Halyna Hutchins: The cinematographer’s life and career

As the news breaks that Alec Baldwin has been charged with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins, family and friends of the late cinematographer will be remembering her life and career.

Baldwin was starring in a western film called Rust in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when a prop firearm he was holding discharged, killing Halyna Hutchins, the director of photography, and injuring the director Joul Souza, police said. Hutchins was 42 years old.

While a lawsuit from Halyna Hutchins family alleged that the actor “recklessly shot and killed” her, Baldwin, 64, repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the shooting. The actor maintained that he was told the gun was “cold”, meaning it had no live ammunition, and that as he cocked the gun it went off without him pulling the trigger.

The decision by New Mexico district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies comes more than 15 months after the fatal incident. Baldwin, 64, is one of three cast and crew members facing charges over the accidental October 2021 shooting, New Mexico first judicial district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announced on Thursday 19 January.

First assistant director David Halls has agreed to plead guilty to the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon. The film’s armourer Hannah Gutierrez Reed has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the incident.

Hutchins was born Halyna Anatoliivna Androsovych in 1979 in the Ukrainian village of Horodets. She grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle, later attending Kyiv National University and graduating with a degree in international journalism. She then pursued her first career, working as an investigative journalist for British documentary productions in eastern Europe.

Hutchins first became interested in film while living at the military base. It was after her work as an investigative journalist that she decided to move to Los Angeles to focus on filmmaking, initially working in various production assistant roles and as a grip electric, while working on shooting short films.

In 2005, Hutchins married her American husband, Matthew. Later, she gave birth to son Andros, who is now nine years old.

In Los Angeles, Hutchins attended American Film Institute Conservatory for a two-year master’s program, from which she graduated from in 2015. Her celebrated thesis project, Hidden, made with director Rayan Farzad, was screened at various film festivals including the LA Shorts Fest.

Afterwards, she worked on more than 30 feature-length films, short films, and TV miniseries, including the films Archenemy, Darlin’, Blindfire and The Mad Hatter, in various roles such as director of photography and associate producer.

A memorial tribute was made to Hutchins during the 94th Annual Academy Awards in 2022 (Getty Images)
A memorial tribute was made to Hutchins during the 94th Annual Academy Awards in 2022 (Getty Images)

In 2018, three years prior to her death, Hutchins was one of the first eight female cinematographers participating in the Fox DP Lab program, which was established to improve opportunities for women cinematographers entering the industry. By 2019, she was named one of the “10 up-and-coming directors of photography who are making their mark” by the American Society of Cinematographers.

Aside from her impressive film career, Hutchins was an activist and was passionate about worker’s rights. She was an advocate for women directors since she was familiar with overcoming the struggles women face in the industry.  She was a member of the International Cinematographer’s Guild and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, trade unions that represent crews working in the entertainment industry in US and Canada. Insider reported that Hutchin had been protesting dangerous working conditions before her death.

Following her death in 2021, the American Film Insite honoured her legacy by establishing a scholarship for women in film with the Halyna Hutchins Memorial Scholarship Fund for Women Cinematographers. The fund “aims to help female cinematographers build sustainable careers in the movie business,” according to Hutchins’ close friend, director Olia Oparina. In an interview, Oparina called Hutchins her “closest friend”. The pair worked together on the 2017 thriller Snowbound.

“From the moment I sat down next to Halyna in UCLA’s extension film directing class, I knew we could be best friends,” Oparina toldVariety.

“We moved to Hollywood 11 years ago — two first-generation immigrants from Ukraine and Russia who didn’t know a single soul in the movie business.

“Instead of asking others for a seat at their table, we decided to build our own. As we worked on finishing our master’s degrees, we began to find ‘our tribe’: a group of writers, producers and crew members that became our surrogate family.”

Oparina praised Hutchins for always bringing her “passion” and “craftsmanship” to every project she worked on, no matter its scale. She said that Hutchins had a “unique voice” in the industry that “set her apart from all of the other cinematographers”.

Oparina said Hutchins’ legacy would be an “inspiration” to anyone who was fortunate to work with her. She concluded, “Her passing is a tragedy, not only for her family and friends but also for the world of film she so loved, which has been forever deprived of her great talent.”

Hutchins is survived by her son Andros, nine, and husband Matthew, 38.