<i>Higher Ground</i>
Vera Farmiga as Corinne Walker
(Credit: Molly Hawkey, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Her mystical light blue-green eyes reminded me that true beauty still does exist in this world. But her charisma, eloquence and intelligence go beyond any character in any film she has made. This is truly who she is. Yes, this undeniable description is of New Jersey-born Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed), who appears as the lead actress in her directorial debut, Higher Ground.

The film, which was predominantly shot in Kingston, N.Y., premiered in January 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival and received solid reviews and also screened at this season’s Tribeca Film Festival. It based on the memoir This Dark World: A Story of Faith Found and Lost by author Carolyn Briggs, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Tim Metcalfe. The film details the main character’s, Corinne Walker (Farmiga), turmoil to keep her faith and spirituality in a religiously integrated community in the rural areas of a Midwest farm.

“It was extremely challenging,” Farmiga says of directing while playing the lead role.

But Corinne’s thoughtful struggles with belief, love and trust are just not with God, but in human relationships as well. Higher Ground tells this incredible biographical story filled with a talented cast that includes Joshua Leonard as Ethan Miller, John Hawkes as CW Walker, Donna Murphy as Kathleen Walker and Dagmara Dominczyk as Annika.

“I loved the people I was working with. I loved my actors,” Farmiga says. “I loved my department heads and my producers.” Farmiga’s younger sister, Taissa Farmiga, makes her acting debut in Higher Ground. Taissa plays a young Corinne and immediately showed she holds a very promising future in the film industry.

“Seeing her develop in this role, we became closer to each other as sisters because we were playing the same person,” Farmiga shares. “There are 21 years between us, and I have often been a parental figure to her; it was nice to get close.”

Higher Ground is not your usual book-turned-movie adaptation, for it sports intensely powerful scenes from beginning to end, unexpected consistent comedy and extremely sexy and sexual related moments.

The young Corinne battles family dilemmas after her mother, Kathleen, experiences a stillborn birth. As a result, Kathleen’s grief becomes sour discontentment while CW engages in heavy alcoholic drinking. While at Vacation Bible School, the Holy Spirit penetrates Corinne en route to proclaiming her saved. However, as the years go by, Corinne questions life and its aspects, but settles into faith and church.

As a teenager, she becomes a poet and dates Ethan. By the age of 18, Corinne is pregnant and married while she instills religion in her immediate family.

Time passes, and trouble begins as the marriage begins to dissolve. More importantly, Corinne deviates from church and its followers, faith itself and her family at times. Still, she remains a loving mother, daughter and sister, but other relationships no longer exist.

“I felt such a compassion for her,” Farmiga says of Corinne. “But I think her candor of a state of being, we all at some level, can identify with disillusionment with an idea that may have meant something.”

How did Farmiga get involved with this project? At first, this was just another film she would appear in. Gradually, she became more profoundly attached to the script. At one point, Farmiga, her husband and newborn baby flew to Iowa to discuss and rewrite the screenplay with Briggs.

Within a Q&A session on her Web site, Briggs says, “I owe even more to Vera Farmiga who risked a great deal in making this film. She was brave beyond words to take on the massive job of acting and directing – while pregnant, no less. She has made a movie that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and I see a lot of movies, indie and otherwise. She’s an artist of the highest caliber.”

In 2010, Farmiga, who at 38 years of age looks more beautifully resplendent than ever before, received nominations as Best Supporting Actress each for an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for her role in the comedy-drama Up in the Air. Not bad for someone who once desired to become an ophthalmologist.

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Opens at The Landmark in L.A. and the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza in New York on August 26.

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