Ellen Kuras

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Ellen Kuras
Ellen Kuras at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2008.jpg
Kuras in 2008
Born (1959-07-10) July 10, 1959 (age 63)
Alma materBrown University
Years active1987–present

Ellen Kuras (born July 10, 1959)[1] is an American cinematographer whose body of work includes narrative and documentary films, music videos and commercials in both the studio and independent worlds. One of few female members of the American Society of Cinematographers, she is a pioneer best known for her work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). She has collaborated with directors such as Michel Gondry, Spike Lee, Sam Mendes, Jim Jarmusch, Rebecca Miller, Martin Scorsese and more. She is the three-time winner of the Award for Excellence in Dramatic Cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival, for her films Personal Velocity: Three Portraits, Angela and Swoon, which was her first dramatic feature after getting her start in political documentaries.

In 2008, she released her directorial debut, The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), which she co-directed, co-wrote, co-produced and shot. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2009. In 2010, she won a Primetime Emmy Award for Exceptional Merit in Non-Fiction Filmmaking for the film.

Early life and education[edit]

Kuras grew up in Cedar Grove, New Jersey.[2] She attended Cedar Grove High School, where she served as president of the school's chapter of the National Honor Society.[3] After earning a double degree in anthropology and semiotics at Brown University, she studied photography at RISD and 8mm filmmaking in New York, with the plan to become a documentary filmmaker. In the early 1980s, Kuras planned to study on a Fulbright grant at a film school in Poland but was unable to go due to the introduction of martial law.[4] She is of Polish descent on her father's side and the family surname was originally Kuraś.[5]


Kuras began her film career in 1987, shooting Ellen Bruno's Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia, the first US movie filmed in Cambodia after the Vietnam War. In 1990 she won the Eastman Kodak Best Cinematography Focus Award for her work on Samsara. The film garnered accolades from the Student Academy Awards and the Sundance Film Festival where it received a Special Jury Recognition.

That same year, she was asked by producer Christine Vachon to shoot her first dramatic film (Swoon) for director Tom Kalin. The film won her the Sundance Award for Excellence in Cinematography in 1992. This collaboration was the start of a prolific working relationship with Killer Films, which includes projects like Postcards From America and I Shot Andy Warhol.

From that point she became one of the first women to establish an extensive career in cinematography, a department historically dominated by men. Like some of the best cinematographers in the business, she has focused her craft on sculpting light and creating powerful images that enhance story and character, while searching for "alternative ways of seeing the world". Though she started in political documentaries, she quickly branched out to work in every possible genre of film and TV, shooting big budget movies (Blow, Analyze That), independent films (Angela, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), documentaries (Unzipped, 4 Little Girls), concert films (Lou Reed's Berlin, Shine a Light), successful TV movies (If These Walls Could Talk), national and international commercials and music videos for musicians like Bjørk, The White Stripes and more.

In 1999, she was invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers, thus becoming the fifth female member to join more than 400 male peers.

Over the course of her career, she has received many accolades including the Women in Film Kodak Vision Award in 1999 and was honored at the 2006 Gotham Award for her entire body of work. In 2003 she was the first film technician to receive the prestigious NY Women In Film and TV Muse Award, which traditionally is given to actresses. In 2009 she was a special Honoree at the Santa Fe Film Festival for her leadership and work in the field of cinematography.

She has served on the juries of several important film festivals around the world. In 1997 she was invited to be on the jury of the Sundance Film Festival. In 2013, she was a member of the jury at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.[6] In 2015 she was on the Jury of the Belgrade Film Festival and the Camerimage. Always eager to share her vast knowledge and professional insight, she has guest-lectured at many film schools and festival panels, including SVA, NYU, BU University of Texas at Austin, Walker Art Center, Hamptons International Film Festival, Camerimage, Berlinale and Woodstock Film Festival, among others.


As cinematographer[edit]

Feature films

Year Title Director Notes
1992 Swoon Tom Kalin
1994 Post Cards from America Steve McLean
1995 Angela Rebecca Miller
1996 I Shot Andy Warhol Mary Harron
1998 Just the Ticket Richard Wenk
1999 Summer of Sam Spike Lee
2000 Bamboozled
2001 Blow Ted Demme
2002 Personal Velocity: Three Portraits Rebecca Miller
Analyze That Harold Ramis
2003 Coffee and Cigarettes Jim Jarmusch Segments "Renee" and "No Problem"
2004 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Michel Gondry
2005 The Ballad of Jack and Rose Rebecca Miller
2008 Be Kind Rewind Michel Gondry
2009 Away We Go Sam Mendes
2014 A Little Chaos Alan Rickman


Year Title Director Notes
1989 Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia Ellen Bruno Documentary short
1994 A Century of Women Chris Harty
Barbara Kopple
Judy Korin
1995 Unzipped Douglas Keeve
1997 4 Little Girls Spike Lee
2005 No Direction Home: Bob Dylan Martin Scorsese
Dave Chappelle's Block Party Michel Gondry
2006 Neil Young: Heart of Gold Jonathan Demme Concert film
2007 Lou Reed's Berlin: Live at St. Ann's Warehouse Julian Schnabel Concert film
2008 The Betrayal – Nerakhoon Herself
Thavisouk Phrasavath
2010 Public Speaking Martin Scorsese
2014 The 50 Year Argument Martin Scorsese
David Tedeschi
Shared credit with Lisa Rinzler
2017 Wormwood Errol Morris 6 episodes
2019 Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese Martin Scorsese
2020 American Utopia Spike Lee
2021 Pretend It's a City Martin Scorsese 7 episodes

As director[edit]


Year Title Notes
2008 The Betrayal – Nerakhoon Documentary film
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature


Year Title Notes
2016 Falling Water 2 episodes
2017 Ozark 2 episodes
2018 Legion 1 episode
2019 Catch-22 Miniseries, 2 episodes
The Son 2 episodes
2019–2020 The Umbrella Academy 4 episodes
2020 Brave New World 1 episode
2022 Inventing Anna 2 episodes
The Terminal List 1 episode
TBA Extrapolations Upcoming series

Awards and nominations[edit]

Academy Award for Documentary Feature[edit]

  • 2009 – The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), nominated, with Thavisouk Phrasavath

Primetime Emmy Awards[edit]

  • 2010 – The Betrayal – Nerakhoon, won (Exceptional Merit in Non-Fiction Filmmaking for PBS's P.O.V.)
  • 1998 – 4 Little Girls, nominated (Outstanding Achievement in Non-Fiction Programming – Cinematography)
  • 1994 - A Century of Women, nominated (Outstanding Achievement in Non-Fiction Programming – Cinematography)

Sundance Film Festival[edit]

  • 2008 – The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), nominated (Grand Jury Prize: Documentary)
  • 2002 – Personal Velocity: Three Portraits, won (Cinematography Award: Dramatic)
  • 1995 – Angela, won (Cinematography Award: Dramatic)
  • 1992 – Swoon, won (Cinematography Award: Dramatic)

Independent Spirit Awards[edit]

  • 2008 – The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), nominated (Best Documentary)
  • 2002 – Personal Velocity: Three Portraits, nominated (Best Cinematography)
  • 1992 – Swoon, nominated (Best Cinematography)

Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Cinematography[edit]

  • 2005 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, nominated


  1. ^ Ellen Kuras on the IMDb
  2. ^ Hart, Hugh (March–April 2009). "The Silent Witness". Brown Alumni Magazine. Retrieved October 15, 2017. Her family life was happy enough while she was growing up in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, from which she left for Brown in 1977.
  3. ^ "Memos From Memorial High", Verona-Cedar Grove Times, June 17, 1976. Accessed February 1, 2022, via Newspapers.com. "The Memorial High School Chapter of the National Honor Society recently held its end of the school year meeting. Officers for the 1976-77 school year were elecged as follows: President, Ellen Kuras"
  4. ^ "5 Minutes with… Ellen Kuras". Little Black Book. October 29, 2014. Archived from the original on March 8, 2015.
  5. ^ "Ellen Kuras. Słynna operatorka filmowa ma polskie korzenie!" (in Polish). TVN (Polish TV channel). April 30, 2019.
  6. ^ "The International Jury 2013". Berlinale. 28 January 2013. Archived from the original on 1 March 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2013.

External links[edit]