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Cannes Q&A: ‘Cold in July’ Director Jim Mickle

With their preference for world premieres, Cannes programmers are extremely selective about the films they select from the Sundance film festival — which makes it all the more unique that American helmer Jim Mickle is back with “Cold in July,” screening in Directors’ Fortnight a year after his cannibal-movie remake “We Are What We Are.”

Congratulations on being invited back to the Cannes film festival. How does it feel?
I think every filmmaker dreams of having a movie in Cannes. But when you make the decision to make horror films and weird, bloody Texas thrillers that are a little trashy, you don’t think that could happen.

And now you’re back one year later with “Cold in July.” How did you make the film that quickly?
Actually, Cannes is where we got the greenlight to make “Cold in July.” All the money came from France. I think the fact that we were there with a risky cannibal movie helped convince the right people to sign off on this hard-to-define, pulpy Texas movie. After we left Cannes, we started pre-production the day we landed in the U.S. We were shooting by late July, edited through September, and then took the film to Sundance.

Are your films received differently abroad than they are in the States?
I think we get a bit more benefit of the doubt overseas because we are doing something a little different. For instance, our first movie, “Mulberry Street,” premiered at South by Southwest (in Austin, Texas), and people hated it. Critics hated it, bloggers hated it, audiences didn’t know what to think. That was really hard to deal with on my first movie. And then a few months later, the same movie did a loop of European fantastic film festivals, where we got a jury award and great reviews.

What made “Cold in July” such a hard sell?
I come from a very rural small town in Pennsylvania. Growing up, “Blood Simple” really spoke to me, along with movies like “Red Rock West,” “The Hot Spot” and “Angel Heart.” I wanted to make a movie that fell into a subgenre you don’t see anymore — the Southern noir. Also, the thing about (Joe R. Lansdale’s) book is that it sheds its skin every couple of chapters and becomes something different. It’s sort of a living, breathing thing. That’s what we wanted to emulate in the movie, but that makes it hard to pitch.

Just how much time did you spend trying to get this movie made?
I read the book in 2006, and every summer we said, “This is the summer we’re going to shoot ‘Cold in July,’” but it was so difficult to put everything in place, saved only by the fact that we were able to do two other movies in that time. In a way, I think the wait was good. For example, there’s a climactic scene that I had always wanted to do as a four-minute-long action sequence with no cuts, but we got that (single-shot stunt) out of our system with “Stakeland.” Coming off “We Are What We Are,” which tries to lull you into a sense of discomfort, the point was to do something that’s the exact opposite, that starts with a bullet and is a complete roller-coaster train ride from there.

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