Miranda July’s existential Sundance story

Anticipated 'The Future' preems Friday

Few sophomore features have been as eagerly anticipated as Miranda July’s new drama “The Future.” Her 2005 meditation on art, relationships and love, “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” fused an experimental approach with emotional accessibility that delivered healthy box office, raising hopes for a trend in art-meets-commerce indie hits that never materialized.

So it was little surprise that festival programmers were salivating over the chance to land July’s “Future,” the portrait of an artist couple (Hamish Linklater and July) struggling with existential dilemmas in different ways — as told from their talking cat’s point of view. In a rare fest partnership, the film will premiere at Sundance Friday and compete at the Berlinale around three weeks later.

Despite the fact that “Me,” which won the Cannes Camera d’Or, came out six years ago, July has been far from missing in action, whether creating sculptures for the Venice Biennale, writing the short story collection “No One Belongs Here More Than You” and other books, working on an upcoming novel, marrying fellow indie darling helmer Mike Mills (“Beginners”) or staging the performance piece “Things We Don’t Understand and Definitely Are Not Going to Talk About.”

“Once you know how hard it is to make a movie, you kind of want to do everything else,” she explains with a laugh. “I was a bit nervous that if I took any of the deals that were being offered at that moment, it would kind of not be my process, and I would become identified as a filmmaker to a degree that didn’t really feel like me.”

But ultimately the live show inspired her to write the “Future” script, which included similar elements. “Me and You” producer Gina Kwon and UTA’s Rich Klubeck, who had been patiently awaiting July’s next move, started their financing quest by contacting U.K.-based FilmFour, which was interested immediately. German-based Razor Film partners Roman Paul and Gerhard Meixner then came aboard and secured more financing from German sales agent Match Factory and France-based Haut et Court.

Scheduling post-production in Berlin got producers Kwon, Paul and Meixner access to German funds to complete the $1 million budget, allowing for a 21-day Red digital camera shoot. But the international deal created unforeseen complications within July’s devoted film fest fan base.

“When you have a German company, you have to be faithful to the Berlin film festival, so when I saw (Match Factory head) Michael Weber in Toronto, I said ‘Oh, this is going to be a problem, isn’t it?,’ ” recalls Sundance director John Cooper. “Because I know that I’m going to love the Miranda July film. She went to our lab and created her first film here. She surprises me all the time, and I’m not easily surprised by film. I just love the poetry of her.” So does Cooper’s friend of two decades, Berlinale head Dieter Kosslick. “With our market label Straight from Sundance, we’ve cooperated for the good of the industry,” he said. “This year is the first time we both documented our cooperation (on a competition entry debuting elsewhere) in our press releases.”

Despite its bizarre subject matter and magical realism, July aimed for “The Future” to affect audiences as profoundly as her feature debut. “I really do want to be understood,” she explains. “The last step is really connecting to other people — I’ve totally failed if that doesn’t happen. That said, I try and stretch that so people understand things that kind of surprise them, where there’s a sense of communion about things that there really shouldn’t be, because they haven’t been spoken about.”

And July hopes her film leaves audiences with a lesson she learned in childhood. “I grew up in a bit of an alternative household, and when I would get kind of down, my dad would say ‘Isn’t sadness kind of interesting?,’ ” she recalls. “It’s a pretty complex feeling, and maybe that’s what I want people to walk away with.”

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