• The Making Of: Hilary's Straws 02/17/12

    Hilary Lister in a still from "Hilary's Straws."
    Hilary Lister in a still from "Hilary's Straws."

    Next up in our Focus Forward "Behind the Scenes" series is Phil Cox's lovely and moving Hilary's Straws. A stirring portrait of a woman who is using technology to free herself from a life in which she might otherwise be completely housebound, Hilary's Straws shows what's truly possible when you combine technology with a determined mind.

    When asked about the inspiration for their films at the Q&A after our screening at Sundance, the Focus Forward directors had different answers. Heart Stop Beating director Jeremiah Zagar said "We actually Googled 'innovation,'" while Cox took an altogether different and more scientific approach, which he remarked on in an email. "I had contacts in the sailing world who mentioned to me about this lady who was a quadriplegic yet sailing alone across the sea [using] some weird invention she had made with friends in her garage," he wrote, continuing, "Tidbits like that were too irresistible not to follow up on - so as soon as I began talking to Hilary and [finding] her so warm and open, I knew a film was there."

    However, before he discovered his subject, Phil had to decide on an overall approach to the FF brief. "For me the angle was to look at those people who 'take on' technology and use it for their own means. I think that for most people, there is this mystery about [technology] somehow, from even how the kettle works to changing a light bulb to opening up a computer. Children are usually completely fearless in this regard and will take something apart and try to understand it - whilst adults on the whole will just buy a new one if broken or ask the expert. So idea-wise I wanted to find someone who had really taken on technology and invention in an inspiring way for their own good - and Hilary was an incredible story."

    As for the "chicken and egg" question of which came first, the idea for the film or the task from Focus Forward, Phil was actively looking for a FF idea, adding "but all good filmmakers, I think, are always finding and storing little half ideas and potential stories and gems in their pockets and drawers and cupboards….just in case a cruel winter sets in and we find ourselves starved of work….which is every other week!"

    For the record, Phil wants to be clear, he can change a light bulb!