Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “I Had Gunfight Westerns in Mind With the Structure”: Writer/Director John Sayles on the Criterion Rerelease of Matewan

    When John Sayles wrote and directed Matewan in 1987, he was already a hero to those of us following American independent film, both for his witty, energetic genre screenplays (Piranha, The Howling, Battle Beyond the Stars) and for his self-financed directorial efforts (Return of the Secaucus Seven, Lianna, The Brother From Another Planet). His movies as writer-director, which also included a detour into studio filmmaking with the exquisite coming of age drama Baby It’s You, were major inspirations for an entire generation of aspiring filmmakers, because they gave us a high standard of excellence to reach for yet also seemed…  Read more

    On Feb 28, 2020
    By on Feb 28, 2020 Columns
  • “Pushing for Black Actors to Tell Black Stories”: Euzhan Palcy on A Dry White Season

    In 1989, Euzhan Palcy became the first black woman to direct a major studio movie when she helmed A Dry White Season for MGM. A brutal yet inspiring anti-apartheid drama, A Dry White Season remains a model of political filmmaking, as Palcy (adapting Andre Brink’s novel with co-screenwriter Colin Welland) boldly and forcefully indicts the South African government of the period with clarity, complexity and passion. Donald Sutherland plays Ben Du Toit, a schoolteacher (a surrogate for both Brink and the movie’s white audience members) who keeps his head buried in the sand when it comes to the injustices around…  Read more

    On Feb 5, 2019
    By on Feb 5, 2019 Columns
  • Getting the Job, Learning from The Master and Goodfellas, and Shooting with Cleaner Glass: Cinematographer Sean Porter Talks Green Book

    Viggo Mortensen always seemed like the kind of actor who would insist on eating a dozen hot dogs in a scene if his character did the same. Green Book cinematographer Sean Porter confirmed those suspicions. “We shot a hot dog eating contest and Viggo was cramming them in at full speed every take,” laughs Porter. Green Book provided Mortensen (and his digestive system) with ample opportunities to display that kind of commitment to authenticity. In the based-in-fact story, Mortensen plays Tony Vallelonga, a Bronx bouncer with a penchant for gluttony who accepts a job driving a refined piano virtuoso (played…  Read more

    On Dec 15, 2018
    By on Dec 15, 2018 Cinematographers
  • “What Moonlight Gave Us Was the Confidence to Execute Our Ideas Without Fear”: Writer/Director Barry Jenkins on If Beale Street Could Talk

    Writer-director Barry Jenkins solidifies his position as one of the current cinema’s most empathetic and visually (and aurally) expressive filmmakers with his third feature, If Beale Street Could Talk. Adapted from a 1974 novel by James Baldwin, the film tells the story of Tish and Fonny, a young couple whose dreams are cut short by Fonny’s wrongful imprisonment; moving back and forth between the early days of their love story and the brutal reality of their present, Jenkins crafts a masterpiece that is simultaneously achingly, hopefully romantic and unblinking in its portrait of social injustice. While Moonlight drew upon cinematic…  Read more

    On Dec 13, 2018
    By on Dec 13, 2018 Columns
  • “Big Companies Can’t Change or Adapt… We are a Speedboat”: Director and VFX Artist Ken Locsmandi on His Under $1 Million, Lo-Fi Sci-Fi Beyond White Space

    As the owner and visual effects supervisor at Filmworks, FX, Inc., Ken Locsmandi has worked on films by major directors like David Fincher, David O. Russell and the Wachowskis. In the last couple of years, he has expanded his company’s scope, producing his own films in an attempt to put his expertise and resources to use on independent work that can stand alongside studio productions costing literally hundreds of times what he has to spend. When I saw Locsmandi’s directorial debut, Beyond White Space, as it traveled around the film festival circuit this year, I was stunned by its level…  Read more

    On Dec 10, 2018
    By on Dec 10, 2018 Columns
  • “I Wanted to Do for Adam What Demme Did for David Byrne [in Stop Making Sense]”: Steven Brill Talks About Directing Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh

    Adam Sandler may have chosen to title his Netflix stand-up special Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh as an impudent jab at the critics who consistently trash his comedies, but it’s garnering the actor some of the best reviews of his career. (As I write this, it’s not quite 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes — just an impressive 92%.) That’s deservedly so, given that the special contains Sandler’s funniest and most wide-ranging material in years. The act, written by Sandler with an assist from Paul Sado and Dan Bulla, veers back and forth between razor-sharp observational material, unapologetically juvenile (and hilarious) obscenity,…  Read more

    On Nov 19, 2018
    By on Nov 19, 2018 Columns
  • “I Didn’t Want the Movie To Fall Into the Category of Just Being a Film for Other Filmmakers”: Duncan Skiles Talks About Directing The Clovehitch Killer

    Duncan Skiles’ new thriller The Clovehitch Killer is the kind of horror movie that gets under your skin and stays there, reverberating in the viewer’s head for hours, days, even weeks after it’s over. Its impact is all the more impressive given its low-key, understated quality. Skiles patiently, meticulously creates a mounting sense of dread without melodrama or explicit violence, relying instead on eerily stark, formal compositions and a career-best performance from Dylan McDermott. McDermott plays Don Burnside, a family man and active member of his community whose affable, slightly goofy façade masks a serious dark side. When Don’s teenage…  Read more

    On Nov 14, 2018
    By on Nov 14, 2018 Columns
  • “This Was Not a Crime Story, This Was a Love Story”: Harold Becker on the Great Al Pacino/Ellen Barkin Noir, Sea of Love

    In 1989, Al Pacino returned to the screen after a four-year hiatus to appear in Sea of Love, a thriller that reinstated him as a major star and cemented novelist Richard Price’s status as one of the great American screenwriters of his era. Price’s script, which follows a detective (Pacino) who falls in love with a suspect (Ellen Barkin) in a string of murders of men placing personal ads, has a rock solid construction that allows for a multitude of tonal shifts and digressions, all of which are orchestrated to perfection by the film’s director, Harold Becker. In Becker’s hands,…  Read more

    On Oct 29, 2018
    By on Oct 29, 2018 Columns
  • “Imagine How Angels Would Look at Us”: Wim Wenders on Restoring Wings of Desire

    As a longtime Wim Wenders fan and devoted admirer of his masterpiece Wings of Desire, I would never have thought it possible that the movie could look better than it did when it was released in 1987. Gorgeous in every sense of the word, from the shimmering black-and-white photography of Henri Alekan (the maestro behind Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast who Wenders prodded out of retirement to shoot the film) to the profoundly romantic story of an angel who wants to fall to earth and experience the human condition, Wings of Desire was a stunner when it came out…  Read more

    On Oct 19, 2018
    By on Oct 19, 2018 Columns
  • “The Episodes Generate Their Own Lives”: John Peter Kousakis on Directing the “No-Rules” NCIS: Los Angeles

    John Peter Kousakis began his career in 1979 as a production assistant on the television mini-series The French Atlantic Affair, which led to work as a second assistant director on CHIPS. From there Kousakis worked as an AD on some of the most popular series of the era, including The Greatest American Hero, The Fall Guy, and The A-Team, but he caught the directing bug during his first foray into features, working as a second AD on the Burt Reynolds-Hal Needham car chase extravaganza Cannonball Run II. Since then he has moved back and forth between production management positions and…  Read more

    On Sep 21, 2018
    By on Sep 21, 2018 Columns
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