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It is quite fitting, in the case of Dante Spinotti, to refer to his career as an illuminated one. Born in 1943, the Italian cinematographer has brought light to films on both sides of the Atlantic, with directors ranging from Gabriele Salvatores to Sam Raimi, from Lina Wertmüller to Michael Mann. As he celebrates 40 years in the film industry, the Locarno Film Festival will bestow upon him the 2021 Pardo alla carriera, on August 12.
A chameleon of film lighting, capable of adapting to many different genres and filmmakers, Dante Spinotti is a great craftsman of Italian cinema who managed, in turn, to conquer the American industry. In particular, he won over the Chicago-born director Michael Mann, with whom he worked on five projects, stretching from Manhunter (1986) to Public Enemies (2009), with the The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Heat (1995) and The Insider (1999) in between. The last of the aforementioned films earned him an Oscar nomination, his second after his work on Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (1997).
As he did in Hollywood, Spinotti lit up Italian filmmaking in a major way. After making his debut on Sergio Citti’s Il minestrone (1981), the Friuli-born cinematographer worked on, among other things, the dreams of Gabriele Salvatores (Sogno di una notte d’estate, 1983) and Giuseppe Tornatore (L'uomo delle stelle, 1995), the legends of Ermanno Olmi (La leggenda del santo bevitore, 1988 and Il segreto del bosco vecchio, 1993) and the fairy tales of Roberto Benigni (Pinocchio, 2002). Spinotti’s forty-year career has spanned dark thrillers (Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, 2002), fiery westerns (Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead, 1995), tender romances (Garry Marshall’s Frankie and Johnny, 1991) and grand fantasy (Michael Apted’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 2010). Whether in the 1980s or the 2010s, Spinotti has always known how to accommodate the requirements and preferences of mainstream and arthouse filmmaking alike.
Giona A. Nazzaro, artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival: “Dante Spinotti is a master of light and a figurehead of Italian excellence: in effect, an auteur DP. After working with directors such as Sergio Citti and Aldo Lado, Salvatore Samperi and Liliana Cavani, Spinotti went to Hollywood, where his collaboration with Michael Mann rewrote the aesthetic codes of contemporary noir among several other genres – works which stand as some of the most admired U.S. films of recent decades. As artist and craftsman, Spinotti experimented ceaselessly, working between the States and Italy with directors as diverse as Sam Raimi and Ermanno Olmi, Giuseppe Tornatore and Barbra Streisand. Equally at ease with intimate psychological reality or the world of fantasy, he also impressed his distinctive style on superhero movies. Celebrating Dante Spinotti means paying homage to a huge talent of cinematography, to an artist who changed our way of perceiving moving pictures on the big screen. Without Dante Spinotti’s immense contribution, the cinema would be poorer and less beautiful. To celebrate Dante Spinotti is both a privilege and a joy.”
Two titles from Dante Spinotti’s outstanding filmography will be celebrated to honor his achievement:
Dante Spinotti will receive the Pardo alla carriera on 12 August in Piazza Grande, while on 13 August he will be the center of a panel conversation with the audience at the Forum @Rotonda by la Mobiliare.
Dante Spinotti was born in Tolmezzo, in Italy’s north-eastern province of Udine, in 1943. He began his career with the State broadcaster RAI, after learning the rudiments of the cinematographer’s trade with a filmmaking uncle, Renato Spinotti, in Kenya. In 1985 he got his big break in Hollywood from producer Dino De Laurentiis, who brought him over for Michael Mann’s film Manhunter (1986). That experience was the catalyst for a stellar career in America, studded with hits that drew acclaim from both critics and audiences, such as The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992), Heat (Michael Mann, 1995), L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997), The Insider (Michael Mann, 1999) – with the last two bringing Academy Award nominations – and, more recently, X-Men: The Last Stand (Brett Ratner, 2006), Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Michael Apted, 2010).
In Italy his collaborations have included those with Ermanno Olmi on La leggenda del santo bevitore (The Legend of the Holy Drinker, 1988) and Il segreto del bosco vecchio (The Secret of the Old Woods, 1993); with Giuseppe Tornatore on L'uomo delle stelle (The Star Maker, 1995), for which he won a Nastro d’Argento; and with Roberto Benigni on Pinocchio (2002), for which he was nominated for a David di Donatello. His recent films include Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed, 2018), Fatale (Deon Taylor, 2020) and Elyse (Stella Hopkins, 2020). In February 2012, the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) in Hollywood, the world’s oldest such association, gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. In the same year he was elected to the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). He is Honorary President of the Cineteca del Friuli regional film archive, where the Fondo Dante Spinotti has been set up as a special collection to preserve and enhance his legacy.