Gianni Sanchez on his Arctic travel and his next documentary

Gianni Sanchez was born in Guayaquil – Ecuador, he traveled to the United States at the age of 22 years old to pursue his career in Photography and Videography.

As a CUNY student, he has traveled to Alaska with the director of Photography at LaGuardia Community College, Scott Sternbach to work in a project named “Polar Souls”. Furthermore, he is working as a photographer and video editor assistant in the Marketing & Communication department at LAGCC.

Finally, his short term goals are to achieve a master degree as a documentary producer and work in many media productions to come in the future.

London Prestige Interview with Gianni Sanchez

London Prestige: How did you get started?

Gianni Sanchez: It all started 6 years ago, when a good friend of mine gave me a tour around the photography department at LaGuardia Community College, in Queens, NYC. I remember that day like it was yesterday, it was a magical moment for me. I vividly remember walking in the darkroom and smelling the developer and fixer, then seeing the reaction of silver paper to the chemicals, it was love at first sight. This was a decisive moment that initiated my career as a photographer and videographer, it also ignited a new passion in my life.

London Prestige: What is your experience shooting with different tools? What are you to go to gadgets?

Gianni Sanchez: When I am working in my photography I use Nikon cameras because the cold tones that this brand adds to the image, but I’ve also used Pentax, Cannon, Leica, Sonny, and Minolta cameras. I don’t attach to any brand. I believe that each camera has taught me more about colors, compositions, shutter speed, apertures, and the setting of the cameras. For me, each camera is different in its own way; I like experimenting with them and learning in the process.

London Prestige: Which specific requirements did you have to take care of when choosing your equipment?

Gianni Sanchez: Obviously, it needs to have good lenses. I will go for the best quality, resolution, and a lightweight camera that allows me to move around the set. It should be quiet, and the smaller the better.

London Prestige: What are you currently working on?

Gianni Sanchez: Currently I am working in a documentary about The Neetsaii Gwich’in subsistence tribe who have lived on the North Slope of Alaska within the borders of The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for centuries. The Arctic Wildlife Refuge is a native Sacred land protected by the USA government but now with a new president in power, the American government want to invade and exploit oil from their land. This is a very intimate documentary where the Neetsaii Gwich’in community share their feelings and emotions about this topic to the viewer.

London Prestige: Did you have a particular shooting approach when making this film? 

Gianni Sanchez: We want this documentary to feel as realistic as possible. Our main sources were natural light, native homes for background as well as the landscapes. We’ve been working with The Neetsaii community for around 8 years, our access was built on trust. Our interviews are intimate and real because we became close friends with them. The conversations can get very emotional at times; it is like a big brother reality show where the natives feel comfortable to talk with the camera and narrate about their culture and how the interaction with outsiders affected their life.

London Prestige: Was there a scene in the film that was particularly challenging from conception to actual execution? 

Gianni Sanchez: Oh yeah… There were many scenes in the film that were particularly challenging, but the one that I will remember forever brings me to the Arctic Village in the winter of 2016. It was a bright clear day, we coordinated with the natives some scenes of them driving to the top of the main mountain there in the village but the weather conditions in Alaska can change at any time. We were driving snowmobiles with harsh weather conditions -25 Fahrenheit, 500 miles away from the town and no roads around. We had to create paths along the way through the snow but it was so high that we got stuck in the snow for 4 hours.

We were in the middle of the mountain, with no shelter or people around to help, this was just a glimpse of the struggle that the natives go through every day of their lives. We were just lucky enough to get it all in camera. We got 3 hours of hard work in the snow to create paths so we can reach our destination. I remember being covered by snow until my neck but holding a camera recording all this event with a snowstorm in the background coming for us. I know it sounds like a scary moment but actually, those type of situations reveals a reality filled with both existential plenitude and survival mode. 

London Prestige: How would you describe the relationship with the director?

Gianni Sanchez: The relationship with the director is important to me. I usually like to work with directors who like photography so I can assist them to get better visuals. I am working this time with my professor and mentor Scott Sternbach. He is always open to suggestions, even though he has many years of experience in the photography field. This mutual cooperation creates a comfortable work environment and motivates us to build astonishing visuals for our documentaries. 

London Prestige: What impact do you hope this film will have? 

Gianni Sanchez: Through still photography and videos, the documentary “Polar Souls” is looking to bring the viewer as close to the protagonist’s situation and emotions as possible. We want people around the world to start thinking about the ongoing political controversy of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We want people to understand That ANWR is the summer breeding ground of nearly 200,000 caribous, the winter of hundreds of grizzly bears and the gathering place of millions of birds. It’s not a place to build oil camps, gravel roads or air strips because this is going to impact negatively the community and it is a violation to the human rights. 

London Prestige: How do you define the role of cinematographer? 

Gianni Sanchez: In my opinion, as a Cinematographer you have to share your creativity. Personally, I composed with my own vision and later, I adapt my way of lighting and composing to the perception of the director.

London Prestige: What have been some of your recent/other projects? 

Gianni Sanchez: I assisted to produce, record and edit documentaries such as Terraza 7, Prayer on Skis, and 68 North – “A visual journey through The Alaskan Wilderness”. I give a voice to people who wants to talk about social issues in our society such as gentrification, immigration, and people’s rights.

London Prestige: How do you choose your movies that you want to shoot? 

Gianni Sanchez: I don’t have a specific genre that I like to shoot.  I enjoy experimenting but I have one condition, the movie should be visually creative, if the visuals are mediocre I am not interested. Because what makes a movie entertaining is the dynamic of the visuals and the plot. If the movie is shot only using close-ups and is based just on dialogue, there is no reason to go to the movie theater. In that case you might just read the book. 

London Prestige: Is there a film or filmmaker that inspired you to pick up a camera?

Gianni Sanchez: In terms of cinematographers my main inspirations are Pedro Almodovar (Spain), Luis Buñuel (Spain), Sebastian Cordero (Ecuador), Stanley Kubrick, Michael Moore, and Orson Welles. As to photography, my inspirations are Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, and Richard Avedon.

London Prestige: Describe your biggest accomplishment to date?

Gianni Sanchez: My biggest accomplishment so far is being able to do what I love for a living. Photography and videography are not only my main source of income but also my main drive in life. 

London Prestige: Do you ever think about directing someday? 

Gianni Sanchez: I started directing the independent film “Polar Souls” 5 years ago. As a director I really enjoyed connecting with the actors and helping them communicate and project their real emotions through the camera.

London Prestige: What are some of the projects that you are working next? Who are you working with?

Gianni Sanchez: Currently, I am working with an Ecuadorian documentary filmmaker Carlos Freire. We are producing a documentary called “Outsiders”. It is about the issue of homelessness in one of the most “resilient, equitable, and sustainable cities in the world” – New York City.  I am also working with independent Filmmakers producing music video clips, comedy sketches for YouTube Channels and more.


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