At the Sundance Film Festival last weekend, Howard University graduate Bradford Young won the dramatic-feature cinematography award for his work on the films “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and “Mother of George” — his second time accepting the honor, having won in 2011 for the coming-of-age drama “Pariah.”
The Sundance recognition reinforces what many in the industry have known for a few years now: Howard, best known for its law and medical schools, has become an incubator for people whose work with lighting, lenses, camera movement, film stocks and visual textures has profoundly influenced contemporary cinematic grammar.
“The interesting thing about it is that there is no formal cinematography department,” filmmaker Ava DuVernay says. “It’s jaw-dropping that you’ve had so many come out [of Howard] with such distinct styles.”
The floating-camera dolly shot and super-saturated color palette that are trademarks of Spike Lee’s work are the best known among several innovations that Howard-trained cinematographers have contributed to the films they’ve worked on. Early in his career, Lee developed these techniques in close collaboration with a Howard graduate, Ernest Dickerson.