Genius Awards

Benjamin Kasulke

2013 Genius Award Winner for Film

Benjamin Kasulke

Kelly O

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Josh Bis
Benjamin Kasulke gets a hug from 2012 Genius Award winner Megan Griffiths.
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Genius Awards

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IS:
The premier cinematographer working in Seattle—and perhaps all of independent cinema—today.

HAS WORKED WITH:
Lynn Shelton, Megan Griffiths, Dayna Hanson, and Amy Sedaris.

MANAGED TO MAKE THE GENIUS AWARDS PARTY THANKS TO:
A freakishly abrupt round-trip flight from Iceland, where he's shooting the new Guy Maddin film.

We are living in a real-time golden age of new Seattle cinema. Touchy Feely, the latest film from 2008 Genius Award winner Lynn Shelton, is currently enjoying an extended run. Lucky Them, the brand-new film from 2012 Genius Award winner Megan Griffiths, just had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it drew very good reviews. Meanwhile, Eden, the film that all but required The Stranger to give Griffiths her Genius Award, is now available everywhere: Redbox, Netflix, Amazon, even these amazing places called actual video stores. (It is not an easy time to be an actual video store, but Seattle is home to a number of great ones, and it's sometimes easy to forget how good we've got it. But visit a video store in any other town, mention you're from Seattle, and you'll be tackled by someone jealous of you for living in a city with Scarecrow Video in it. Seriously—an hour spent strolling through Scarecrow is as rewarding as an hour spent in any museum or gallery, and I encourage us all to take advantage of it while we can.)

And finally, at this very moment, we have the Northwest Film Forum's Local Sightings Film Festival, which kicked off last week and is packed with nothing but new cinema from the Northwest. This year's fest features a bunch of seriously lovely and provocative work, and I don't know if we've had a film Genius Award winner who hasn't come up through Local Sightings—a tradition that continues with the 2013 Genius Award winner for film, Benjamin Kasulke.

Kasulke's work has drawn notice from the start: In 2006, his second credit as director of photography—for Lynn Shelton's debut feature, We Go Way Back—earned him the Kodak Vision Award for best cinematography at the Slamdance Film Festival. In 2011, his work on Megan Griffiths's The Off Hours got him nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Since then, he's distinguished himself all over the place, shooting the acclaimed indie films Humpday, Your Sister's Sister, and Safety Not Guaranteed, and winning Seattle's 2012 Mayor's Award for outstanding achievement in film.

Some history: After earning a film degree from Ithaca College, Kasulke landed in Seattle in the mid-'90s. Originally drawn by the music scene, Kasulke instead found himself naturally enmeshed in Seattle's contemporary dance scene, shooting performances and experimental films for 33 Fainting Spells, Dayna Hanson, and Maureen Whiting, and becoming the dance community's "go-to film guy." (That Seattle's densely brilliant '90s contemporary dance scene has proved to be so widely generative seems entirely apt.)

The phrase "director of photography" gets at the specifics of Kasulke's talent: He takes gorgeous, evocative, humane pictures that happen to be moving. In the world of Lynn Shelton (his primary collaborator), Kasulke's work is subtle and adamantly nonshowy—the splashiest moves he makes involve the quietly gorgeous framing of regular old people/places. But his aim and framing are big parts of what makes Shelton's world of point-blank humanity come to life on the big screen.

Beyond the Shelton universe, Kasulke has a style of his own—maybe many styles of his own, but the one that's been most impressive so far is his work on Brand Upon the Brain!, a highly mannered black-and-white film that couldn't be further from his mumblecore work. Now he's doing everything. Among his most recent projects are Mike Birbiglia's My Girlfriend's Boyfriend (now available on Netflix), the forthcoming film version of Seattle storyteller Matt Smith's solo play My Last Year with the Nuns, and numerous episodes of the deeply upsetting Amy Sedaris comedy series The Heart, She Holler (on Adult Swim). Also: Shelton's new film Laggies, now in postproduction.

"To find the level of talent that he has in someone who's also really easy and fun to be around is a truly rare and wondrous thing," says Shelton, who praises Kasulke's rare ability to "tune in to the working methods and particular vibe of each set he works on." Considering the profound admiration Kasulke has earned for himself with all his directors, it's no surprise that his was the name on the envelope read by a giddy Megan Griffiths on Saturday night at the Moore. Fellow nominees Scott Blake and Zach Weintraub could've made Citizen Kane or A Woman Under the Influence (and soon maybe will), and they still would have had a hard time competing with the ocean of goodwill Kasulke has earned in the trenches. Zach Weintraub, Scott Blake, and all other Northwest filmmakers: Keep it coming. (And everyone else: Go see Weintraub's new film, You Make Me Feel So Young, at Northwest Film Forum, where it screens as the closing night film of the Local Sightings Film Festival on October 3.) As for Ben Kasulke: Congratulations, you're officially a Fucking Genius, and Seattle is so lucky to have you. recommended

 

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