The world lost an oceanographer and gained a cinematographer in 1973, when former UVM student Robert Richardson discovered the filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. More than four decades after that fateful Bergman film festival, Richardson is now one of the world’s great cinematographers — the go-to for directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese. And now he’s back in the UVM classroom.
A new course, FTS 131: Cinematography and the Films of Robert Richardson finally made its way into the course catalogue in fall 2020 after long discussions about the possibility of a class on his work. Led by Professor Hilary Neroni and developed with Professor Emeritus Frank Manchel — a friend, mentor and former teacher to Richardson — the course was to include a guest appearance from the three-time Academy Award winner of Cinematography (“JFK,” 1992; “The Aviator,” 2005; and “Hugo,” 2012) himself.
Class meets with Robert Richardson, lower right.
Neroni’s students were well versed in his work by late October and ready to welcome the legendary cinematographer to their Microsoft Teams grid. But they couldn’t have anticipated what he would be like: open, kind, often funny and occasionally mildly profane with his answers — like the coolest uncle imaginable. They asked about everything from technical considerations when lighting scenes to the utility of a graduate degree in film, to the challenges of coping with anxiety while doing creative work.
“I think we all just felt very lucky to be on a call with the great Robert Richardson and to receive little bits of advice and a glimpse into his wise mind,” says Sydney Kaster ’21. After the session, Kaster and classmate Augie Benjamin ’21 both mentioned the cinematographer’s ease and generosity of spirit, defusing any nervousness they might have felt.
While the pandemic threw a wrench in much of 2020’s plans — including an in-person appearance from Richardson — it did allow Manchel to be more deeply involved teaching the class, splitting sessions with Neroni and regularly communicating with his friend Richardson on behalf of the students. As the professors developed the course, they say Richardson was generous with this time, even suggesting films, readings and other material for the class. “It was incredibly rewarding to work with him. Even just through the interaction about the course, I can see why directors love to collaborate with Richardson,” Neroni says.
“The fact that this person was a former UVM student — and actually shared Frank Manchel with them as a teacher — was especially important because it makes their own dreams seem more possible.”