‘Clemency’ cinematographer Eric Branco on examining ‘the emotional toll’ of the death penalty through closeups [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

For cinematographer Eric Branco, shooting “Clemency” was “an eye-opening experience. I’ve never really been a supporter of the death penalty, but at the same time, it’s never been something that I put much thought into.” It wasn’t until he got the script that he understood “the emotional toll taken on the people” affected by it. “You don’t realize that the wardens and the people that work in the prison have to go home and deal with this.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Branco above.

SEE Alfre Woodard Interview: ‘Clemency’

The film, written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, examines the human cost of capital punishment, both for the inmates and the administrators. Alfre Woodard stars as Bernadine Williams, a prison warden who’s been psychologically scarred by years of carrying out executions. She reaches her breaking point with Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), a prisoner fighting for clemency as his last day approaches.

Visually, Branco and Chukwu wanted the film to “feel restrained. We wanted to have somewhat of a light touch. We didn’t want to tell the audience necessarily how to feel and when they should be feeling it.” So to create an intimate understanding of Bernadine’s character, the framing “starts pretty wide, and throughout the film we get tighter,” until the very end, which is mostly closeups on Woodard.

SEE Aldis Hodge Interview: ‘Clemency’

Of course, you can only achieve that kind of emotional effect “with an actor of the caliber of Alfre Woodard. I think you can try that, and it might fall apart unless the actress is giving you the kind of performance Alfre gives in the film.”

Branco previously lent his cinematography talents to films including “V/H/S” (2012), “White Alligator” (2012), “Stay Cold, Stay Hungry” (2013) and “Emerald City” (2016). “Clemency” started the year by winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and since then it has received Gotham Award nominations for Woodard and Hodge. Woodard also competes at the Independent Spirit Awards as Best Actress, where the film also contends for Best Feature and Best Screenplay.

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