From Action to Emotion: Cinematographer Alejandro Mejía Discusses His Dual Role at the Tribeca Film Festival

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Alejandro Mejía, a seasoned cinematographer known for his evocative visual storytelling, takes center stage at this year's Tribeca Film Festival with two highly anticipated premieres. Mejía's expertise shines in the spotlight narratives of "The Knife" directed by Nnamdi Asomugha, and "In The Summers" directed by Alessandra Lacorazza Samudio. "The Knife," an AMC production, delves into the intense world of a young man navigating violence and identity, while "In The Summers" captures the nuanced emotions and complexities of growing up in a vibrant, multi-generational Latino family. In this interview, Mejía shares his journey behind the lens, his approach to crafting distinct visual styles for each film, and the challenges and rewards of bringing these compelling stories to life on screen. 

PH: Can you share some insights into your collaboration with director Nnamdi Asomugha on "The Knife"? How did you work together to achieve the film's visual style?
Alejandro Mejía: Our collaboration began by exchanging ideas about the directors we admired like Michael Haneke or Nuri Ceylan. From there, we built our own language for the film. Something that Nnamdi was clear about from the beginning was that we were going to film in 35mm. Working with Nnamdi has been one of the best experiences I’ve had because he is a great human being with a unique artistic sensitivity for filming.
PH: What was your vision for the visual aesthetic of "The Knife"? Were there specific influences or inspirations that guided your choices in lighting and camera work?
Alejandro Mejía: My vision for the film was to create a realistic and powerful aesthetic in relation to the story. In the end, we found our own language which we called a Poetic Thriller. The visual influences came from photographs by Tod Hiddo and Gordon Parks as well as some from Iñarritu films such as Biutiful or 21 Grams. The camera language was a combination of handheld camera, dolly movements and we used Steadicam depending on the moment of the story.
PH: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while filming "The Knife"? How did you overcome them to ensure the final product met your artistic standards?
Alejandro Mejía: One of the biggest challenges of filming The Knife was that the story takes place at night and we filmed it from 4 pm to 4 am every day for logistic reasons between the location and the actors. The biggest challenge was filming at night in 35mm for which Hitoshi, my gaffer, and I worked together to design a lighting plan that would allow us to move almost 360 degrees. We achieved something very interesting and I am very satisfied with the results. I also want to mention that Nnamdi is the director and main actor of the movie so we worked very closely together during the process and I'm very proud of him as a director and an actor.
PH: How did you use cinematography to enhance the storytelling and character development in "The Knife"? Are there any particular scenes where you feel this is most evident?
Alejandro Mejía: The cinematography in The Knife is realistic and has a poetic touch based on naturalism. The composition, sometimes with the fixed camera and other times with the camera in hand, was always concerning the story and how it developed. One of my favorite scenes happens at the beginning of the movie and is a long dolly that reflects the main character's mood.
PH: Were there any unique technical approaches or equipment that you used for "The Knife"? How did these choices contribute to the overall impact of the film?
Alejandro Mejía: Yes, we used the Kodak 500 T film for the entire shoot and the 35mm Arri LT Cam camera in combination with a set of incredible unique lenses set to the aperture of T1. They are also light and have a super close focus that I was able to experience in several scenes and I love how it helps to get you into the story. In terms of lighting, we used a combination of tungsten with a steel green filter that helped create a unique look and we also used HMI and LED lights.
PH: "In The Summers" has a very evocative atmosphere. Can you talk about the techniques you employed to create this atmosphere and how it supports the narrative?
Alejandro Mejía: It was a combination of the selection of optics that we used to create these atmospheres: Arri Moviecam in combination with the Arri Alexa 35 Camera and they work together with the production designer Stefania Larrain. The observation of the place in pre-production was essential to achieve the recreation of light and atmospheres in a realistic way that helps the development of the story.
PH: The film is rich in cultural context. How did you incorporate the cultural elements into your cinematography to ensure authenticity and resonance with the audience?
Alejandro Mejía: Using observation of the real elements of a very special place such as Las Cruces and incorporating it for the benefit of history. 
PH: The color palette in "In The Summers" is quite striking. Can you discuss your choices in color grading and how they enhance the emotional tone of the film?
Alejandro Mejía: The color palette is inspired by real locations in Las Cruces NM and we found inspiration in the real elements that already existed in the location. The color process was in collaboration with Kath Raisch who is a color artist and we were inspired by certain photographers like Alex Webb. We created a different look each summer to help the story be more forceful and profound without losing realism.
PH: Are there any particular scenes or shots in "In The Summers" that you are especially proud of? What makes them stand out for you?
Alejandro Mejía: Summer four is my favorite in terms of the compositions and lighting we achieved.
PH: Both "The Knife" and "In The Summers" are being celebrated at Tribeca. What does it mean to you to have two films showcased at such a prestigious festival?
Alejandro Mejía: It is a dream come true to be able to have two films at the Tribeca Film Festival. I have been living in NY for more than ten years and I am very excited to be able to share with friends and colleagues these films of which I am very proud.
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