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‘I Origins’ Helmer Mike Cahill Talks Science and Sequels as Sci-fi Pic Prepares to Open Karlovy Vary

Variety speaks to writer-director Mike Cahill, whose sci-fi mystery “I Origins” opens the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival on Friday.

The pic, which was purchased by Fox Searchlight for worldwide distribution, stars Michael Pitt as a young scientist whose work investigates the human eye. His research leads him to the discovery of links between the human physiognomy and psyche, with implications bordering on the mystical. The film, which also stars Brit Marling and Astrid Berges-Frisbey, received Sundance’s Alfred P. Sloan Prize, as did Cahill’s previous pic, the science-themed “Another Earth” in 2011. Cahill is now preparing a sequel to “I Origins.”

What makes you continue to create films like “Another Earth” and “I Origins?”
I’m most interested in movies that fulfill an existential fantasy of ours, and I love romance. So it’s kind of a combination of the two. Love is very important and citing the fear of death is also fundamental. I like narratives in which our existential fantasies are fulfilled.

Are you interested in the sciences?
I’m obsessed with science and science fiction. Scientists are my role models in life. People get really excited to meet a celebrity — I get very excited to meet a scientist. I think what scientists are doing are asking the big questions, like “Why are we here?” “What is this all about?” We’re a blip — you’re born, you’re a teenager, you’re middle-aged, you’re dead — and then that’s like 100 years, but the universe is 13.7 billion years. So I need to know why we are here. I don’t want to be known, I want to be engaged with the big questions, and so probably every film I’ll ever make will try and tackle the big questions through science or sci-fi.

What can audiences expect from “I Origins?”
I think they will be very surprised. The movie starts off as if it were an indie, small movie. As it goes midway through, and to the third act, the movie gets bigger in scope. It’s still intimate, but it’s bigger in theme. It’s bigger in global repercussion, if you will.

Were there any challenges?
The biggest challenge was keeping it true to the scientific practice, while also keeping it entertaining. I wanted it to be authentic. I wanted them to feel like real scientists. I wanted the work they were doing to be legitimate and reflect the reality, and yet at the same time, do so in an entertaining way, and to depict scientists as real people and not as the cliché that they end up often portrayed.

When writing the script did you do a lot of research?
Absolutely. 100%. I spent so much time researching. I spent countless hours in the lab working with scientists learning how to extract DNA. My family is comprised of scientists, so I have a fortunate in to the scientific world. And also, I’m just crawling my way into any talk or lecture just to learn. I think science offers new frontiers and artists are trying to convey emotions, new emotions, rare emotions to try and transmit them to the audience, and science offers a really wonderful new landscape to tell stories and it will continue for the rest of our lives, and that’s so beautiful.

Future projects?
I’m working on a sequel to “I Origins” and I’m working on a movie about aliens. The sequel takes place about 20 years into the future after the repercussions of Dr. Ian Gray’s discoveries take hold. If you stay to the end of (“I Origins”) and watch the post-credits, there’s a teaser of what is to come.

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