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October 12, 2021

The Art of Filming in Black and White

Forest City Film Festival

by Seoyeon Bae

When photography and cinematography first started out everything was monochrome. The reason why we started out with monochromatic pictures and films was because cameras and development technology could not take in hue but could only pick up the different light levels, or luminance, of a scene. Now, monochromatic film is used as part of an aesthetic and style; It adds to the story and scenery of the film making them feel serious or nostalgic and even scary. 

“Grey Roads” directed by Jesse McCracken is an intergenerational portrait of McCracken revisiting his old town, Markdale in Grey County. This profound story explores the story of the town’s flourish to its present day starting with McCracken’s grandfather’s story of coming to the town, to his fathers, and ending with McCracken’s version of the story and revisiting his hometown. McCracken writes “making this film was a natural way of dealing with grief of witnessing these changes happening with my family and the town, so I immediately felt that the documentary should have a timeless and nostalgic feeling” . It felt natural then to shoot in black and white. Watch this personal story unfold here.

Another documentary that is beautifully shot in black and white is “Workhorse” by Cliff Caines. “Workhorse” explores the story of rural industry and the involvement of horses in it as it follows three different families and their relationships with these horses. Caines’ usage of black and white not only makes the scenes momentous, but it also allows you to focus on the horses and the individuals as they work together through different environments and landscapes. Watch this illuminating story of our relationship to horses here.

Documentaries were not the only black and white films submitted to the festival. We had a feature directed by Jake Burgess called “I’m Sorry if I Took a Toll on You” which explores the story of a young woman grieving her parent’s death in their lakehouse. Cath is trying to understand what has happened and as she grieves the death of her parents she meets somebody who helps her along. The usage of black and white in this film makes you feel the sadness and confusion of Cath as well as create a nostalgia that will make you feel at home. Watch this feature here.

“Make Believe” by  Andrew Strachen, Matthew Sahagian, Don Murray is a short that mixes stop motion animation and live action film to tell the story of a young artist, Rowan, trying to “make it” in the industry. Follow Rowan as he gets his first success as a children’s book author and tries to continue this reputation only to become more stressed and burned out as the pressure to make the next big thing settles in deeper and deeper. The usage of black and white is inspired by Tim Burton and old style films and it spices up the story even more. Not only does it highlight the bright colours that you can see in the film but, it also shows how you can combine old style with new. Watch this grounding story in Program #2 at FCFF 2021. 

Black and white film started as a given because of the constraints of technology but now it has become a stylistic choice for many filmmakers. Black and white is a classic that is here to stay.