Cinematographer to Watch: Ava Benjamin Shorr of “Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen” and “Equal”


Director of Pictures Ava Benjamin Shorr is already well-versed in framing icons. In 2020, Shorr’s digicam centered on dozens of trailblazing interviewees for Sam Feder’s “Disclosure: Trans Lives on Display screen” and the star-studded forged of “Equal,” HBO Max’s LGBTQ+ historic miniseries. She additionally labored on Lisa Donato’s narrative function “Gossamer Folds,” a trans American fable.

Along with narrative and documentary credit, Shorr’s resume contains trendy style shorts, commercials for giant model names like Nike and Jack Daniels, and music movies from artists as different as Of Montreal and Snoop Dogg.

Lengthy earlier than profitable a mentorship with Rachel Morrison, whose work on “Mudbound” earned her the primary Oscar nomination for a lady cinematographer within the Academy’s historical past, Shorr was dreaming of constructing a mark within the films. As she says on her website, and elaborates in The Queer Review, her earliest love for filmmaking was stoked by skateboarding movies and artwork home cinema, and when she noticed “A Clockwork Orange” in highschool, it “actually did one thing to [her] that [she] couldn’t ignore.”

Todd Haynes’ “Carol” arrived a bit of later in Shorr’s expertise as a cinephile, however its lush visuals and cautious coloration additionally had an infinite affect: consideration to paint and sensuality seems in a lot of Shorr’s work, with an apparent instance being the wealthy palette and tone of “Equal.” The 4 half miniseries highlights actual life LGBTQ+ icons, each infamous (comparable to Jamie Clayton as self-made trans debutante Christine Jorgensen), and buried by time (together with Theo Germaine portraying 1920s “gender offender” Jack Starr).


Collaborating with showrunner Stephen Kijak, Shorr took a cue from Haynes in deciding “to not be as wild” with the look of the collection, as an alternative lighting their re-enactors in deep, flattering tones, and framing in ways in which evoked the voyeuristic nature of showing and concealing one’s queer identification. One in every of Shorr’s many skills right here is in complementing her performers skill — not solely lensing their performances, however working with mild, body, and digicam to assist talk their most genuine power. In entrance of her lens, everybody from Lorraine Hansberry (Samira Wiley) to Sylvia Rivera (Hailie Sahar) come alive.

Shorr has an infinite capability for really making her stars shine, and never solely in “Equal.” Within the net collection “Razor Tongue,” Shorr captures the spirit of quick-witted and confident Belle (Rain Valdez) as she navigates life and love as a trans lady, with Valdez’s efficiency incomes an Emmy nomination within the course of.

Breaking from fiction, Shorr’s work on the groundbreaking documentary “Disclosure: Trans Lives on Display screen” assisted interviewees like Laverne Cox, Angelica Ross, Lilly Wachowski, and the legendary Sandra Caldwell in unpacking Hollywood’s historical past of antagonism, violence, and inaccuracy in direction of trans people.


For “Disclosure,” Shorr additionally selected to place her topics’ significance above that of flashy cinematography, as an alternative styling her speaking heads as comfortably and naturally as doable. In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Shorr offers some perception to her and director Sam Feder’s decisions.

“With my cinematography I wished to create a snug, calm area the place our topics might communicate at size about not simply the historical past of trans lives on display screen, but additionally how these photos have affected them. Since this historical past is a painful and typically violent one, I didn’t need my lighting or digicam work to get in the best way. Initially, Sam [Feder] and I floated some concepts of dollies or digicam motion, but it surely wasn’t crucial. We wished the tales to talk for themselves, with out distractions.”

However Shorr’s work doesn’t solely create icons out of others. Shorr, who “happens to be a transgender woman,” persistently turns her lens to these in her group, and, sometimes, that features herself.

Maybe probably the most direct perception into Shorr’s work, the short documentary “Other Voices: Ava & Bianca” follows her friendship with fellow DP and trans lady Bianca Cline. In it, Shorr and Cline muse concerning the uniqueness of their relationship, which has its foundations within the two sharing the hyper-specific life experiences of being trans DPs who come from Mormon households, and discuss director Rachel Fleit via their cinematographic philosophies. Most compellingly, Shorr and Cline are co-DPs on the brief, actually displaying one another how they see themselves.

Shorr’s subsequent listed challenge, Matthew C. Anderson’s “Baja Come Down,” is at present in post-production, and there’ll likely be extra excellence, trans and in any other case, in entrance of Shorr’s lens within the coming years.

“Disclosure: Trans Lives on Display screen” is obtainable on Netflix, and “Equal” is obtainable on HBO Max. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here