Angelina Jolie told me she’s having a great time at her first Telluride Film Festival, where since the debut here Saturday of First They Killed My Father, her fourth directorial effort has been winning strong praise.
The powerful, beautifully shot film, set during the 1970s when Pol Pot’s deadly Khmer Rouge regime terrorized Cambodia, will debut on Netflix and in select theaters in mid-September after Jolie takes it to the Toronto Film Festival.
The film is based on Loung Ung’s memoir about the devastating effect the Khmer Rouge had on her own family when she was just 9 years old. Ung, who is also in Telluride, adapted the book with Jolie. But Jolie told the Telluride audience yesterday the Cambodian people really made it themselves. “Netflix made it possible and gave them the tools to tell their story,” she said.
It is also a cautionary tale in the perilous world of today as dictators and dangerous regimes still seem to thrive the world over. This movie, which could have been unrelievedly brutal and difficult to watch, instead is almost lyrical in some ways as told through the eyes of children so affected by that war, gorgeously shot by Oscar winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle with a great score by Marco Beltrami.
At an intimate Saturday night reception for the film at the Cosmopolitan restaurant as a thunderstorm raged outside, I suggested to Jolie and Ung (who now lives in Cleveland) that it was fate that intervened when Jolie, on a trip to Cambodia several years ago, just happened to pick up a $2 book on a street corner that turned out to be Ung’s memoir. The result changed her life and now the film is making its way out into the world. “I started directing just a few years ago and I thought what matters to me, what has changed my life, what needs to be told. And I love (Cambodia) and feel it is so important that people know what happened, and I want my son to know who his countrymen are and to be proud of their culture and to confront and be honest about the past,” she told the audience yesterday while explaining that she waited a few years until her son Maddox could fully participate, and in fact he has an Executive Producer credit on the movie and is also in Telluride.
At the reception I asked why she chose Netflix, and she said it was the reality of the current state of filmmaking that a small movie like this, in a foreign language and with no stars, would be lucky to play for a week at a small theater in New York. She said Netflix allows it to be found and seen by a much larger audience and will help give it a stronger social media imprint as well.
Getting this film made was just one hurdle for Jolie, but getting it seen is clearly her mission now. Netflix honcho Ted Sarandos sat directly in front of me at yesterday’s screening and I asked him about plans to have this film submitted by Cambodia for this year’s Academy Awards foreign language contest, and he said he is confident that will happen. That would have the extraordinary effect of making Jolie the rare American director with a movie eligible for the Foreign Language Film nomination. But first, it will also have to pass muster with Academy rules requiring the bulk of the key creative team to also be from the country of origin. For Jolie the fact that this film might be submitted by the current Cambodian regime is remarkable considering some of the things going on there now including attempts to shut down some of the media. “I am a western woman and it would be amazing if they could agree to send our film (to the Academy),” she said adding it would be a powerful and surprising message of unified support from the Cambodian government.
Jolie, with her continuing work with refugees the world over and her work with the United Nations , is already the winner of the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, as well as having a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Girl Interrupted, but directing a movie that could possibly take her to the 90th Annual Academy Awards would be unprecedented for the star who has held Cambodian citizenship since 2005.
I also think her screenplay with Ung could find its way into the Best Adapted Screenplay category, which is much lighter this year in terms of competition. With past directorial efforts like In The Land Of Blood And Honey, Unbroken, and By The Sea shot, like First They Killed My Father, on foreign shores it would make perfect sense to see Jolie in the Foreign Language category, and in fact I brought up the fact that she is that rare director who has worked fairly effortlessly in several languages for her movies. She likes the dialogue to be authentic and doesn’t shy away from the use of subtitles.
With four directorial achievements under her belt I asked if she had another one lined up but she told me it is time to return to acting for a while. “I am now the breadwinner for the family so it’s time, ” she laughed . There were rumors that she might be doing Universal’s Bride Of Frankenstein but she said she is going back to Disney to do Maleficent 2. “We have been working on the script and this is going to be a really strong sequel,” she said, excited by the prospect of returning to that Disney villainess. Meanwhile she’s helping to make this Telluride Film Festival a memorable one.