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Interview with 'Ice on Fire' (2019) Cinematographer Harun Mehmedinovic

Interview with 'Ice on Fire' (2019) DOP Harun Mehmedinovic

Bosnian born award-winning cinematographer Harun Mehmedinovic, known for his Oscar qualifying short 'In the Name of the Son' (2007), is a modern Renaissance man. Of many talents, Harun is also a director, photographer and writer. His photography work has been published by media outlets such as The New York Times, Wired, Time, Forbes, NPR, CNN, Gizmodo, Slate, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Vice, and Washington Post. He has contributed photographs and videos to Vogue Italia, National Geographic, Astronomy Magazine, BBC Travel, Discovery Science and Blindfold Magazine. He has authored three books- portrait series Seance and Persona, as well as the Astrophotography Book and Timelapse Series: Skyglow. His videos have been used at prestige events held by The Rolling Stones on their Zip Code Tour, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters 2016 Tour, Desert Trip Concert, Paul Simon's 2018 Farewell Tour and Cosmic Gate music video "am2pm," and National Park Service's "100 Years" centennial video; among others. His work as cinematographer includes regular video and photography contributions to BBC Earth. Most recently, his cinematography work on Leonardo DiCaprio produced HBO documentary film 'Ice on Fire' (2019) has gained him international recognition. Directed by Leila Conners, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Mathew Schmid, ‘Ice on Fire’ held its world premiere at the 72 Cannes Film Festival. The environmental documentary addresses climate change and proposes a reverse to the problem, exploring ways to reduce carbon inputs in the atmosphere.

I spoke with Harun about his experience working on the film and their premiere at Cannes. Here is what he had to say:


Did you always want to be a DOP?

HARUN: I studied screenwriting and theater as an undergrad in college, then later studied directing in grad school. I took photography in high school, and drawing before then, so they were always of interest to me. I’ve never had just one thing I wanted to focus on as a career. Being a DP and director isn't a singularity for me.


Your first film was about the Bosnian War. Do you think you'll revisit that subject in the future?

HARUN: Probably not. Unless there is a project that I feel passionate about that needs to be done, but I think I did what I wanted to do with that subject from a personal standpoint. It’s not a subject I want to grow on to be honest.


Do you have a film you’ve always been wanting to make?

HARUN: Not in particular. The way I look at it is that I want to make the movies I feel are important to make at that time. Right now, I think it's more important to make docs more than fiction. That’s just my personal feeling on it, especially to make docs that have to do with the environment is critical in my mind. As I get older, the less I'm interested in fiction unless it’s solidly leans on reality. I don’t have an interest in escapist movies, so I don’t really care for 90% of the fiction movies I see anymore. 


Do you think non-fiction is having a huge trend right now?

HARUN: There is a dominating interest for non-fiction so it’s a golden age for docs. It’s growing as a genre. Look at the number of docs on Netflix today compared to what was being made twenty years ago when most production companies didn’t even invest in docs. Now they invest in them almost daily. Nowadays there are so many docs in theaters being shown compared to in the past as well. I think this is because the populace in general feels they aren’t getting good news or interesting stories from the news outlets anymore; the news is failing to do anything relevant, so now docs are filling that space. The news is just negative all the time, but you have to focus on the positive because otherwise you aren’t going to inspire people. You can’t inspire people or help them to make change without letting them know there are things they can do. Stop making people cynical.


I agree docs are replacing news for information because the latter has become so negative. Do you think ‘Ice on Fire’ is positive?

HARUN: With ‘Ice and Fire’, everyone knew the negatives sides of climate change, but not many people knew about the positive side and what can be done to change it. So, we cover that in the doc. It’s not just depressing news, its activating and gives solutions.


While shooting ‘Ice on Fire, how many countries did you travel to with that and was it a long shoot?

HARUN: I think it was officially ten countries. And it was a two-year period.


Was there a favorite place you shot in?

HARUN: I've always loved Iceland and I didn’t love it any less after we shot there. I still think it’s the coolest place we went to. But being able to go to almost the North Pole was the most memorable. That's something I'll always be able to think back on and say that I was so far north, and we did like 700 miles of snow mobiles, so from an adventure standpoint the memory will live strongest in my mind. When it comes to places, I would love to spend more time in Iceland.


What was your experience working on ‘Ice on Fire’ and how has working on impacted your career?

HARUN: It was different than anything I’ve done before, because before I was pretty much stuck in the US and there was much more controlled environment. But this was sometimes a little crazy because they sent us to places where we weren’t really controlled. We spent a lot of time on glaciers and anything can happen. When you're on a glacier, you can’t have control because at any given moment everything can be in pieces and you never know what's going to happen. From that standpoint, it was a very intense experience for working on a movie. I've never been in -50/-60 temperatures, at least not for that amount of time, so it was incredibly stressful at times yet beautiful too. It was an interesting experience and one that also reminded me that I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the arctic for a year. After a movie like that, you really wish the next one won’t take you to the Arctic for the whole time. But my film 'Skyglow' is a movie we’ve been shooting off and on for five years, so I would like to bring that to an end as a feature doc. I’ve been focusing on for the last couple of months and probably for the next year I'll put a lot of focus on that.


The film premiered at Cannes. What was it like having a movie there?

HARUN: I never had a movie in Cannes before. I was dreading what the response would be because audiences very critical there and you don’t want people walking out of the theater. And no one had seen the film yet outside of the editing room. We are biased and we like the final cut, but you never know how an audience is going to respond. You're always worried what people will think, and you want people to like the film. Going to Cannes was interesting because we were going to know immediately if people think it sucks because it's an unforgiving audience and many times half the audience gets up and walks out of certain movies. But it was a good experience that we didn’t have that happen. People even gave us a standing ovation in the end, which was great, because you never know if that's going to happen. It was a good experience because it being a climate doc which is something people really dread watching because people don’t want to think about those realities. It was an overall positive experience, because it left a great impression of the first time an audience saw the film. Everything that was said got better and better as Cannes went on, which left a good impression about the life the movie will have and amount of screenings it will have publicly and with HBO. Hopefully it will be a movie that will matter to communities.


Why do you think it's so important for even an HBO movie to premiere at Cannes?

HARUN: I think it’s important because it gives the film an artist legitimacy and value. So that’s important. Also, the fact that there are only 3 or 4 docs that can make it to Cannes, that’s important too and gives the film a good boost right out of the cave instead of just going to TV. Also, for me personally, seeing the movie on the big screen was a great opportunity, just seeing the audience and how they react. That was an important experience and I think also for everyone else in the room. Most people will watch the film on TV or on their phones and they won’t get the experience of watching it in a theater.


After this, what can we expect to see from you next?

HARUN: Hopefully we can wrap our film 'Skyglow' which is about the night skies, the experience of the night sky. It's different than ‘Ice on Fire’ because it takes place entirely at night. And it brings something that is 90% of what the planet barely sees anymore. 80% of the planet can barely even see the Milky Way anymore. It presents something new, something we don’t typically see and an issue most people don’t know about. It will be exciting to see that. Whereas Global Warming we hear that quite often and everyone has an opinion about it, but not a lot of people know about the night sky having disappeared. They just know that they can’t see stars in the city, but they don’t know why that is. I’m hoping something like this has the potential to bring people together because it’s a subject I think people can take an interest in and its not a contentious subject that triggers people to one side or the other. It’s going to be an Imax quality film because most of it will be shot in 10K.


Will this be an HBO film too?

HARUN: No. We are aiming for this one to do a film festival run and we will see from there. Personally, for me it’s important to have control on the film, as opposed to selling the movie outright, for the movie to have a life as a theater film. I want people to see it on the big screen to give it justice. We have spent 5 years on it so I would personally like it to be presented in the right way rather than to cash in on it right away.


Interview with 'Ice on Fire' (2019) DOP Harun Mehmedinovic


Interview with 'Ice on Fire' (2019) DOP Harun Mehmedinovic


Interview with 'Ice on Fire' (2019) DOP Harun Mehmedinovic


Interview by Vanessa McMahon


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