6. Gorillas in the Mist (1988)
Real-life zoologist Dian Fossey spent 18 years living with the endangered gorillas of Virunga National Park, the Congo. She eventually became a one-woman defence force against the local poachers. Although she was murdered in 1985 (with many believing poachers to be responsible), her conservation efforts became famous around the world. The biopic was inevitable, and we’re lucky director Michael Apted did such a sensitive job.
The photographer: Fossey is played winningly by Sigourney Weaver, although reports claim that the conservationist was far more enigmatic and eccentric in real life. Although a National Geographic photo journalist, Fossey’s lover Bob Campbell (played by Bryan Brown) spends a lot of time shooting a film we never get to see. Fossey is the one taking stills very convincingly with her trusty Nikon F.
Most famous for: The stunning footage of mountain gorillas, seamlessly integrated with shots of actors hulking around in animal suits. You wouldn’t guess it wasn’t all the real thing.
WORTH WATCHING? 50/50. Not a classic by any means, but it’s still a great-looking film.
7. Under Fire (1983)
This gripping movie, directed by Roger Spottiswoode, follows three journalists as they report on the last days of a civil war in Nicaragua – and fall in and out of love with each other. Photographer Russell Price (played by Nick Nolte) gets his lens dirty when he agrees to photograph a dead rebel leader to convince people that the man is still alive. He ends up producing an unforgettable image, in a similar vein to Alberto Korda’s famous shot of Che Guevara.
The photographer: Handling a Nikon F2 like a pro is tougher than it looks, but Nick Nolte gets it exactly right, even showing us a bit of manual rewinding at times. Maybe this is thanks to the influence of the film’s advisor Matthew Naythons, who’d worked as a photojournalist in wartorn Nicaragua. Just ignore the extra on the hotel roof – he’s not so handy with his video camera!
Most famous for: This is a Hollywood movie about a real-life civil war, and unambiguously takes the side of the Sandinistas, against Somoza’s dictatorship.
WORTH WATCHING? You could teach a course on old-school SLR photography using a DVD of Under Fire.
8. Blow-Up (1966)
This classic Sixties film is almost-but-not-quite based on a ‘day in the life’ of iconic fashion photographer David Bailey. Michelangelo Antonioni’s most famous cinema outing sees mod photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) take some photos of two lovers in a park. He then ‘blows up’ his black-and-white images, only to find what he thinks is evidence of a murder. Returning to the park, he does discover a body, but after a night of partying he goes back in the morning to find that the corpse has disappeared. He then drifts back into the hazy world of the swinging Sixties, unable to understand what’s happened.
The photographer: Oh dear. It obviously didn’t occur to anyone on set to give Hemmings a tutorial on how to handle an SLR. He’s all over the place in terms of technique– his left hand, in particular, almost never supports the camera as you’d expect it to. Nevertheless, the film turned the Nikon F from useful tool to iconic accessory overnight.
Most famous for: Its depiction of London life in the Sixties, from music to fashion.
WORTH WATCHING? Hemmings makes a hash of it, but this is still the most celebrated ‘Nikon movie’ ever made.
9. The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
The book engages with the politics of Indonesia more directly, but in Peter Weir’s film, the 1965 overthrow of President Sukarno is just a backdrop to the intertwining psychodramas of an Australian journalist (Mel Gibson), a British diplomat (Sigourney Weaver) and a Chinese-Australian photographer (Linda Hunt). Opportunistic Gibson is looking for the big story, while Hunt is full of moral outrage – and only one of them is doomed.
The photographer: Linda Hunt made history by becoming the first person to win an Oscar for playing a member of the opposite sex – Australian-Chinese dwarf photographer Billy Kwan. Standing at 4’ 9”, Hunt needs to perch on Gibson’s shoulder to get the best shots with her Nikon F. This is the kind of photography advice you can only get at the movies!
Most famous for: At the time, The Year of Living Dangerously was the most expensive Australian film ever made. Meanwhile, Weir and Gibson endured death threats from Filipino Muslims.
Worth watching? As a history lesson, as you might expect, it’s totally pants. However, it’s still worth a look, simply for the intensity of Peter Weir’s vision.
10. Superman Returns (2006)
Superman Returns is, oddly enough, a belated sequel to the Christopher Reeve-starring Superman 2 (1980) that entirely ignores the events of Supermans III and IV. Why? No one really knows. Brandon Routh makes a stunning debut as the Man of Steel, foiling a disappointingly mundane Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) scheme to generate Kryptonian real estate in the North Atlantic. Of course, he falls back in love with the Earth while he’s at it. And Lois Lane (a fine Kate Bosworth).
The photographer: Sam Huntington plays Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen. Sadly for Jimmy’s career, his 80-400 VR lens doesn’t quite manage to capture Superman at top speed. Sadly for Nikon fans, no one on set saw fit to tell poor Huntington how to hold his instrument…
Most famous for: Brandon Routh’s performance is a brilliant homage to Christopher Reeve’s – never descending to the level of imitation.
Worth watching? Maybe for Routh. Probably not for the photographer. Certainly not for the plot.
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