According to DP Rachel Morrison, both she and director Ryan Coogler knew from the start that they wanted to shoot Fruitvale Station (2013) on film, but they needed to decide which kind. As Morrison said to Filmmaker Magazine, “We knew we wanted to shoot film. And we knew we wanted the film to look like film. The direction that film has been going in is tighter grain, and we wanted the opposite of that — we wanted something where the grain was organic, there was movement to it and it resonated in a tactile way. 35mm isn’t very grainy any more and so I think Ryan’s gut instinct was to shoot on Super-16.” In addition to the grainier aesthetic of 16mm, the smaller camera allowed for more mobility so that large portions of the film could be shot hand-held.
The intimacy afforded by the cinematographic choices is integral to the story, which is a close reading of the character of Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan), a black male wrongfully killed by a Bay Area police officer in 2009. The film reveals his personality through his relationships with his mother, girlfriend and daughter in a heavily home- and family-oriented setting which lends itself to a less formal style of visual storytelling. Without jumping into the debate on film versus digital cinematography, we can note that the imperfections of film lend Fruitvale Station a personal quality and warmth. The low-fi look of 16mm makes the film look closer to a home movie, offering the viewer a window into Grant’s inner emotions and experiences. By bringing the viewer closer to Grant, the cinematography plays a key role in breathing life back into the story of a man made famous of his death. The larger, warmer grain and the handheld qualities make Fruitvale a more personal and heartfelt story with emotional resonance for its viewers.