Vera Farmiga’s Higher Ground premiered at Sundance last January to strong reviews. While Variety called it “a startlingly bold directing debut,” as THR put it, “no one should really be surprised that Vera Farmiga brings the same meticulous craftsmanship and passion for truth found in her extraordinary acting to her debut as a director.”
One surprise: Farmiga directed the film, which Sony Pictures Classics will release August 26, while pregnant. Also unusual: the character she portrays, Corinne (based on Carolyn S. Briggs, whose 2003 memoir, This Dark World: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost, inspired the film) is played by both Farmiga and her younger sister, 16-year old Taissa (in a breakout performance). Their resemblance is striking: both have the natural ability to command the camera’s attention.
In the following video interview, the Farmiga sisters talk about collaborating and bonding, finding humor, avoiding the pitfalls of directing a film about faith and religion, and their co-stars Joshua Leonard, John Hawkes, Boyd Holbrook and Dagmara Dominczyk. (Trailer is also below.)
Farmiga knows that it would be easy to reduce Higher Ground to a film about Christianity, faith, or religion, but her light directorial hand serves the material and illuminates a relatable story about a woman’s journey toward self-discovery. Religion is the backdrop, but not the point. Farmiga brings these characters to life with subtlety and sensitivity, and focuses on the many loves in a woman’s life: parents, siblings, children, friends, community, as well as the challenges and doubt they can ignite in us.
Farmiga cites Debra Granik (who directed Farmiga in her breakout performance in 2004’s Down to the Bone) as a key directorial inspiration, but insists that it has nothing to do with gender. She has learned from all her directors, from Martin Scorsese (The Departed) to Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, for which she received her Oscar nomination). It seems inevitable that she to will direct again (her husband, Renn Hawkey, who served as producer and musical director on Higher Ground, has a script she’d like to make), but she’s in demand as an actress and open to whatever the universe brings.
The sisters mention Corinne’s combination of vulnerability and strength — a winning combination that they too possess.