Vera Farmiga wasn’t supposed to direct Higher Ground, a film premiered and acclaimed at this year’s Sundance festival. The actress, who made an impact in the 2006 Scorsese thriller, The Departed, and won an Oscar nomination in 2010 for her performance in Up in the Air, was brought into the project to play its main character, Corinne Walker. As the script went through one draft after another, Farmiga found herself committed not just to the story but to how it should be told. “The topic,” she says, “the struggle with spirituality, is something that is not often addressed. I could see it as a feature, putting a magnifying glass to this woman and her life transitions, those moments when we need to remove ourselves from our families, from our deity, to experience solitude—and within that solitude you choose growth.”
Based on a memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs called This Dark World, the project stalled, unfinanced, just at the point Farmiga found she was pregnant and would have nine months of downtime. “I felt the conviction,” she explains. “What I wanted to bring to it was music. I wanted to explore it with lightness and humor. My manager said, ‘Just take control. You tell the story.’ ”
And, boy, did she. In her dual role as director and lead actress, Farmiga has brought together a dream cast of actor’s actors. She also debuts her 16-year-old sister, Taissa Farmiga—“blatant nepotism,” Vera admits—who plays the young Corinne with lovely quiet and a luminous gaze. Faith demands that we close our eyes in prayer, but what if your eyes keep opening? Farmiga has looked at “this dark world” and made a movie full of light.