without a board and that would cost us nothing. Through collaboration with an audio researcher at Anglia Ruskin University (where I lecture part-time), and funding from the Cultures of the Digital Economy (CoDE), we developed a small block that communicates through Bluetooth, triggering a series of LED flashes that correlate with beeps on the sound recordist's deck when I run the camera."

It was this kind of guerilla mentality that brought Sidell another unique opportunity – the chance to test a brand new stock. "I was lined up to shoot a short in North Wales, and really wanted to try the new Vivid 250D," he explains. "I compared the Vivid 250D with the Reala 500D– the other stock I was considering," he continues. "I set up a scene at home, with a range of colour and contrast (spot readings on post-it notes...) for an exposure latitude test. I was astounded by the highlight detail and how many stops of over-exposure the stock handled flawlessly. The biggest surprise was how fine the grain was – some shots were so clean they could have been on 35mm!"

Sidell's new and recent projects include a 16mm short film shot in Barcelona and Holland called Spinario, which is currently showing at the Miro Foundation in Barcelona; another 16mm short, DreamMachine shot in Tangiers and currently showing at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford and new feature film for Universal, starring Noel Clarke titled Storage 24, which is released in cinemas on 29 June.

For more on Tim Sidell visit

Tim Sidell   |   Fujicolor ETERNA 400T   |   Fujicolor ETERNA Vivid 250D   |   Fujicolor Reala 500D   |  

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