Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “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
  • “I Never Do a Oner Just Because I Can”: Mimi Leder on The Morning Show

    In the mid-1990s, director Mimi Leder revolutionized network television with her kinetic, elaborately choreographed long takes on the medical series ER. A master of complicated blocking and the use of camera movement to plunge the audience into viscerally charged suspense, Leder also knew when to pull the visual pyrotechnics back and generate power through restraint. Leder’s command of the medium has only become more impressive in the 25 years since; her most recent feature, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex, is a master class in composition and color, and her work on the Apple+ series The…  Read more

    On Aug 17, 2020
    By on Aug 17, 2020Columns
  • “Filmmaking is Not a Job, It’s a State of Mind”: Directors John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies on Unearth

    Fifteen years ago I was touring the regional horror film festival circuit with my first feature when I discovered the work of John C. Lyons, a filmmaker based in Erie, Pennsylvania whose short Hunting Camp was one of the more inventive and compelling movies I encountered that year. It was also one of the most interestingly photographed, by cinematographer Dorota Swies, who formed Lyons Den Productions with Lyons in 2004; the two of them have been working together ever since. Their latest collaboration and first feature together is the environmental horror movie Unearth, set to premiere on August 25 at this year’s virtual…  Read more

    On Aug 12, 2020
    By on Aug 12, 2020Columns
  • “You Get to Be Your Own Editor as You’re Watching It”: Catherine Hardwicke on Quibi Series Don’t Look Deeper

    Ever since she made her directorial debut in 2003 with Thirteen, Catherine Hardwicke has been one of the American cinema’s great chroniclers of young people navigating the transition to adulthood. In films as diverse as Lords of Dogtown, Twilight, Red Riding Hood and The Nativity Story, Hardwicke has explored teenage crises and discoveries with serious intent and the sharp attention to visual detail that she developed as a production designer on movies like Three Kings and Vanilla Sky. Her work on those films and other often demonstrated a bold and original approach to color, and this is true of her…  Read more

    On Jul 27, 2020
    By on Jul 27, 2020Columns
  • “The Key Word on Set was ‘Darker'”: DP Jeremy Osbern on The Big Ugly, The First Feature to Shoot on a RED Gemini

    Writer-director Scott Wiper’s The Big Ugly is the best kind of genre film, a crime movie aware of the traditions in which it’s working but not beholden to them; combining elements of ’40s and ’50s crime fiction (Jim Thompson seems to be a particular touchstone) with the flavor of ’70s Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill filtered through the visual grammar of ’90s Tony Scott, The Big Ugly synthesizes its influences into a unique and compelling western noir. Its emotional power comes largely from Wiper’s richly textured script and the performances by his consistently riveting ensemble, which includes Vinnie Jones, Malcolm…  Read more

    On Jul 21, 2020
    By on Jul 21, 2020Cinematographers
  • “Is Evil Outside of Us, Or Does It Come from Within?”: D.P. Fred Murphy on Shooting Evil, Wide-Angle Lenses and Working with Wim Wenders

    Evil was one of the best new television series of the 2019-2020 season, a thoughtful consideration of a vast array of moral, spiritual and sociopolitical issues in the guise of a supernatural procedural. The show follows Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), a clinical psychologist with a complicated family life who teams up with David Acosta (Mike Colter), a haunted ex-journalist who works for the Catholic Church as an assessor; he investigates – then confirms or debunks – incidents involving miracles, demonic possessions, and the like. Series creators Robert and Michelle King (the husband and wife team responsible for The Good Wife…  Read more

    On Jul 7, 2020
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