Quasi-Western a rarity for film fest

Who: Logan Miller, writer/director and Noah Miller, writer
What: “Sweetwater”
Where: Saturday at the Sundance Resort at 9:00 p.m.

Sibling filmmakers Logan and Noah Miller come to Sundance for the first time with “Sweetwater,” a quasi-Western that they describe as “a dark and twisted blood triangle set in the late 1800s in New Mexico territory that revolves around a fanatical religious leader, a renegade sheriff and a former prostitute turned farmer’s wife, whose three stories collide in a violent tale of retribution.”

Westerns are all too rare at Sundance, with the last notable oater to screen at the fest being John Hillcoat’s “The Proposition” in 2006. For their part, the Millers tried to subvert genre expectations as far as Westerns go. “Western is such a sacred genre. We never viewed it as a western, it’s a blood triangle There are no swinging saloon doors, it just happened to take place in that setting,” explained the duo.

“The script was sent to us two years ago. We were brought on to rewrite and to see if we could get Ed Harris attached, because he did our first movie, ‘Touching Home.’ After we rewrote the script, we sent it to Ed. He read it Thursday night and called us Friday morning and said he was in. We also heard he said ‘if they’re not directing than I’m not interested.’ He helped shepherd the project along in many ways and made hundreds of phone calls to crew and talent. You can’t find an actor who doesn’t respect Ed, he’s a talent magnet, and we were lucky to have him as our champion and mentor.”

The Millers were born in northern California, where both grew up playing baseball. “Baseball is a team sport and making movies is a team art. You just try to assemble the best people around you to help you realize your vision. We didn’t have a clue how movies were made, we just bought a book on how to write screenplays and started writing. Over six or seven years, we became devoted to educating ourselves. We love movies and we’re just trying to figure out a way to make them. You never know what you have an aptitude for until you try it.”

It’s the brothers’ first time at Sundance and they’re very excited, they say, because “we know what it’s like to not have a movie get in.” Duo finished the movie eight days before the festival, and when asked if they’re nervous, the siblings laugh and confess, “we haven’t had time to be nervous,” said the Millers, who have earned a vacation after their last seven months of hard work. They took advantage of a tax break to film in New Mexico for 23 days before heading down to New Orleans to edit the movie and returning to Los Angeles to finish the sound mix.

Kevin Iwashina of Preferred Content is selling “Sweetwater” at Sundance, and while the Millers praised distribs like Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Company, Focus Features and Sony Pictures Classics for being companies that put their full weight behind a movie and show special care for indie films, in the end, it comes down to the best deal for the film.

“We want the movie to be seen theatrically. We shot on film, so you want it seen in theater as much as possible, especially with the New Mexico landscape. But ultimately, you want to get someone who cares about the movie and is going to give it as big a life as possible. You want it to make sense for the movie,” explained the Millers, who are hoping for a classic release pattern. “You dream about having your movie roll out in theaters.”

“Sweetwater” also screens on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City.

One in a series of profiles on filmmakers and talent from the Sundance Film Festival 2013.

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