ASC Close-Up: Buddy Squires

“ASC membership has given me a highly respected platform to promote the central role of cinematography in today’s documentaries.”

When you were a child, what film made the strongest impression on you?
Early in my college days, I saw Costa-Gavras’ film Z, a powerful evocation of Greek political drama in the 1960s. I distinctly remember walking out of the screening and feeling that if a film could have that kind of effect, I wanted to make films.

Which cinematographers, past or present, do you most admire?
Haskell Wexler [ASC], Néstor Almendros [ASC], Ricky Leacock, Vittorio Storaro [ASC, AIC], Conrad Hall [ASC].

What sparked your interest in photography?
I started making documentaries in high school. Photography leads to direct, experiential engagement with the world, which I love. The burning Cuyahoga River and teen angst were among early topics.

Where did you train and/or study?
I studied film and photography at Hampshire College, then a newly formed experimental school in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was a wonderfully exciting time and introduced me to an aesthetic realm that I barely knew existed.

Who were your early teachers or mentors?
My most important teacher was photographer Jerome Liebling, who became a lifelong friend and mentor. Jerry introduced me to a broad range of documentary and fine-art photographers, along with experimental, foreign and documentary filmmakers. We screened and debated everything from Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou and Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon to Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and Kurosawa’s Rashomon

What are some of your key artistic influences?
The photographs of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The films of Leacock, Pennebaker, the Maysles and Godard. The paintings of Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Bierstadt.

How did you get your first break in the business?
Ken Burns and Roger Sherman asked me to join Florentine Films, their new production company, before I graduated from college. Our first film, Brooklyn Bridge, was nominated for an Academy Award. Ken and I then received an Oscar nomination for our second project, The Statue of Liberty.

What has been your most satisfying moment on a project?
Working intimately with the Dalai Lama and Jane Goodall, and bringing their stories to people who will never be fortunate enough to meet them. I am nearing completion of a decades-long portrait of war photographer Yannis Behrakis. We first met shortly after he survived a fatal ambush in Sierra Leone. I followed his career from that low point through his Pulitzer Prize-winning work with migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Documenting the lives of passionate people is endlessly inspiring.

Have you made any memorable blunders?
Conveniently, none that I recall.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Be prepared. 

What recent books, films or artworks have inspired you?
James Nachtwey’s Inferno, Joan Jonas’ Moving Off the Land.

Do you have any favorite genres, or genres you would like to try?
I love working in cinéma vérité, witnessing history as it unfolds. The challenge lies in creating strong images quickly and regardless of external circumstances. I was recently in Afghanistan filming trauma care for victims of war. A battle broke out nearby. Within minutes the hospital filled with dozens of wounded, tear gas came over the walls, and the ER was overwhelmed with angry men carrying guns. The determination and resolve in the faces of the medical workers amidst chaos and danger speaks volumes. The drama is real and profound. There are no second takes. 

If you weren’t a cinematographer, what might you be doing instead?
Journalism, human-rights work, or a life in the mountains.

Which ASC cinematographers recommended you for membership?
John Bailey, Ellen Kuras, Steven Fierberg and Steve Poster. 

How has ASC membership impacted your life and career?
ASC membership has given me a highly respected platform to promote the central role of cinematography in today’s documentaries. Indelible images of reality can have tremendous impact. 

Photo of Squires by Jared Ames.

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