Film editor Phyllis Housen admits, “I did not know that much about the prison industrial complex” before working on “Clemency.” But while the film is ostensibly about the death penalty, it’s really “this internal story” about “the implosion of [a woman’s] world based on what she did for a living.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Housen below.
SEE Alfre Woodard Interview: ‘Clemency’
That woman is Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard), a prison warden worn down by years of administering death row executions. Things come to a head for her when inmate Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge) desperately fights for his life before his own sentence is carried out.
Writer and director Chinonye Chukwu spent years researching capital punishment before shooting the movie, so she “had a very clear vision of what she wanted,” Housen explains, “which is rare.” In editing a movie, “you put it together according to the script, you build the bricks of the scenes, and you juxtapose them with other scenes.” Eventually, with further refinement, “the real story emerges.”
SEE Aldis Hodge Interview: ‘Clemency’
Ultimately, “the film was so quiet in its way that I left a lot more lead-time in for the actors before they actually spoke their lines,” Housen says. “They acted what was happening internally. Sometimes we didn’t even need the dialogue because you could understand where they were coming from.”
Housen previously worked on films including “Dream for an Insomniac” (1996), “To Whom It May Concern” (2015) and “Cargo” (2017). And she’s currently editing the upcoming limited series “Little Fires Everywhere” and the movie “16 Bars.”
“Clemency” started the year strong by winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Since then Woodard has earned Best Actress nominations at the Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards. Hodge contends for Best Actor at Gotham as well. And the film also competes at the Spirits in Best Feature and Best Screenplay.
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