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Cinematographer Ian Holliday tackles important social issues with award-winning film “Icebox”

Ian Holliday

It seems funny to Ian Holliday, that there was once a time when he thought he would be a geneticist. It takes a strong person to realize that they are headed down the wrong path in life, but Holliday knew. He had one true passion as a child growing up in Vancouver, Canada, and it was filmmaking. The day that Holliday chose to leave science behind him and become a cinematographer was fateful, and the best decision he ever made.

Now, Holliday is an internationally renowned director of photography. His impact on the industry is evident to all those who work with him, and he has a left behind a trail of award-winning and celebrated projects since his cinematography career began.

“I seek to collaborate on projects related to social justice issues, whether it be representation of marginalized groups, or political issues like immigration; I would like to aid in the discussion of important social issues. I am extremely passionate about affecting some sort of positive social change in the world, and my work is currently the best way I have of doing that,” said Holliday.

This need to make a statement with his art is exemplified by the film Icebox that Holliday filmed last year. The film follows Oscar, a young boy from Honduras, who while fleeing gang violence, is arrested crossing the US border and sent to an immigrant detention facility. Trapped inside the “icebox”, a warehouse larger than a football field caging thousands of other immigrant children in chain-link fences topped with barb wire, Oscar is faced with a rigid immigration process, and he struggles to gain control of his fate. The tale is extremely fitting in today’s political climate and heated immigration debate.

“The film is about humanizing refugees, and exposing the system that they face coming to the US, and immigration and refugee policy are front and centre of a lot of heated, angry debate right now. I’m very glad the film is getting seen for this reason more than anything else. It’s an important time for humanizing discourse relating to these issues,” said Holliday.

Icebox resonates with audiences, and upon premiering at the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival, it went on to be nominated for Best Short Film, and selected for the SIFF Best of Fest showcase. From there, the film was officially selected for five more film festivals, including the AFI Fest 2016, where it won the Grand Jury Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

“We took some big risks with Icebox, and a lot of people were telling us we were crazy going into the production planning to shoot it this way. It’s very satisfying to see big risks like that pay off, and to see the film getting such a strong reception in the festival circuit,” said Holliday.

Holliday and the director decided to shoot the film with a touch of realism, approaching every scene using one shot, avoiding editing within the scene whenever possible, allowing audiences to be completely immersed. Despite the knowledge that this approach could fail very easily if a shot started to get boring, the end result was extremely successful. Filming in this way created an extensive amount of work and planning, but Holliday’s commitment to both his craft and the project trumped any obstacles.

Icebox Team

“Working with Ian is incredibly rewarding as an artist and as a professional in this business. Ian’s skills as a Director of Photography are vastly apparent and constantly expanding. He is a constant source of inspiration in our industry, always energized to take on the next project and the next challenge with his trademark enthusiasm, vision, resourcefulness, and drive. Ian is incredibly collaborative and communicative with producers, directors, writers, designers, and talent, and brings new and exciting perspectives to every production. He is ceaselessly pushing himself and his team to create films that are more ambitious, more original, and have deeper cultural resonance - films that audiences want to see again, that stay with them long after the screen goes dark. I would be lucky to work alongside him in any of my upcoming endeavors, and I know that his talents will shape this industry for many years to come,” said the director of the film, Daniel Sawka.

Sawka and Holliday had worked together previously, and when Sawka reached out to the cinematographer to work on this new film, Holliday immediately agreed. For such an impactful film, an extremely close collaboration between the director and cinematographer was vital for the film’s success.

“The collaboration with Daniel was the best part about this project. It’s not often that you have the opportunity to collaborate so extensively and thoroughly in prep for a project. Because we decided to take such a bold approach with the camera, that brought me a lot closer to the director’s perspective on the film, and on his directing of the talent. The intimate interplay of the camera and actor blocking meant we had to be in sync about every aspect of the scenes, down to the subtlest of the actor’s motions,” said Holliday.

The inspiration behind the powerful film came from the director’s father, who spent several years as a refugee. On top of that, the Syrian Refugee Crisis was starting to get a lot of attention, and the filmmakers wanted to shed light on the issue of immigration.

“Ultimately, in his research, Daniel discovered the US ‘Iceboxes’: the giant warehouses in Texas and Arizona, filled with chain-link cages topped with barbed wire, housing thousands of foreign children. The image was so striking and had so little attention in the media, that we all agreed this was the subject to pursue,” described Holliday.

To learn more about Iceboxes, and the film Icebox, you can go to the film’s website.

It is no doubt that with such talent and a commitment to tell powerful stories, the name Ian Holliday will continue to roll past the eyes of audiences around the world in the credits of award-winning films for years to come.

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