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Women Making History, Part 4

Panavision’s interview series continues, focusing on highlights from the participants’ careers.

In Part 4 of Panavision’s Women Making History interview series, the conversation turns toward career highlights. Prompted by Panavision President and CEO Kim Snyder’s query, the participants reflect on what they consider pivotal moments in their professional journeys.

Read the rest of the series here:
Part 1: On the impact of Women’s History Month

Part 2: On valuable career advice

Part 3: On mentorship
Part 5: On inspiration

Kim Snyder (President and CEO, Panavision): What are some highlights from your career that you’re particularly proud of? What made those moments so special to you?

Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ASC (cinematographer): I am very proud of the work my crew and I have accomplished in the last few years, work that was noticed and appreciated by my peers and gave me the opportunity to join the ASC. I was honored to become a member, and when they asked me to appear on the cover, it was a pivotal moment. This will always be a great moment in my journey because when I was coming up, I wasn’t aware of many female cinematographers. They existed but were not as available to someone outside of the industry looking in. I am honored to represent our craft and hopefully encourage more women, especially women of color, to seek out the job — or at the very least know that women are cinematographers and they can do the job. That means more to me than anything on my résumé.

Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ASCAutumn Durald Arkapaw, ASC

Alice Brooks, ASC (cinematographer): My favorite moments of my career are when a group of people miraculously come together and are all working harder than they can imagine to tell the same story. Some of these highlights are from my film-school days, where anything was possible; to my days on The LXD, an early Hulu web series, where we had complete creative freedom as filmmakers and I took huge risks; to my first two studio movies, In the Heights and tick, tick… BOOM!, where going to work felt like being home; to the epic adventure I have just been on for almost the last three years making Wicked.

Victoria Emslie (actor; founder and CEO, Primetime Network): Downton Abbey is such an institution and was one of the shows which brought my family and I together, especially watching the Christmas episode. We would sit in front of it every year, and every year I would say out loud, ‘Next year’s the year.’ It turned out that one year, ‘that year’ was the year and I found myself immersed in this world which I had been dreaming about and dancing around in my imagination. It was an incredible launchpad for following projects. It gave me the confidence to know I could navigate the space with power and grace, and it gave me my first real taste of having a tight-knit production family. And once you have the taste of that, it is very hard to go back.

Johanna Gravelle (managing director, Panavision Canada): In 2008, when I was working at Kodak, I was given the opportunity to move my family to Melbourne, Australia on a two-year international assignment. My role was Regional Marketing Director of the Asia-Pacific Region, working with colleagues based in India, Japan, Singapore, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia. To be promoted from a country-level role to a regional-level role in that part of the world and to be able to go on this adventure with my whole family was a dream come true. The trust and support from both the company and from my family provided me with the strength to move well beyond my comfort zone and take on this challenging new role. This was a life-changing experience for the entire family, and it continues to impact me — and I dare say my entire family — daily.

Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC (cinematographer): I think my biggest highlight has been being invited to join both the BSC and ASC. These societies stand for success and respect from your peers, and when I was eventually asked to join, it gave me so much validation in my work. To be accepted into these societies with so many of my heroes was an incredible moment in my career. 

I would aways talk to my dad about the letters and tell him that one day I would also have them after my name. It was a proud moment when he saw me receive my BSC, and even though he died before I received the ASC, he knew it was coming. It means the world to me that I was able to show him that I had been successful in the career that he witnessed me fighting for my whole adult life.

Polly Morgan, ASC, BSCPolly Morgan, ASC, BSC (photo by Sean Devine)

Amy Vincent, ASC (cinematographer): I accepted an Artist in Residence position at LMU SFTV during the seven-month work stoppage of 2023 — extraordinarily good timing, resulting in an incredibly rewarding semester. Such an honor to discover how much I love being both an educator and a cinematographer.

Hustle & Flow winning the Audience Award and the Cinematography Award at Sundance 2005, and seeing people walking down Main Street in Park City singing “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp.” It was a glorious way to celebrate with the whole team, the joy of creativity and collaboration!

Eve’s Bayou getting into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2018, and Criterion doing 4K remaster from the original negative in 2023. Eve’s Bayou was my very first feature as a DP, and now to be able to screen it in 4K is such a thrill!

Lesley Kantor (chief marketing officer, Panavision): In 2007 I was given the chance to pivot my career from talent representation to brand marketing. My new boss knew I had no prior experience in the field, but she believed in my ability to learn fast, ask good questions, communicate well, and commit to my work. All things I knew I could deliver. This was a really special moment for me because not only did it mark the beginning of my opportunity to expand my professional experience in countless ways, but I also began to really learn how to listen to myself and trust my instincts.

Quyen Tran, ASC (cinematographer): I will never forget when I learned that Palm Springs was the highest-selling film at Sundance. That was 2020, and shortly after that, the pandemic hit and suddenly that recognition didn't seem as important to me as everything else I had in my life!

Seriously, though, although it's nice to be nominated for different awards, what makes me most proud of the work I do is when folks tell me how a certain film or show really impacted their lives somehow. After Unbelievable and Maid, I received so many messages about how these shows helped folks open up about their experiences. I can't explain how special that is as a filmmaker. We always joke about how we're not doctors saving lives, but to know that as storytellers we're able to help someone get through a tough period in their journey is incredibly rewarding.

Terra Bliss (managing director, Panavision UK and Ireland): In my previous job, I was promoted to Vice President, Operations. It was a bit more money and responsibility, but I didn’t think much about it until I received a call from a colleague. She said I was one of three women in the global company that had a title of VP — she was one of them. Then it sunk in a bit, and I realized it was important not only for me but to the rest of the women I worked with to achieve that recognition.

Another highlight was bringing the team back from Covid and prepping our first job! We worked hard to bring everyone back to a safe and clean facility. Tons of new protocols and ways to work. One of the first preps was an independent film that received permission to shoot in Maine, using T Series lenses — a dream for the director of photography.

Terra Bliss
Terra Bliss

Michele Channer (business development director, Panalux; managing director, Direct Digital and Island Studios): Managing a successful transition of merging two companies, post acquisition, was one highlight. During the initial days and months of unifying two businesses, company culture plays a key role and can be challenging to overcome. I have always believed strong communication, and being as transparent as possible, is key.

Another was being the international Sales and Marketing Director for a leading camera company, traveling extensively and forging strong relationships with distributors and partners across the globe. Traveling alone as a woman can also bring its own unique challenges. It is important to respect the different cultures and overcome the differences in international trade.

These experiences are special to me for the same reason: relationships. Building strong staff, partner and client relationships are what makes it special. Sharing highs and lows forges bonds.

Sandy Ferguson (chief human resources officer, Panavision): I’ve had roles over the years where I’ve been leading the HR function in acquisitions and dispositions of businesses, where it was key to attract and retain talent and to minimize disruption during a lot of ambiguity for employees. Managing these HR aspects involves a lot of hands-on learning but is very rewarding when you feel like you’ve had a voice in making a challenging situation better for the people going through it.

Kira Kelly, ASC (cinematographer): The documentary film 13th that I did with Ava DuVernay will always be a highlight for me. Not only because of the unique ways we found to compose the interviews, but because of the subject matter itself. That film is powerful.

Another highlight has been my work on Y: The Last Man. I was a huge fan of the comic when it first came out 20 years ago — I still have every issue of the series — so when the opportunity to work on the TV series came, I jumped on it. I worked with Panavision Toronto to create the look of this crazy apocalyptic future. I loved being able to bring some of the gorgeous graphic frames from the comic into the show.

My most recent highlight has been my work on Echo. I loved working with our director, Sydney Freeland, to craft our many action sequences. There were so many wonderfully unique things about that show, like the privilege of shooting our visual interpretation of the Choctaw origin story or changing the nature of a close-up for scenes that were completely ASL. Dan Sasaki crafted a set of lenses for us that were really gorgeous to shoot our unique story with. Honestly, I’m most excited about Echo because my daughter has been so excited about it since I started prep in 2022.

Kira Kelly, ASCKira Kelly, ASC (photo by Amanda Matlovich, courtesy of Netflix)

Mandy Walker, AM, ASC, ACS (cinematographer): I think the highlights of my career came with the movie Elvis, the culmination of 20 years of collaborating with Baz Luhrmann and the amazing recognition and awards I received for my work on this movie.

Patti Lee, ASC (cinematographer): Getting my first opportunity to DP on The Bernie Mac Show made me feel like my career was really starting. Receiving my first Emmy nomination on Superior Donuts gave me huge validation for work I was proud of. And being invited into the ASC was pretty much a dream come true — being in a community of your admired peers and understanding you deserve to be there.

Mara Morner-Ritt (general counsel and chief compliance officer, Panavision): When I was interning for the firm I ended up working for right out of law school, I was selected to present a research project I had completed with a group of partners to one of their biggest banking clients. It was an honor to be selected since I was very junior. It was also special to me because Warren Christopher, former U.S. Secretary of State and the managing partner of the law firm, was the moderator of the panel, and because I gained so much confidence as a result of doing it.

Later in my career, I served as the Chair of the L.A. County Bar Association Business and Corporation Law Section Executive Committee. The Committee was responsible for designing and conducting professional development training for lawyers in Los Angeles, and every year hosted a large seminar featuring many esteemed practitioners in the securities law bar. It was special because I was able to give back to the local bar and also because I learned so much from the other members of the committee.

I’m also proud of many of the deals I helped close. It’s hard to pick one, because many deals I’ve worked on have been quite impactful positively to the companies and employees involved. It’s nice to be a part of solving problems and challenges for people.

Laura Borowsky (vice president, business development, Light Iron): It has been incredibly rewarding to follow the paths of so many quality creatives, many of whom I began a relationship with when they were just beginning their careers as student filmmakers. We are all so fortunate to work in such a vibrant industry.

Laura Merians Gonçalves (cinematographer): Working on a film in a favela in Rio and having packs of little girls tell me how seeing a woman behind the lens inspired them to be a filmmaker. I’m having that experience again right now working in Iraq. It’s a gift to be in a position to inspire others by just doing what you do, which is also what I love. I’m very proud of that.

Chris Wairegi (cinematographer and camera operator; founder, 600 Black Women): Most recently I had the honor of being named an ASC Vision Scholar. The American Society of Cinematographers is an institution I couldn’t hold in higher regard, and being recognized and mentored by them was a dream come true. Similarly, being honored with the Kodak Vanguard Award for the creation of 600 Black Women was just an overwhelming joy. Those moments are clear bright points I can point to, but there’s an endless collage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, kind words and time spent with incredible people that bring me so much joy.

Being trusted to tell a story, to work with incredible minds, is a distinct honor. We get to have one of the most incredible jobs on Earth, which is sharing something with people. Communicating a story that can impact people, make change or create a sense of self is the thing I hold most dear. And the fact that we get to craft these stories with others makes our art that much more unique.

Chris WairegiChris Wairegi (photo by Vanessa Clifton)