Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “It Came Out of Feeling Like I Didn’t Actually See Myself in the Movies…”: Claudia Weill on Girlfriends

    Claudia Weill is a director whose work meant so much to me at such a formative age that I was almost hesitant to interview her; the two features she directed, Girlfriends (1978) and It’s My Turn (1980) spoke to me on such a profoundly personal level that I feared speaking with her could only be a disappointing experience—either because she wouldn’t live up to my image of her or because I would be so intimidated that I’d turn into a blabbering idiot. One of Weill’s many talents is to create work so intimate and precise that it always feels like…  Read more

    On Nov 23, 2020
    By on Nov 23, 2020Columns
  • “The Hardest Thing to Do is to Pick Up the Dolly Track When the Shot’s Not Right”: Max Winkler on Jungleland

    A lot of filmmakers point to the New Hollywood movies of the 1970s as influences, but few directors have internalized and applied the lessons of the era as effectively as Max Winkler, whose new feature Jungleland recalls seminal studies of masculinity in crisis like John Huston’s Fat City and Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail. The movie follows bare-knuckle brawler Lion (Jack O’Connell) and his older brother Stanley (Charlie Hunnam), broke siblings looking for a way out of their desperate circumstances. They think they’ve found it when a local underworld figure offers to clear their debts if they chaperone a young…  Read more

    On Nov 12, 2020
    By on Nov 12, 2020Columns
  • “The Set was a Circle with the Floor and Mirrors Rotating”: Jan de Bont on The Haunting

    Before he became a director, Jan de Bont was the cinematographer on some of the most visually intricate, elegantly lit movies of the 1980s and early ’90s, including Paul Verhoeven’s The 4th Man and Basic Instinct, John McTiernan’s Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and Ridley Scott’s Black Rain. When de Bont made his directorial debut in 1994 with Speed, the film’s kinetic energy and precise attention to light and composition were no surprise; what made the picture a classic was how finely attuned the visual choices were to the nuances of performance. Speed made Sandra Bullock a star,…  Read more

    On Oct 27, 2020
    By on Oct 27, 2020Cinematographers
  • “Everyone Should Take an Editing Class, Even Actors”: Rich Newey on Killing Eleanor

    I first became aware of director Rich Newey’s work a few years ago when I caught his “Dreamland” episode of the sci-fi series Stitchers; working from an audacious script by Lynne E. Litt, Newey deftly juggled styles and tones with an inventiveness and confidence that led me to seek out his other episodic work on shows like Blindspot and The Fosters. I was consistently impressed by both his precise, expressive visual style and his sensitivity to dialogue and performance, skills on prominent display in his terrific new feature Killing Eleanor. The film tells the story of Natalie (Annika Marks), an…  Read more

    On Oct 22, 2020
    By on Oct 22, 2020Columns
  • “One Thing I Learned From Michael Mann, You’ve Got to Have Rules”: Brooke Kennedy on The Good Fight

    In the first episode of The Good Fight, a spinoff from and sequel to the acclaimed legal drama The Good Wife, liberal attorney Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) watches Donald Trump’s inauguration in horror. In the premiere episode of the series’ most recent season (season four), Diane wakes up to find herself in an alternate reality in which Hillary Clinton won the presidency. Both episodes – and the 38 others that have aired to date – exhibit a satirical sense as sophisticated as it is original; series creators Robert and Michelle King consistently engage with issues related to race, sex, gender,…  Read more

    On Oct 16, 2020
    By on Oct 16, 2020Columns
  • “By Reconnecting Us To Our Humanity, I Believe Nostalgia Could Be the Very Thing That Saves Us”: Director Jenni Olson on Her Criterion Channel-Streaming Films

    Like many cinephiles I know, I’ve found the Criterion Channel to be a sort of emotional life preserver during these anxiety-ridden times; while it’s nearly impossible to achieve a state of total calm, one can come close by revisiting old favorites and making new discoveries while browsing through the streaming service’s expertly curated selection. This month the programmers have given audiences a great gift by showcasing the work of Jenni Olson, a director who understands the restorative power of nostalgia and reflection better than any other – it’s a key component to her work, and one of many reasons why…  Read more

    On Oct 16, 2020
    By on Oct 16, 2020Columns
  • “I Know So Much More Now about Pandemic Response Than I Did When We Made It”: Brian Duffield on Spontaneous

    One of the most fascinating things about viewing new movies in the age of COVID is how many of them tap into current anxieties in spite of having been completed before the coronavirus arrived; films as varied in style, budget, and genre as I’m Thinking of Ending Things, She Dies Tomorrow and Tenet all resonate in this historical moment in ways that would have been very different–and probably less effective–if they had been released just a few months earlier. Screenwriter Brian Duffield’s strikingly original and extremely moving teen comedy Spontaneous is the latest film to speak to the persistent unease and…  Read more

    On Sep 30, 2020
    By on Sep 30, 2020Columns
  • “Anamorphic is How the World Looks When Donald Trump Becomes President”: Billy Ray on The Comey Rule

    Ever since his 2003 directorial debut Shattered Glass, which told the story of disgraced journalist Stephen Glass and his downfall at The New Republic, Billy Ray has been one of the finest filmmakers we have when it comes to turning recent history into riveting cinema. Breach (about FBI agent turned Russian spy Robert Hanssen) and Ray-scripted films for other directors like Captain Phillips and Richard Jewell are all marked by Ray’s ability to tackle complex subject matter with clarity and concision, making complicated stories accessible without compromising their ambiguities and provocations. Although as both a writer and director Ray has…  Read more

    On Sep 23, 2020
    By on Sep 23, 2020Columns
  • “I Was Doing a Page One Rewrite During Pre-production and Well into Production”: Yuval Adler on The Secrets We Keep

    Four of the best performances I’ve seen so far this year are all in the same movie, Yuval Adler’s riveting thriller The Secrets We Keep. Noomi Rapace, who also co-produced the film, plays Maja, a Romanian immigrant in post-World War II America who lives a quiet life with her physician husband Lewis (Chris Messina). Their placid existence is upended when Maja becomes convinced that her neighbor Thomas (Joel Kinnaman) is a Nazi who tortured her years before during the war. When Maja kidnaps Thomas and locks him in her basement, the film becomes a morally thorny and extremely suspenseful thriller…  Read more

    On Sep 21, 2020
    By on Sep 21, 2020Columns
  • “A Hundred Shooting Days and Almost a Hundred Scripted Locations”: Mick Garris on 1994’s Stephen King’s The Stand

    When Stephen King published The Stand in 1978, the book represented a major increase in scale and ambition for the author, whose story of a nationwide battle between forces of good and evil was both his longest and most sophisticated novel to date. 16 years later director Mick Garris took a similar leap when he graduated from modest horror fare like Critters 2: The Main Course and Psycho IV: The Beginning to helm the miniseries adaptation of The Stand, a four-night, six-hour (not counting commercials) epic with hundreds of sets and speaking roles. Stephen King’s The Stand premiered on ABC…  Read more

    On Sep 17, 2020
    By on Sep 17, 2020Columns
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