Thursday, January 28, 2016

John Malveaux: Public Radio East: Biopic About Nat Turner Is A Success At Sundance Film Festival

John Malveaux of 

Birth of a Nation (Nat Turner slave revolt) by first time film maker is thunderous at Sundance

Originally published on January 28, 2016 6:05 pm

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The Sundance Film Festival in Utah started out as a venue for low-budget works by independent filmmakers looking for distribution. When major studios bought those films, the purchase price was usually modest. That's still true, but it is changing. And this week, the model was broken. Fox Searchlight paid an astounding $17.5 million for a biopic about Nat Turner, who led a legendary slave rebellion in the early 1800s in Virginia. The film is called "The Birth Of A Nation," directed, written, produced and starring Nate Parker. Justin Chang is the chief film critic for Variety, and he was at that premiere at Sundance. Good morning.

JUSTIN CHANG: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So OK, this film comes at a time when controversy over a lack of diversity in the film industry is swirling through Hollywood. It sounds like this has become the most talked about film at the festival this year.

CHANG: It certainly has. I think it is very much a movie of the moment. It sort of crystallizes a lot of things, the lack of diversity in the ranks of the industry, which, you know, as we've seen with the Oscars' so-white controversy. And it's also, I think - you know, the title of the film is "The Birth Of A Nation," which is very consciously a reference and sort of a rebuke to D.W. Griffith's 1915 epic of the same title, which is, of course, still notorious for its racist imagery, its heroic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan. "The Birth Of A Nation," Nate Parker's film, is intended as a corrective to that. It is a story of American slavery told from the perspective of the African-American slaves who endured it.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, talking about - back to the money here in the 21st century, put that $17.5 million in perspective for us. How does it stack up against other films at the Sundance?

CHANG: So $17.5 million for "The Birth Of A Nation" is pretty huge, and I think it is a response and a reflection of the tremendous reception that the film received. People were on their feet. People don't always give the director and the cast and crew a standing ovation, but the response to this film was thunderous.          

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