“The Wall” is a dichotomy. In one sense, the variety of athletes and the locations in which they are seen is physically exhausting. Still, it is the mental side of the challenges which these athletes face that is the most taxing. The genuine fear of pushing one’s body to the limit (or the wall) is what the film is truly about; overcoming your mind’s limitations to free one’s physical abilities. In this sense, “The Wall” is at its core a spiritual film; not in a religious manner but in the way that it allows the viewer to connect with others and understand that there is more to life than what we see with our own eyes. It’s ironic that the means by which this is communicated is with Lew’s ability to use his talent with the camera to place us in the mind of these exemplary humans. Each scene enables the viewer to see inside the true game that takes place for the athlete. For example:
Baseball- We see a pitcher who is metaphorically playing against himself, to say that he must overcome himself if he’s to succeed.
Diving – A female diver climbs up a diving platform that seems as high as a skyscraper. The camera focus on the face of the diver as we feel the tension build in what seems like an eternity before she dives into the pool. The battle over her fears are obvious even through her expression is stoic.
Boxing – Several static shots in the boxing gym communicate the stillness that exists in a boxer’s mind even though their body may be in constant motion. The duality of a champion’s skills is communicated. The dark and dungeon like appearance establishes the fear a boxer must contend with while showing no outward signs.
Hockey – the stillness and openness of an empty rink is juxtaposed with the action of the skater’s movement at a frenetic pace.
Soccer – walking out into a massive soccer stadium while the crowds creates a deafening din, the player moves up to kick the ball as we understand how hard it must be to concentrate and perform amidst this cacophony.
Basketball – We witness firsthand the speed and pace of the game and the accuracy it requires.
Motocross – the whirlwind of different bikers speeding around the track is communicated and the rider is seen in a heroic stance.
Beyond the skill and bravery that takes place in each of these, the common thread is the feel which the actual use of film infuses. Chris explains, “Film was the right choice for this project because of the tone Andrew was trying to create. He didn’t want to tell a glossy story. There needed to be a raw intensity, a sort of edge to the film because these athletes are suffering for their sport. They’re giving it their all, braving the elements pushing their bodies to their maximum potential. The texture of film was appropriate for that. I think of this film as a visual poem set against the backdrop of the sports world and athletes. I pushed to shoot on Kodak 35mm film for the texture film produces but also for the latitude. We had many elements of documentary in this shoot in that there was little prep time and limited shooting at each location. The dynamic range of film gave me the confidence that we could shoot quickly and in drastically changing conditions while knowing that the film could handle it with ease. For instance, many locations were exterior and we were at the mercy of the weather. One day was outside at a swimming pool and the sun was constantly coming in and out of cloud cover. I knew that I could expose the film for the light meter reading I was getting during overcast and still capture the highlights without fear of over exposing the stock when the sun came out. This was critical to how we were shooting. I’m pleased to say that I won the 70th annual Canadian Society of Cinematographer’s award in the Webeo category for The Wall.”
The perfect tool is not the most advanced but rather the one which allows a craftsman to best realize their vision. As a continual proponent for the virtues of using actual film, Chris Lew has more in common with the person who still buys the vintage replacement parts for his 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback (the preferred method of transportation of Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt) than David Hasselhoff’s futuristic Pontiac Trans Am Kit. The analogy is fitting because while the modern version is easier to use, it never looks as stylish or captivating as the tried and true traditional means. The Wall’s Director Andrew De Zen couldn’t be more pleased with the film and Lew’s work as he declares, “It was crucial to have a cinematographer who understood the inherent goals of the production. Chris’s expert consideration of light, shadows, and camera placement allowed him to capture each of the scenes in a way that highlighted the intense discipline each of these athletes must practice within their given crafts. The visual look Chris created is striking and commanding. Watching ‘The Wall’ is powerful and I can’t imagine how I could have gotten to that point without Chris Lew.”