School of Cinematic Arts Directory Profile

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Judy Irola, ASC

Conrad Hall Chair in Cinematography and Color Timing

Affiliated Divisions:

Division of Film & Television Production

Work Phone: 213.745.7215
Office: SCA 407

Irola was raised in Fresno, CA, the daughter of Basque sheepherders. After serving two years in the Peace Corps (her idea of college) she returned to San Francisco where she went to work for KQED-TV in their documentary film unit. Irola worked as a cinematographer for over 30 years and her films have won numerous awards. Her first feature Northern Lights won the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1979. In 1993 An Ambush of Ghosts (directed by Everett Lewis) garnered her the Cinematography Award, Dramatic Competition, at the Sundance Film Festival. She has photographed 17 independent features and more than 40 documentaries throughout the world as well as a TV series for NBC, Lifestories, numerous Movies of the Week, After School specials for all three major networks and freelanced for 20/20, NBC’s White Paper, ABC’s Close Up and PBS’ NOVA and Odyssey. Her favorite films for television are the eight short films she shot for Saturday Night Live’s Schiller’s Reel including the classic La Dolce Gilda

In 1995 Irola was the third woman to be invited to become a member of the prestigious American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). In 1997 she was the recipient of Kodak's Vision Award. In 2009 she was awarded the Women's International Film and Television Foundation's (WIFTS) Visionary Award for her body of work.  She is a Full Professor and holds the Conrad Hall Chair in Cinematography (endowed by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) at USC's School of Cinematic Arts. She has been Head of Cinematography since 1999 where she designs curriculum and supervises 24 cinematographers on the faculty.

In 2003 Irola began producing and directing. Her first documentary Cine Manifest (funded by USC's James H. Zumberge Individual Research and Innovation Fund in 2005) premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2006. In November the film was a finalist for the Maysles Brothers Documentary Award at the Denver Starz International Film Festival and in March 2007 Cine Manifest received the Ruth Landfield Award at the Fargo Film Festival. This award is for "Films By or About Women of Compassion, Conviction and Commitment." In September the film took the prize for Best Feature Documentary at the Montana Independent Film Festival. The documentary screened three times in Rio and Sao Paulo at the IT'S ALL TRUE International Documentary Film Festival and in September screened numerous times at DOCSDF, an International documentary film festival in Mexico City, where it was picked as an audience favorite. In November it was invited to screen in the Political Cinema Section at the International Independent Film Festival of Mar del Plata in Buenos Aires and at the Festival de Cine de Granada in Spain.

Cine Manifest has been purchased by numerous universities for their libraries—including Stanford and NYU, and reviewed in fifteen important journals (including Variety). The film was picked up for home DVD distribution by New Video/Docurama in New York City in September 2008.

Irola completed principal photography on her new documentary Niger '66: A Peace Corps Diary in late 2008 after videotaping 25 former volunteers in the U.S. and documenting a three-week trip back to Niger with five volunteers from her group (1966-68) visiting their former villages.  The film is scheduled for release in fall 2010.