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Terrence Malick's Disciple Flies With His Own Wings: A.J. Edwards on His Sundance Drama 'The Better Angels'

Photo of Carlos Aguilar By Carlos Aguilar | SydneysBuzz January 30, 2014 at 2:20PM

Greatly experienced at wearing many hats for most of the recent Terrence Malick projects, debutant director A.J. Edwards recently premiered his own first feature at the Sundance Film Festival. Starring Jason Clarke, Brit Marling, and Diane Kruger, his film "The Better Angels" is an ethereal retelling of Abraham Lincoln's early life in Indiana. Captivating and breathtakingly beautiful, Malick's influence on Edwards' imagery is indelible throughout the film; yet, it is clear that despite the evident connections he strived to imprint his own vision into the project. Utilizing light and silence as his strongest tools to craft visual poetry, Edwards' historical drama is sure to cement him as one of the most interesting voices to come of this year's festival and one to keep an eye on in the near future.
The Better Angels

"The Better Angels" played in the New Frontier section at Sundance, which is usually reserved for works that don't fit any traditional parameters. Do you think it fit with the rest of the films there?

I was really flattered that it was placed in the New Frontier category considering the description of the work there: boundary-pushing, forward-thinking, progressive in terms of the cinematic and artistic integrity of the project. I sure hope that it was included deservingly because I was very pleased to see that they thought the description matched the picture.

Did you ever feel any pressure making a film of this magnitude as your debut feature as a writer/director?

The Better Angels

I think that in retrospective my naiveté was my strength. This being my first picture I definitely did bite off a lot to chew, tackling a historical subject with such a large and impressive cast. There were definitely y some challenges, but I think everyone's was so up to it, they were devoted to the material, they were excited by the meaning we were going for that it came together well. Also the four incredible producers of the picture, which I'm very grateful to, Charlie, Nick, Jake, and of, course Mr. Malick. We were lucky.

Speaking of Terrence Malick, how do you feel about all the comparisons and all the mentioned of his name in relation to your project?

I'm very flattered by them. For a filmmaker to be compared to him is like first-time author being compared to James Joyce. I think some of them are a little surprising because of what a master and a legend he is, but at the same time I hope the film has its own voice, its own legs to stand on. The uniqueness of the picture relies on the subject matter itself, and I think there are many new ideas, which Mr. Malick hasn't explored in his material. Also, the soulfulness and the brilliance of the cast, I keep returning to that because I'm so proud of both the adult players as well as the fresh-faced children, which had never acted before. All these different worlds coming together create one complete authentic and believable one. They did an outstanding job in creating a multi-faceted, emotional story that I think is so important to today's audience.

How was your experience coming to Sundance as a filmmaker and premiering your film here?

The Better Angels

It was my fist time there, and of course I went into the premiere with some butterflies in my stomach but the audience turned out to be very warm and receptive. I really enjoyed the dialogue we had afterwards. I'm specially grateful to Trevor Groth, and all the programmers involved in the selection of my picture at New Frontier, and of course Mr. Redford who was very kind beforehand.

What is next for you? Will you follow up with another period piece or historical drama?

I'm working on a contemporary picture that takes place in central Texas. It is a redemption story and I'm planning on beginning shooting that this fall.

This article is related to: The Better Angels, Terrence Malick, Interviews, Sundance 2014, Sundance Film Festival

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