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Sundance 2012: Antonio Campos Returns to Park City After a 'Huge' Year with "Martha Marcy May Marlene"

The multi-hyphenate filmmaker says he can't get "A Clockwork Orange" out of his head and tends toward dark material.

Josh Mond Antonio Campos Sean Durkin - H 2011
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
From left: Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin and Josh Mond

One third of the New York production entity, Borderline Films, Campos returns to Sundance as a writer-director after a buzzy year supporting his producing effort—and last year’s festival hit— Martha Marcy May Marlene. Campos delves back into somber material with Simon Killer, a film about a young American man who falls in love with a French prostitute. Campos calls Simon, which premieres tonight, a “character study” of male angst and utterly reflective of his ingrained love for being frightened as an audience member.

The Hollywood Reporter: You had a big 2011 with the critical success of Martha Marcy May Marlene. Between that film, which you produced; your feature directorial debut, Afterschool; and now Simon Killer, what do you think these films say about you as an artist?

Antonio Campos: Obviously, we are drawn to dark material! I'm not really sure where that comes from; either for [Martha Marcy director] Sean Durkin or [fellow producer] Josh Mond or me, because we aren't dark people. But we’re also not afraid of exploring the dark areas. Something Sean and I have always responded to is the impact of scary movies. We really enjoy the feeling of being scared in a theater, and it’s something we like to do in our films. What it says about us? Hopefully 20 years from now, when I look at all our stuff — hopefully there’s more —  I’ll have a better answer! Right now, we get to make the films we want to make and tell the stories that most resonate.

THR: Were there particular movies that really affected you growing up?

Campos: I loved fantasy adventure films like Back to the FutureIndiana JonesGhostbusters — I’d watched those so much, I’d wear out the VHS tapes. Then I discovered The 400 Blows [by French director Francois Truffaut] and all of a sudden stories about young people seemed interesting. Real life seemed as exciting as adventure films. I realized there are things I could say about my life I could put in a movie! Then I saw A Clockwork Orange, which was a crazy experience. There was something so scary about the central character. But also something so engaging and charming. Those complicated feelings toward a character was really eye-opening at that age. I was 13. That was the first film that scared me, but also opened my eyes to a new kind of way of looking at movies. Beyond scary movies are movies about real people doing bad things. Not the danger of a monster, but that which is within ourselves.

THR: Did you channel that concept into Brady Corbet’s character in Simon Killer?

Campos: I think the character of Alex from Clockwork is always in my head. But Simon took on a life of his own. Brady has a big heart, but he plays these characters that are very cold and calculating. We also wanted to explore the fragile side, pathetic side. That’s what’s interesting. Simon is really a character study of a young man.

THR: How much of the film reflects real life for you?

Campos: Well, I think there is a part of Simon that will be familiar to a lot of people — a kid who’s just graduated from college and just gotten out of a relationship and he’s sort of unsure where to go. There’s this sort of post-graduation malaise that I think is pretty familiar. A lot of the story comes from when I got into reading a lot of French noir; a lot of it took place in this area where I lived in Paris which was on the border of de Gaulle, a famous sex district, and all along the backstreet were these bars that were basically fronts for brothels. And you’d walk by them and the girls sit in the windows and stand outside smoking cigarettes and you never interacted with them. Being a filmmaker, you kind of have to look! I think I’m always immersing myself in the world of my characters; even though it’s not a documentary it feels like I’m sort of capturing all this stuff in my head and dramatizing it.

THR: How does it feel coming back to Sundance after all the press and accolades you’ve gotten?

Campos: It feels really good. It's been a huge year and I think that all three of us - Josh, Sean and I -- we only don’t feel good when we’re not doing anything. I hope that we can keep that going this year. My favorite part of making a film is actually the making of the film; the production of it. I really like going to set, seeing those people every day and that family kind of feeling we have.

THR: And if you don’t enjoy that part of it, as an indie filmmaker, you’re probably in trouble.

Campos: Yeah, that’s the thing. There’s nothing easy about making a film. I always say going in there, ‘I accept there are a bunch of things that go wrong.’ If this weren’t the way it was, then everybody would do it.