Iris Ng is a cinematographer whose most notable work turns a critical lens on social issues, justice, and filmmaking itself. Her background in visual art, photography, and music have enriched her work with artists and filmmakers since 2008.
Her body of work includes the Academy-shortlisted documentaries Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012) and Shirkers (Sandi Tan, 2018), as well as award-winning films, A Better Man (2017), This River (2016), Min Sook Lee’s Migrant Dreams (2016), Michelle Latimer’s Nuuca (2017), Phyllis Ellis’ Toxic Beauty (2019), and Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi’s Emmy Award-winning series Making A Murderer (2015 & 2018). She has also collaborated with filmmakers Fredrik Gertten, Vikram Jayanti, Richard Fung, Michelle Shephard and artists Chris Curreri, Oliver Husain, Luis Jacob, Annie MacDonnell, and Bambitchell. Iris also captures transitions for the series Kim’s Convenience and shot the Sundance 2020-premiered digital series Hey, Lady! (2020)
Check out our Exclusive Interview with the Trailblazer Below
Q: What Drives you?
Discovering what’s around the next corner and the search for ways to be better. New creative journeys, the challenges they present, and the unpredictable nature of the filmmaking process have always kept me going. I am continually inspired by the people I collaborate with and the people we meet along the way.
Q: Is there a theme in the work you pick?
Many of the films I am drawn to working on give voice to people who experience some type of systemic inequity. Generally my choices are motivated by feeling that the subject can inspire me to capture them with a sympathetic lens and I look for an aspect I can invest myself in conceptually and emotionally.
Q: Was it luck or strategy that helped you find success?
I’ve always needed both when looking for new opportunities. I believe lucky timing brought me to Min Sook Lee and Lisa Valencia-Svensson who were looking for POC and gave me my first opportunity. At the same time I’ve had to navigate the external biases and had to figure out alternative ways to encourage people to take me seriously. I’ve adopted the strategy of being honest (sometimes too honest) about my abilities which has led to a more circuitous path but one that feels authentic.
Q: Who impacted your career the most?
Min Sook Lee and Lisa Valencia-Svensson are the ones who gave me my first opportunity, but they also taught me how to maintain a critical eye and to focus on being racially inclusive in our work. Collaborating with Sarah Polley, Michelle Latimer, and Phyllis Ellis has also had an enormous impact on the shape of my career.
And I have to acknowledge my parents; my Dad through his approach to architecture and my Mum for her critical mind and ability to take on new challenges. Thankfully, their strong sense of individualism are to blame for my carving out an unconventional career.
Q: How did you build the team around you?
I think the perfect balance of people to work with is something that’s always evolving and gets refined as you grow as a person. So many of them have become part of a lasting life network that continually rebuilding this network becomes an exciting endeavour.
Q: Did you ever give up hope that you’d not make it?
If I did, I don’t remember those moments. And if I didn’t, I’m not sure what kept me motivated. Perhaps those who got behind me as well as those who didn’t think I could do it both had a part in pushing me forward.
Q: What was your worst experience in this business?
I looked to an authority figure one time way back for mentorship and slowly realised it was not a safe space. Luckily, nothing happened but this experience made me very aware of the power disparities in the business when people like my past self are desperate to learn. I’m now working to address this issue by contributing to mentorship initiatives and by being a good mentor myself.
Q: What was your best
experience in this business?
There are too many moments to name but the fact that I get to be on the continuous adventure that is filmmaking and connect with people from diverse life situations is a perennial highlight.
Q: Advice to someone just starting out?
Find your community. Connect with them, let them elevate you, and elevate them. Know that skill and ability alone do not determine success but it’s a matter of finding those who value what you have to give and showing up on the day. Listen to advice but know that your path is unique to yourself and knowing yourself is key to moving forward.
Q: How was Reelworld instrumental in your career?
Reelworld has always been there to foster the work of creatives like me and that support is invaluable. Elevating the community is something we all benefit from. Thank you, Tonya Williams and Reelworld!