Diana Olifirova on the 2022 BAFTA Breakthroughs: ‘This community is amazing – I’m very happy to be part of it’

2022 BAFTA Breakthrough talent Diana Olifirova talks Heartstopper, Bridgerton Series 3, and more

Diana Olifirova, Cinematographer and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)Diana Olifirova, Cinematographer and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)
Diana Olifirova, Cinematographer and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)

BAFTA Breakthrough is the arts charity’s flagship talent initiative, providing a springboard to creatives working in film, games, and TV. Participants receive unique professional development support from BAFTA, from coaching and mentoring to networking opportunities with BAFTA’s global membership of key industry figures.

NationalWorld’s Alex Moreland spoke to a selection of this year’s BAFTA Breakthrough talents, including actors Ambika Mod (This Is Going to Hurt) and Leon Harrop (Ralph & Katie), writer Jack Rooke (Big Boys), cinematographer Diana Olifirova (Heartstopper), and director Runyararo Mapfumo (Sex Education).

Below, Diana Olifirova explains how they felt on learning they’d been selected for the 2022 BAFTA Breakthrough initiative, discusses what they learned on Heartstopper, and detail some of their creative influences. Olifirova also reveals a little about what to expect from their upcoming work on Bridgerton Series 3 and a new documentary about Twiggy, and explains the different cinematography demands of the two genres.

Diana Olifirova, Cinematographer and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)Diana Olifirova, Cinematographer and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)
Diana Olifirova, Cinematographer and BAFTA Breakthrough UK for 2022/23 (Credit: BAFTA/Sophia Spring)

How did you feel when you found out you’d been selected for this?

It was very exciting, quite an exciting new venture. I know that it’s gonna be very useful for me and my career, and I’m excited to meet all the people and other people that are part of it. I just love other creators, and I just love mingling and getting new ideas. So yeah, it’s just an exciting new start.

When you look back across your career, was there ever a particular moment where things clicked for you – a moment where you felt like you were in your element, on the right path?

Every time I’m making something new, I have that feeling. I only try to choose projects where I feel aligned with where I am at that particular moment; what I’m interested in, what I’m researching myself, in life and in art form. I’m always trying to find extra meanings for cinematography – not just technical excellence in capturing things, but also what does it mean? What else it can bring to people, apart from just showing the actors in the spaces? So I’m always very selective in what I do, and every time I start doing something new that I feel is right just brings me an extra level of understanding about life, I think. That’s why I really like what I do.

Every year I go to this film festival that is focused on cinematography, Camerimage in Poland, and being surrounded by the same people like that that do the same work… It’s such a nice, beautiful community, and everyone’s very warm and welcoming and suggestive with things that you might want to discover and find out about technical stuff. I feel like every time I’m like getting a little ‘tick, this is exactly what I want to do’. This is exactly who I want to be. Because all this community is amazing, and I’m very happy to be part of it.

Was there anything you learned on Heartstopper, or any other recent projects, that you feel like you’ll take with you going forward?

I always try to do things that are different from each other. So, if I do something that’s one kind of genre, one kind of thing, on the next thing, I try to be quite different. I like the idea of merging the experiences and not just doing one kind of craft, but actually thinking about the other forms of cinematography and the other needs of cinematography and the other ways of exploring the image.

So, I would do like a period drama, then I will try to do a documentary, then I will try to do a music video and then a commercial, you know? I like to have that ability to take on a project, but also not to be pigeonholed in one style or another. I really like to explore things and bring the knowledge from something, one particular genre and one particular level of budget for example, into something completely different. And then you just keep thinking and keep being explorative and creative – I just really like that, you know, not just having a recipe for how to do things, but actually taking everything from the new perspective and kind of start afresh.

Is there anything you can tell us about what you’re working on at the moment?

Well, I just finished my block on Bridgerton Season 3, which was really exciting. And I’m moving into a documentary about Twiggy, a fashion doc. So, it’s very different things, and I’m equally excited about both of them. It was a very great experience, doing Bridgerton. Before that I did a bunch of commercials, and before that I did an HBO horror show called The Baby, I did the finale.

It’s just been a very exciting year, how it gave me different opportunities in different skill sets that I could apply to different things. I’m very excited to see where it goes – I would love to do a feature next, I think, a feature narrative.

When you’re working on a documentary, what are the storytelling demands like for you as a cinematographer? How does your approach to that differ from your work on something like Bridgerton?

You have to be very reactive. You have less tools you can use, the small budget usually, and then you have a smaller crew – but it’s just a bit more personal in a way that, you know, the big shows haven’t been. You’re just there with the director, a little team, and the character or the person they’re interviewing, and you have to sometimes react to the environment and what’s happening right there right now.

You can prescribe things in advance; for example, on a big show you’ll have a big set that you think about how to light in advance, you know, and kind of you have to really make sure you manage the team correctly and everything is following a path at the right time. Here [on the smaller documentary] is just a little bit like okay, we have a little plan, but also let’s see what happens.

What would you say are your big creative influences?

I like doing things for me. Like, you know, people sometimes say, ‘Oh, do you have any references?’ and I’m like, I don’t know. I would try sometimes, some things would come to mind when I read the script or when I think about the creative, but often they’re actually something I found myself, because I know how it’s done. I remember the feeling that I put into that particular shot, for example, and I’ll be like, ‘okay, I’ve done this before, what do you think if we do something similar?’

I watch movies all the time in cinema, but I don’t necessarily use it as a reference, I mainly just watch movies to get entertained. Also to be inspired as well, but not necessarily directly, you know? I don’t like copying things, I’d rather go somewhere and look at the location and take pictures and then think about my way.

For me, it’s always just doing things, talking about things, directly imagining things, that’s something I get inspired by – maybe even listening to music, going to the theatre, going to an art exhibition, talking to people, just trying to feel and hear these little hints that appear in my life. I like to do diaries sometimes and write things down, and I just feel like, okay, this kind of scene keeps coming back. Maybe someday I want to read about or think about it more? You know, it’s kind of very unrelated to visual, but I think it’s kind of the way I live my life – I always try to put little scenes that surround me.

This year’s BAFTA UK Breakthrough talent selection include director Alex Thomas (Yorkshire Cop: Police, Racism and Me), dialogue editor Alyx Jones (Elden Ring), actor Ambika Mod (This is Going to Hurt), director Chloë Fairweather (Dying to Divorce), cinematographer Diana Olifirova (Heartstopper), lead designer Emily Brown (Alba: a Wildlife Adventure), writer/executive producer Jack Rooke (Big Boys), composer Jamal Green (TOEM), producer Joanna Boateng (Uprising), actor Leon Harrop (Ralph & Katie), and writer/director Marley Morrison (Sweetheart).

They’re joined by principal technical artist Morag Taylor (Total War: Warhammer 3), actor Nell Barlow (Sweetheart), writer, executive producer, and actor Nicôle Lecky (MOOD), director Paul Sng (Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché), actor Rose Ayling-Ellis (Eastenders), director Runyararo Mapfumo (Sex Education), director Sophie Cunningham (Look Away), director Theo Williams (Terms & Conditions: Deeper than Drill), and co-founders, creative director, and artistic director Zachary Soares & Luciana Nascimento (Moonglow Bay).

The US cohort, meanwhile, includes director Alex Pritz (The Territory), actor Amrit Kaur (The Sex Lives of College Girls), actor Brandon Perea (NOPE), cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby (MASTER), director Clare Knight (Back to the Outback), cinematographer Daphne Qin Wu (The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster), director/writer Ellie Foumbi (Our Father, the Devil), games programmer Megan Fox (SkateBIRD), producer Melissa Adeyemo (Eyimofe), director Rebeca Huntt (Beba), composer Robert Ouyang Rusli (Test Pattern), and director So Yun Um (Liquor Store Dreams).