Y Tu DP También: Cuarón and Lubezki Talk Abut Their Work and Friendship

By Laura Schwab

Two of Latin American film and Hollywood’s most celebrated figures, Alfonso Cuarón and Emmanuel Lubezki a.k.a. “Chivo,” sat down to reminisce on over thirty years of friendship and cinematic collaborations at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Theater on Wednesday in collaboration with Tribeca Film Festival.

Their relationship began in their teens, they would see each other at the same cinematheque and parties, often both on a mission to flirt with girls. It wasn’t until they bonded over similar tastes in music, like Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads, that their friendship began. Lubezki began with an interest in photography and an obsession with light, while Cuarón spent all his free time reading about film. Lubezki recalled one of the many times he caught Cuarón trying to impress girls in which he was gushing over the "color in an Antonioni film,” and immediately thought, “how the hell does this guy know about the color in an Antonioni film?”

They both enrolled at Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC) where Cuarón began as a DP and Lubezki worked as a gaffer on one of his sets. CUEC was very left-wing with an emphasis in documentary making Cuarón and Lubezki “the bourgeoisie betrayers who watched American movies.” While Lubezki saw film school as a sham, naming Cuarón as “one the most important teachers in my life," Cuarón cited Mexican film historian and critic Jorge Ayala Blanco as one of his greatest professors and influences. It was during these years that it became apparent that Lubezki’s was a wizard in manipulating light and Cuarón led with exceptional guidance on set. 

After graduating, Cuarón worked as an assistant director and Lubezki as his second assistant on the Mexican television show "Hora marcada" with their main objective “to make a shot work.” During their first feature film collaboration, Sólo con tu pareja (1991, pictured right), it then went from “making a shot work” to “making an entire scene work,” Lubezki citing that the circular tracking shot filmed from a helicopter was the first time Cuarón made him cry.

As they headed to Los Angeles Cuarón felt like an “imposter” among the Hollywood heavyweights. After collaborating on the film noir series Fallen Angels the pair went on to create A Little Princess (1995) both referencing this as one of their fondest collaborations and filmmaking experiences. A particular scene, where snow blows in through a window, which Cuarón was forced to improvise last minute after a budget cut, was the second time Lubezki was brought to tears, as the two joked about Chivo’s sensitive nature.

Feeling disappointment after Great Expectations (1998), which Cuarón called a "complete failure” and confessed "I didn't understand that film at all,” it forced him to rethink why he was a filmmaker and what he loved about film. It became a turning point in his career and in a response to the phoniness of the film Cuarón and Lubezki returned to their roots with Y Tu Mamá También (2001).

Y Tu Mamá También (pictured right) became a liberating experience for the pair— they were close to home, the stories and characters were very personal and they moved away from the big Hollywood sets filming with the camera in hand and using natural light. All the time they had spent contriving the perfect shot, scene or color scheme in Great Expectations is what ultimately hurt the film, stating that there is not one great cinematic element. Cuarón stated, “The beauty of film is the mysterious aspect where everything suddenly clicks.” While both claimed that once a film is done they don’t ever watch it again, Lubezki remembers Y Tu Mamá También as one of the few films, along with A Little Princess, that he can still watch. He says of Y Tu Mamá También, "It's the one I like the most.”

Cuarón joked that Lubezki’s known as the guy with “the most lights and the slowest guy on the planet,” while Lubezki called out the Gravity director on his many re-shoots which he fired back with, “not as much as Alejandro [González Iñárritu]!,” to which Lubezki nodded in agreement. Amidst their teasing, the audience responded in dismay as the pair were signaled that it was time to end. Nonetheless, we can’t wait for whatever cinematic endeavors they have up their sleeves next.