Cannes: Directors To Watch

Below are profiles of a group of five directors who are generating buzz up and down the Croisette. They are a mix of relative newcomers with varied backgrounds and one veteran theater director making his return to celluloid. Reflecting the diversity of the lineup at Cannes this year across all of the sections, there is only one director from the main competition (and it’s a woman) with the rest in Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight.

JONAS ALEXANDER ARNBY – When Animals Dream, Critics’ Week
Danish helmer Jonas Alexander Arnby’s When Animals Dream features a young woman who turns into a werewolf, but the director says simply: “We wanted to do a coming-of-age film about a girl who develops from A to B.” The young woman, Marie, is an outsider in her small coastal community. The townspeople live in fear of her and her wheelchair-bound mother, who suffers from a mysterious illness. When Marie discovers her body changing, she begins searching for answers concerning her family’s hidden past. There is a loud amount of buzz around this movie that debuts in Critics’ Week on Monday and is being sold by Gaumont. Arnby told me last week that he shot in a part of northern Denmark where it is “very windy and cold and religious.” He says it’s one of the most exotic places in Denmark, but has never been exposed to film. So, he thinks maybe people are in part intrigued by the combination of Nordic horror in such an environment and with a young girl who has to reconcile her inner beast. For the actual beast, Arnby wanted “to destroy the normal darkness for what a werewolf is. I don’t care about howling against the moon. It’s a visual metaphor, the werewolf, but our werewolf has to come to terms with whether she wants to embrace it or push it away.” Arnby, who has previously made a couple of shorts and crewed for Lone Scherfig and Lars Von Trier, says his biggest inspiration for When Animals Dream has been Brian De Palma’s original Carrie. “It really succeeds in making a realistic approach but still having a universe that seduces you.” Sonja Richter who plays the mother in the film, appreciated Arnby’s openness and willingness to ask questions and listen. “I didn’t see him as inexperienced… He was very secure about what he was doing and open. And I think that makes good directors.” Up next, Arnby has a thriller and a drama on deck, but he’s also waiting to see what transpires after When Animals Dream screens. He says he “absolutely” wants to work in Hollywood. “I don’t want to be a hired gun, but I think I can add something.” He likes the idea of “being capable of dealing with the whole Hollywood machine, but bringing something you haven’t seen before.”

Related: Cannes 2014 Movie Preview

DAVID ROBERT MITCHELLIt Follows, Critics’ Week
David Robert Mitchell has had “an intense couple of weeks.” The director is screening horror pic It Follows in Critics’ Week today, the second time the Myth Of The American Sleepover helmer will appear in the section in just four years. Mitchell is slightly more at ease this time around, “In the sense that I was there before, I am a little less scared about showing up. I understand what it is.” Screening attendees, however, are expected to be scared. It Follows follows a 19-year-old girl who, after a seemingly innocent sexual encounter, finds herself plagued by strange visions and the inescapable sense that someone, or something, is following her. A self-confessed horror fan, Mitchell says he grew up watching the classics with his dad like Bride Of Frankenstein and Halloween and Blue Velvet. “This strange sort of mixture of movies that are inspiring to me as a filmmaker, and it’s personal to me too… Some people have an idea of horror as if it’s something a little bit less. And it doesn’t have to be. My goal is to try to put more into it. Be a little bit more.” But he would like to do all kinds of films. “I have written a lot of scripts. I have a big stack,” he laughs. Mitchell grew up in Michigan where his uncle worked on movies shooting in the area so he sometimes got to go to a local premiere. Those events along with watching movies with his father helped kick his passion for movies into gear. Now, he says, “There is no scenario in which I won’t find a way to make movies. It’s been a part of me for so long. I care deeply about it.” He’s repped by WME and Benderspink.

Related: Cannes: Actors To Watch

ALICE ROHRWACHER – Le Meraviglie, Competition
Italian director Alice Rohrwacher has moved to the Competition this year with her second film, La Meragviglie (The Wonders). Her first, Corpo Celeste, was in Directors’ Fortnight in 2011. That film went on to be nominated for a Best New Director David di Donatello Award at home and was released Stateside by Film Movement. It was during the press for Corpo Celeste that Rohrwacher got the idea for The Wonders. Doing interviews in her region, between Tuscany and Lazio, she says she began to notice how the landscape and the people were changing. “On one side there is the destruction of nature and on the other side it looks like a museum.” The story of The Wonders centers on Gelsomina (Alexandra Lungu) and her three younger sisters. She is the designated heir of the strange, secluded kingdom that her father constructed around them to protect his family from “the end of the world”. Over one particular summer, the strict rules that hold the family together begin to break: in part due to the arrival of a German boy on a youth rehabilitation program, and in part because of the local community’s participation in a reality TV show that’s looking for the most traditional countryside family and is hosted by the mysterious Milly Catena (Monica Bellucci). Rohrwacher tells me she wanted to tell a story about a family that is somewhat misplaced. She also made them beekeepers because she herself comes from a family of them. “It’s a personal movie, but it’s not autobiographical,” she says. Still, her sister Alba Rohrwacher, an accomplished actress, has a role in the film. Another particularity of The Wonders is that it’s one of only two movies in Competition that is directed by a woman. “I would love it if we could speak just about the movies, but it’s not so simple,” she says. She thinks the large participation of women in this year’s Cannes Festival is a good sign, however. She also feels that Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, which brought the Foreign Language Oscar back to Italy for the first time in 15 years, is a positive for Italian cinema which is getting a little bit more respect at home and abroad. “You can see that the work has a meaning.” Le Meraviglie is screening today in Competition and releases in Italy next week.

MATTHEW WARCHUSPride, Directors’ Fortnight
Matthew Warchus is hardly new to cinema, but it has been 15 years since his last feature. The director made Simpatico back in 1999 and now returns with Pride, the closing night movie of Directors’ Fortnight. In the intervening years, Warchus went off and built an impressive career as a stage director. The Tony Award winner’s credits include God Of Carnage, Matilda and Ghost: The Musical. Warchus says the return to the cinema took so long in part because theater opportunities just kept presenting themselves and it “carried on growing very hard to draw myself away and to find scripts that were as compelling as the theater scripts that were available to me. I had a few near misses and then dates shifted and there were availability issues. So I deliberately thought ‘it’s been too long now,’ and made a concerted effort to make space in my diary.” Warchus said he was ultimately surprised that he chose Pride as his return project. “I didn’t see myself directing a British comedy with all that connotes. But I think some British comedies have such a strong eye on North America that they end up being Transatlantic. Conventional British comedy isn’t necessarily that British or that comedic.” Pride is an ensemble based on the true story of a group of gay and lesbian activists who decide to raise money to support the families of striking miners in 1984 Britain. Warchus says the story has a “real sense of truth and humanity… It’s a sort of political film that’s in danger of giving politics a good name.” Warchus enjoyed getting back behind the camera. “In 25 years of theater directing, I know what I’m doing in terms of telling a story. The bottom line in both media is you’re a storyteller.” Then again, “the hardest thing maybe is you don’t have the long rehearsal period.” But one of the film’s stars, Ben Schnetzer told me working with Warchus allowed for the longest rehearsal he’d ever had on a movie. Warchus has steadily been working on Pride since last July and notes wryly, “I could have directed two or three Broadway musicals or four plays in that time.” Over the long filmmaking journey, he says, “The only thing that keeps you going is how much you care about the story and film you’re making, and many times in the last 10 months I’ve been so grateful that I have this passion for the story. It would be very hard to do this on something you don’t really care about.” Warchus was still in London mixing when we spoke this week and he’ll be in Cannes for the Pride screening in the closing night berth of the Fortnight. After that, he’s going back into development on the Groundhog Day musical. But, he says, “I really enjoyed making the film and as soon as I get my energy back I’ll make another one.”

DANIEL WOLFE – Catch Me Daddy, Directors’ Fortnight
International audiences are likely to be most familiar with Daniel Wolfe thanks to a music video he made in 2012 for French duo The Shoes. The eight and a half minute clip for the song Time To Dance stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a super violent turn and became a viral sensation. Wolfe is now in Directors’ Fortnight with his first feature, Catch Me Daddy which had its first screening last night. Unsurprisingly given the buzz surrounding Wolfe, the reviews have been strong. Catch Me Daddy is a sort of Western set on the Yorkshire moors where a British Pakistani girl is on the run from her family with her drifter boyfriend. But the family hires a gang of thugs to bring her home and she is forced to flee, facing a dark night. Wolfe told me earlier this week that he’d met producer Mike Elliot and pitched him a one-line premise, “A car load of guys rolls into town looking for a girl,” and that got him hooked. Financing from Film Four and Studiocanal followed – “I’m not gonna lie, (The Shoes video) was a useful piece of the puzzle,” he laughs. The experience of switching to features from video “was very different, but I’ve been trying to do narrative in my videos and commercials for a while and I worked with a lot of people I’d worked with previously.” Wolfe, who co-wrote Catch Me Daddy with his brother Matthew, is working on another treatment with him but will return to video helming in the meantime. “I love the discipline of short form,” Wolfe says. “I like having to tell a story in a small space of time often non-verbally, only visually and like as well to be able to do quite a few projects in a short space of time.” But Wolfe also told me he knew from a young age that he wanted to make films. Traveling in Vietnam a little more than 10 years ago, he learned that Phillip Noyce’s The Quiet American was shooting in Saigon and, being a fan of the book, went down to the set. There, he talked his way in and first AD Steven Andrews showed him around. He ended the day with a job in the AD department and subsequently stayed with the film for the whole shoot. He still marvels at the serendipity of it all. “I had been watching (cinematographer) Christopher Doyle’s movies he made with Wong Kar Wai and part of my job description ended up being to go and get him to tell him we were about to shoot!” Now, being in Cannes is “an honor,” Wolfe says. “I want to say that’s enough and maybe it is.”

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