Cinematographer killed on set is recalled as talented and spirited

Shortly before cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot on a film set in the foothills of New Mexico, she smiled at the camera as she recorded herself riding a chestnut horse through the desert brush.

“One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off,” Hutchins wrote this week in an Instagram post.

On Thursday, Hutchins, 42, was killed when actor Alec Baldwin discharged a firearm being used as a prop on the set of “Rust,” a western about a teenage boy who goes on the run with his grandfather after the accidental killing of a local rancher. Hutchins, the film’s director of photography, died after being flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. The film’s director, Joel Souza, was injured in the shooting.

Friends in Ukraine, where Hutchins was originally from, described her as spirited, someone whose talents had propelled her from that country to success in Hollywood but who never forgot her home. She was proud of her heritage, they said, and returned regularly to visit.

Yana Nestoliy, a friend from college, described her as an ambitious, focused woman with intelligent eyes and a sincere smile.

“She could have been among the top Hollywood stars on camera, not behind it,” Nestoliy said.

Hutchins grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle, where, according to her personal website, she was “surrounded by reindeer and nuclear submarines.” She studied economics at the Agrarian University in Ukraine before switching to a journalism program at Kyiv National University. She later attended the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles.

Andriy Semenyuk, a friend and fellow Ukrainian cinematographer, said in an interview with Detector Media, a media organisation in Ukraine, that even as her career blossomed in Hollywood, she made a point of embracing her background, making an effort to help fellow Ukrainians in California. He called her death a “stupid, shocking loss.”

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Friday that the country’s consulate in Los Angeles was trying to contact Hutchins’ relatives.

Among filmmakers in the United States, Hutchins was remembered as a skilled cinematographer with an artistic vision who was deeply committed to her work.

Adam Egypt Mortimer, the director of a 2020 superhero action movie “Archenemy,” on which Hutchins worked as director of photography, wrote on Twitter that Hutchins was a “brilliant talent,” pointing to a series of posts he made last year about Hutchins’ work. He had written that Hutchins’ “tastes and sensibility of what is cinematic were a huge asset for executing our style” and that she had been visually inspired by Jim Steranko comics.

“She was a true wartime sister,” Mortimer wrote, “fighting the battles to make this thing look amazing despite the unrelenting limitations and catastrophes.”

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