A bracing portrait of what drives people to fanaticism, “The State,” writer/director Peter Kosminsky’s new four-part National Geographic series, gives viewers a look at life inside ISIS. Amplifying “The State’s” power is the cinematography of DP Gavin Finney. Shooting in a handheld style that intimately traces the rocky paths of its protagonists—all of whom have travelled from England to Syria to join the Islamic State’s caliphate cause—Finney employs a docudrama form to bring viewers directly into the action.
“Our job is to capture the moment and to try and make it as immediate and real as possible,” he says. “We’re trying to shoot it the way a good documentary camera person would shoot a real piece of action, and I think it definitely injects a fluidity and a naturalism to the scene, which is perfect for this material.” Using multiple cameras for every sequence is one way he and Kosminsky succeed at providing a comprehensive, gripping view of their large-scale drama, and as Finney confesses, sometimes such an approach provided unexpected benefits. “The actors are free to move within the scene that they are playing where they like,” he explains. “Sometimes, if we miss [maintaining visual focus] slightly and are slightly behind the action, it adds a certain urgency to the scene and makes it even more real!”