IFC Films is re-teaming with “The Babadook” filmmaker Jennifer Kent on “The Nightingale,” a period thriller that will have its North American debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The deal is for U.S. rights and comes after “The Nightingale” won the Special Jury Prize at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival.
The film follows a 21-year-old Irish convict named Clare who struggles to be free from an abusive master, Lieutenant Hawkins, after she finishes her seven-year sentence in 1820s Tasmania. After Hawkins commits a horrible crime against Clare’s family she is forced to pursue through the punishing wilderness with the help of Billy, a young Aboriginal tracker.
“The film is a study on violence and what a violent mind and therefore a violent society can do to damage the human spirit,” Kent told Variety. “It’s about how we can evolve through and beyond that violence. For me ‘The Nightingale’ is about love — not in a schmaltzy way — but its power to allow us to evolve as human beings.”
Kent said she opted to reunite with IFC because she had a positive experience working with the indie label on “The Babadook,” a twisty 2014 horror film that grossed more than $10 million globally and scored critical raves.
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“For independent filmmakers these days it’s so important to find someone who will protect the work you do,” she said. “I was so happy with the way that IFC protected ‘The Babadook’ and guided it to the right audience.”
In addition to the special jury honor, “The Nightingale” earned the Marcello Mastroianni award for Best New Young Performer for Baykali Ganambarr, who portrays Billy. It also earned strong reviews, with Variety’s Guy Lodge praising Kent for delivering “a both-barrels-blazing statement of intent from a filmmaker determined not to be limited or labeled by the popular meme-ification of her debut, with the muscular formal grasp to match her ambitious reach.”
IFC will give the film a theatrical release at some point in the summer.
“We’re looking for the best date to position the movie,” said Arianna Bocco EVP of Acquisitions and Productions of IFC Films. “It’s a movie that’s going to start a lot of conversations.”
In a statement to Variety, Lisa Schwartz, co-president of IFC Films said, “‘The Babadook’ was one of our most successful acquisitions at IFC and we could not be happier to continue our partnership with Jennifer on her next feature. She is undoubtedly one of the most talented writer/directors working today and we can’t wait to share ‘The Nightingale’ with audiences across the country.”
Kent said she was determined to find a distributor who would commit to giving “The Nightingale” a robust rollout.
“They’re not doing it as a token gesture,” said Kent. “It’s something they’re committed to doing and in this day and age when there’s so much online content, it can be hard to get someone who will make sure audiences have the opportunity to see your film on the big screen.”
“The Nightingale” stars Aisling Franciosi (“Game of Thrones”), Sam Claflin (“The Hunger Games”), and Ganambarr. Kent wrote and produced the film in addition to directing it. It is produced by Kristina Ceyton, Bruna Papandrea, and Steve Hutensky, and executive produced by Brenda Gilbert, Jason Cloth, Aaron L. Gilbert, Ben Browning, and Alison Cohen.
“The Nightingale” will screen in the “Spotlight Section” at Sundance, the section for films that have debuted in other festivals. Bocco said IFC believes that the Utah gathering is an important venue to screen the film.
“It had a great premiere in Venice, but that was primarily for international critics,” she said. “We want to re-introduce this film to audiences and position it as a must-see release in this country.”
“The Nightingale” is a Causeway Films and Made Up Stories production with principal production investment from Screen Australia in association with Bron Creative, and financed with support from Screen Tasmania, South Australian Film Corporation, Kojo Productions and the Adelaide Film Festival. IFC bought the film from Bron Creative and negotiated the deal with Endeavor Content. FilmNation Entertainment is handling international sales.