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Ellen Kuras

Ellen Kuras

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Also Known As: Ellen M Kuras Died:
Born: July 10, 1959 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New Jersey, USA Profession: director of photography, director, electrician, associate producer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A director of photography whose stylized work has become the standard for documentaries of late and who has demonstrated a keen lyric and oft impressionistic feel, Ellen Kuras has been a working cinematographer since 1987, dividing her time between documentaries and features, most of the latter independents. She is known for her intense work style, her insistence on interpreting the event in each scene through her camera and her use of grainy film stocks.Raised in New Jersey, Kuras was studying Egyptology at Brown when she took a photography course at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design and became hooked. A Fullbright scholarship to Romania fell through, and when she couldn't study at the Lodz Film School in Poland, she went to Paris. Returning to the USA, she worked as an associate producer, assistant camera and even a third electrician on productions in the New York area, usually documentaries. In 1987, Kuras got a break when the cinematography who was supposed to shoot a documentary dropped out of the project and she was hired at the last minute because of her availability. The result, "Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia", about the aftermath of the Pol Pot regime, was celebrated at the...

A director of photography whose stylized work has become the standard for documentaries of late and who has demonstrated a keen lyric and oft impressionistic feel, Ellen Kuras has been a working cinematographer since 1987, dividing her time between documentaries and features, most of the latter independents. She is known for her intense work style, her insistence on interpreting the event in each scene through her camera and her use of grainy film stocks.

Raised in New Jersey, Kuras was studying Egyptology at Brown when she took a photography course at the nearby Rhode Island School of Design and became hooked. A Fullbright scholarship to Romania fell through, and when she couldn't study at the Lodz Film School in Poland, she went to Paris. Returning to the USA, she worked as an associate producer, assistant camera and even a third electrician on productions in the New York area, usually documentaries. In 1987, Kuras got a break when the cinematography who was supposed to shoot a documentary dropped out of the project and she was hired at the last minute because of her availability. The result, "Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia", about the aftermath of the Pol Pot regime, was celebrated at the Sundance Film Festival in 1989, the year of its release. After working on some documentaries for TV, including "Danger: Kids at Work" (Lifetime, 1990) and "Shattered Lullabies" (Lifetime, 1992), which dealt with infant mortality in the USA and was shot on hi-8, Kuras moved into feature films with Tom Kalin's "Swoon", a black and white telling of the Leopold and Loeb murder story. Slightly grainy, impressionistic and highly stylized, the film won Kuras her first Best Cinematography award at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival.

Most of her immediate work thereafter, however, was back in the documentary world. Kuras shot Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere in California" (1993), in which Iggy Pop meets Tom Waits. That same year, came "The Shvitz", which looked at the history and practice of steam baths brought to this country by Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Also in 1993, Kuras was DP on "The Heart of the Matter", about HIV-positive African-American women. Two of Kuras' 1994 efforts delved into the gay milieu: "Postcards From America" was an acclaimed rendition of the autobiographical writings of David Wojonarowicz and his fictional stories of gay life, while the documentary "Roy Cohn/Jack Smith" looked the public figures' differing approaches to gay sexuality. That same year, Kuras was nominated for an Emmy Award for her cinematography for "A Century of Women" (TNT).

Kuras was involved in one of her most commercially successful projects in 1995, Douglas Keeve's "Unzipped," a documentary following Isaac Mizrahi in his fashion world. Besides receiving much attention, the film was daring in that it sought to reveal the fashion environment rather than exploit the potential glamour of the setting. She won her second Best Cinematography award at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival for her work on Rebecca Miller's "Angela", which told the story of a girl who becomes obsessed with sin and purification. Kuras firmed her status with Mary Harron's "I Shot Andy Warhol" (1996), which had the feel of the grit and madness of Greenwich Village in its telling of the story of potential Warhol assassin Valerie Solanas. Continuing to work with the leading female directors of the day, Kuras was cinematographer for Nancy Savoca's "1952" segment of the abortion drama "If These Walls Could Talk" (HBO, 1996). Teaming with Spike Lee, she worked on the acclaimed civil rights documentary "Four Little Girls" (1997). Over the past several years, Kuras has also been working on a much anticipated documentary about a Laotian who emigrated to the USA after the communist takeover in Laos in 1970.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

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CAST: (feature film)

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 Side by Side (2012)
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Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in suburban New Jersey
1987:
Director of photography for first documentary, "Samasara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia" (released in 1989)
1988:
Served as assistant director on "Histoires d'Amerique"
1991:
First TV project as director of photography, "Danger: Kids at Work" (Lifetime)
1992:
Shot first feature film, "Swoon" by director Tom Kalin
1993:
Was cinematographer for Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes: Somewhere in California"
1994:
Nominated for an Emmy for "A Century of Women" (TNT)
1995:
First collaboration with Rebecca Miller, "Angela"
1996:
Was cinematographer on Mary Harron's "I Shot Andy Warhol"
1996:
Served as director of photography for "1952" segment of the HBO TV-movie "If These Walls Could Talk"
1997:
Shot Spike Lee's documentary "Four Little Girls"
1999:
Re-teamed with Lee for "Summer of Sam"
2000:
Shot "Bamboozled" for Lee
2002:
Re-teamed with director Rebecca Miller for "Personal Velocity"
2004:
Shot Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"
2005:
Once again teamed with Miller for "The Ballad of Jack and Rose"
2006:
Shot the Martin Scorsese documentary "Shine a Light" about The Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang Tour
2008:
Co-directed and co-wrote the documentary "The Betrayal" with Thavisouk Phrasavath; earned Independent Spirit and Academy Award nominations for Best Documentary
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Education

Brown University: Providence , Rhode Island -
Rhode Island School of Design: Providence , Rhode Island -

Notes

"Being a DP has to do with leadership. Because the director often deals with the actors, who have to deal with the production designer and the whole crew. That's why women haven't had a lot of opportunities in the studio environment--because they have to be leaders of these old-boy networks. My sports experience helped me with that. I was captain on the softball, basketball, and field hockey teams. I now give seminars whenever I can so that women will overcome these feelings that they can't be technologically proficient." --Ellen Kuras in VILLAGE VOICE, August 15, 1995

"When I look in through the viewfinder, all of a sudden I'm in a different world, [one] that is very intriguing and very safe. Even when I'm in a dangerous situation or a potentially stomach-bending one, like and operation in a hospital, there's a cerain kind of distance but also a certain kind of closeness. It's just a different way of interacting with the world." --Kuras in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, March 19, 1996

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