Sundance: ‘A Teacher’s’ Hannah Fidell makes the grade

Fidell says film deals with how easy it is to 'cross that line'

Who: Hannah Fidell, writer-director-producer
What: “A Teacher”
Where: Press and Industry screening at 5:30 p.m. at Prospector Square

Hannah Fidell was working a part-time job at a restaurant in order to subsidize her filmmaking when a young high school boy walked in and sparked the idea for “A Teacher,” which stars Lindsay Burdge as an educator who has an affair with one of her students and suffers the consequences of that decision.

“I thought it would make for an interesting story to see how someone such as myself could perhaps potentially cross that line,” said Fidell, who made it clear that she “used the film to explore those feelings.”

While Fidell and Burdge previously worked together on the 2010 drama “We’re Glad You’re Here,” her new film is really her feature-length directorial debut.

“I studied film theory in college, but ‘We’re Glad’ was really my film school. I made all my mistakes then and have been learning ever since,” explained Fidell, who considers her leading lady a friend in real life.

“When I told Lindsay about this idea, she immediately said, ‘don’t cast anyone else.’ We knew what kind of movie we wanted to do, which was really a specific, one character-driven, internal conflict-type story. Yes, there is sex, but really it’s about this woman’s particular unraveling that comes to a head as the relationship ends,” said Fidell, who like Burdge, has never attended Sundance before.

“I’m excited to see everyone who worked on the film back in one place. They’re kind of like family at this point.”

Fidell shot “A Teacher” Shooting on digital with the RED camera, Fidell filmed “A Teacher” at the University of Texas at Austin, where 21 year-old co-star Will Brittain was a student. When Fidell found out her film got into Sundance, she said it felt like winning the lottery. “Obviously, everyone hopes it will happen, but it was just a relief. I’m just trying to use this entire experience in order to make the next film, and whatever can help me do that is in my best interest.”

Eager to return behind the camera, Fidell acknowledged that she’s still learning the business of the movie business, particularly when it comes to emerging business models. “It’s all new to me. I’m open to anything, but because of the fact that the film doesn’t have any known cast, that might make it not as hot of a title on VOD,” said Fidell, who is pulling for a theatrical release.

While Fidell is looking forward making new contacts and attending various parties at Sundance, the bash she’s most excited for is her own. She told Variety that she “wants to do it all at Sundance,” but that won’t include hitting the slopes. “My parents have a running joke where if either of them even mentions skiing, the marriage is void,” joked the filmmaker, who plans to see a few movies if time permits.

“I want to see ‘Blue Caprice’ because I grew up in Maryland and was a senior in high school when that happened, so it was a very real part of my entry into adulthood — learning to live with that all-encompassing fear post-9/11. I’m excited to see ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ too because I know the guys who made it and they’re good guys,” said Fidell, who described herself as Michael Haneke’s biggest fan and said she’d like to emulate Cary Fukunaga’s career.

Fidell is repped by Brillstein Entertainment Partners and recently signed with ICM Partners, which is selling domestic rights to “A Teacher” at Sundance.

“A Teacher” screens as part of the NEXT lineup on Sunday (5:30 p.m. at Prospector Square), Monday (3:00 p.m. at Broadway Centre Cinema 6 in Salt Lake City), Tuesday (3:00 p.m. at Temple Theatre), Friday the 25th (11:30 a.m. at the Library) and Saturday the 26th (Noon at the Sundance Resort).

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