A Story's Impact
  • Friday, Oct. 25, 2019
Chinonye Chukwu (photo by Angel Rodriguez)

While it may sound cliché, never underestimate the impact of a story on the storyteller. As we enter the current awards season, much is made of how a film resonates with an audience. But there’s also a profound influence being felt by those who bring us the story, a common thread which runs through many of the profiles in this issue’s Directors Series.

For example, writer-director Chinonye Chukwu reflected on Clemency (Neon), winner of the Grand Jury Award in the U.S. Dramatic competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film looks at capital punishment from a different perspective--that of the people who are sanctioned to carry out an execution, most notably in this film a prison warden portrayed by Alfre Woodard. We see how the psyche, personal life and spirit of Woodard’s character is impacted.

As for the impact on Chukwu, she described the years she spent researching, writing and making Clemency as “a soul-enriching, transformative experience. My capacity for empathy and compassion, my understanding of justice and mercy have expanded exponentially. This really challenged me in every aspect of my life. It taught me not to define people by their worst possible acts. It helped me to be a better writer and director. Screenwriting is empathy. Directing is empathizing with characters and pulling out their humanity. This work also taught me to have compassion for myself.”

Similarly director Marielle Heller has been inspired by her soon-to-be-released A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony Pictures) starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, the beloved host of the PBS kids’ series Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Asked to reflect on what her biggest takeaway has been from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Heller shared, “The impact on my life has been greater than the impact on my work. Living with the Fred Rogers message of love in my head for this long has been a gift, a reminder to stay patient, present and honest. It’s made me a better mom, hopefully a better leader of the ship when it comes to being a director, more conscientious. I’ve always tried to be conscientious but now I’m more aware of what’s important and what’s not. It helped put life into perspective. Last year I was going through awards campaigns (for Can You Ever Forgive Me?) as I was in the process of this Mr. Rogers movie. Anytime ego would rear its ugly head, I could fall back on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

About the author

<p>Robert Goldrich is an editor for <a href=""></a>.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

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