Warwick Thornton wins ASC Spotlight Award

Cate Blanchett, Warwick Thornton and Rodney Taylor at the 38th American Cinematographer Awards.

Warwick Thornton’s cinematography on The New Boy has seen him pick up another international accolade, this time the Spotlight prize at the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards.

First awarded in 2014, the ASC Spotlight Award was created to recognise cinematography in smaller, independent and arthouse feature films. ASC cinematographers may submit one film that is not their own for consideration for the award, with Thornton nominated against Eric Branco for Story Ave. and Krum Rodriguez for Citizen Saint.

Thornton shot The New Boy with just one camera: the 8K Panavision DXL2 and three Panavision C and E series vintage anamorphic lenses. As he told IF last year, he loved the lenses as they “behaved badly”. He was conscious the film was set in the ‘40s, and didn’t need a crisp, modern image; lens flares and halation added to a personal feel.

“A little bit of light hits them and suddenly a third of the lens is milky. But I really liked that, I wanted it to be part of the film. Working with Trish Cahill, an amazing colourist, we embraced those. If the lens wigged out and went all weird, went a bit milky, it was like, yeah, ‘Bring it on, we’ll keep it’,” he said.

Previous Australian winners of the Spotlight Award include Adam Arkapaw for Macbeth in 2015, jointly awarded with Mátyás Erdély for Son of Saul.

Another Australian DOP, Sam Chiplin, was up for a prize at this year’s ASC Awards, nominated for Limited or Anthology Series or Motion Picture Made for TV for his work on Prime Video series The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart. However, he lost out to Ben Kutchins for Boston Strangler.

Thornton also wrote and directed The New Boy, which stars newcomer Aswan Reid as an Aboriginal child who arrives in the dead of night at a remote monastery run by a renegade nun, played by Cate Blanchett. The new boy’s presence disturbs a delicately balanced world in this story of spiritual struggle and the cost of hiding oneself away to survive. Deborah Mailman and Wayne Blair also star.

The drama premiered in Cannes Un Certain Regard last year and was released in Australian and New Zealand cinemas in July. This year, it is beginning its international theatrical roll out, opening in the United Kingdom and Ireland on March 15 via Signature UK.

Thornton won the Golden Frog at the Camerimage Film Festival in Poland for his cinematography on The New Boy late last year, only the second Australian to do so following Greig Fraser in 2016 for Lion.

The film also won five AACTA Awards last month, including the cinematography prize for Thornton.

In addition to her starring role, Blanchett was a producer of the film with husband Andrew Upton via their company Dirty Films, alongside Kath Shelper for Scarlett Pictures and Lorenzo De Maio of De Maio Entertainment. Georgie Pym was co-producer is Georgie Pym with Coco Francini serving as executive producer for Dirty Films and Gretel Packer as executive producer for Longbridge Nominees.

In a statement, Blanchett – who attended the ASC awards as Thornton’s guest – and Upton said they couldn’t be happier the auteur’s “unique cinematic gift” was getting the recognition it deserves.

“We’re excited its universal message resonates wherever it is seen,” they said.

The New Boy received production funding from Screen Australia’s First Nations Department, Screen NSW and the South Australian Film Corporation, alongside Fremantle and Longbridge Nominees.