Helmer steers U. of T pic project

There was some surprise last week when it was reported that reclusive director Terrence Malick was resurfacing not in Hollywood but in Austin, Texas.

The acclaimed but elusive filmmaker — whose name, since 1998′s “The Thin Red Line,” has been attached to projects ranging from “The New World,” about English explorer John Smith, to “Che,” about the Argentine revolutionary — will be a producer on one of the first films (“The Marfa Lights”) to come out of the newly minted independent film studio at the U. of Texas.

Yet given Malick’s academic pedigree, the news is more logical than it sounds.

Before he wowed cineastes with “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven,” Malick studied philosophy at Harvard, then went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, leaving before he finished his thesis on Heidegger. Back in the U.S. Malick taught at MIT and freelanced for Life, Newsweek and the New Yorker.

Malick’s initial foray into film was via the American Film Institute, but everything else about his Hollywood career was less than institutional. He declined to go the studio route and financed “Badlands” by the then-rare means of selling independent partnerships to private investors. As for dealing with the press, he is famously uninterested.

Lest UT students be too influenced by Malick’s maverick ways, the film program’s advisory board includes more mainstream Hollywoodites such as Matthew McConaughey, Richard Linklater and Mike Simpson.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more