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Resurrecting the Past
In bringing "Amistad" to the screen, the filmmakers sought to create an authentic backdrop for the landmark events of the story

In bringing "Amistad" to the screen, the filmmakers sought to create an authentic backdrop for the landmark events of the story.

Spielberg assembled a gifted creative team, including: director of photography Janusz Kaminski, an Oscar® winner for the indelible black & white images of "Schindler's List"; production designer Rick Carter, who was Academy Award® nominated for "Forrest Gump," and also designed both "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World"; and costume designer Ruth Carter, an Academy Award® nominee for her work on "Malcolm X." The director also engaged his longtime associates: editor Michael Kahn, who has won two Oscars© for his work on Spielberg's "Schindler's List" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark"; and composer John Williams, a five-time Academy Award® winner, who most recently took home the Oscar® for his score for "Schindler's List."

In first conceiving the overall look of the film, Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski studied the works of the Spanish artist Goya (1746-1828), whose paintings were characterized by their unromanticized realism. Spielberg acknowledges, "That might seem a little 'sacrilegious' considering what the Africans went through at the hands of the Spanish in this film, but I thought Goya had a look -- especially in his later work -- that was darker and more brooding, and I really liked his use of light."

The filmmakers also commissioned a number of artists to come in and paint visual impressions of different aspects of the story, including the main characters and pivotal moments like the cruel Middle Passage.

Kaminski strove for a visual style that would convey the emotional impact of the story while maintaining its integrity. "With a period film, it's so easy to create beautiful images, but this story does not call for that kind of approach. I didn't want to create pretty pictures that would be a contradiction to the story."

To achieve the desired look, the cinematographer incorporated a special photographic process called ENR. "It puts more contrast into the film by enhancing the shadow area and making the highlights more 'glowy,' " Kaminski describes. "It also desaturates the color." The cinematographer also used smoke between the actors and the lens to again desaturate some of the color and add texture. In addition, he printed most of the movie using more muted blue tones, except for the sequences in Spain, for which he applied what he calls "a very cliché beauty."

Another technique that Spielberg and Kaminski employed was the extremely limited use of complicated camera moves. The director wanted the composition to resemble a still-life tableau. Kaminski elaborates, "By limiting the camera movement, you allow the viewer to focus on the story as it unfolds."

Production designer Rick Carter had the task of replicating not only another era, but the decidedly distinct worlds of the story, including the belly of a slave ship, a New England prison, the seats of government, and Queen Isabella's palace. To augment Carter's own research, Debbie Allen went to his office with a literal trunkload full of books and materials from which they drew a wealth of information.

Carter maintains, "When you're designing a period film, it's important to try and make everything as authentic as possible, but it's also about trying to create an overall impressi

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