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Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #27: James Ponsoldt Aims to Dignify the Teen Genre With ‘The Spectacular Now’

Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #27: James Ponsoldt Aims to Dignify the Teen Genre With 'The Spectacular Now'

Last year was James Ponsoldt’s first year with a feature at Sundance. “Smashed” opened to generously positive reviews, landing it an October release and even some votes for star Mary Elizabeth Winstead on a few critics’ end-of-year Best Performance ballots. A Columbia grad (“May in the Summer” writer/director Cherien Dabis was a classmate) and an Athens, GA native, Ponsoldt returns to Park City with a competition film in back-to-back years. This time, instead of young adults fighting through alcoholism, the director’s attention has turned to struggles and triumphs of teenagers.

What It’s About: “‘The Spectacular Now’ is an honest but unlikely love story about the inner lives of teenagers — for people who dismiss most ‘teen films.'”

Now What It’s REALLY About: “The film is based on a stunning, National Book Award-nominated novel by Tim Tharp. The story focuses on Sutter Keely — an 18 year old who doesn’t take life too seriously, has a nice adolescent “live in the moment” philosophy, and worships his absent father. He meets a girl named Aimee who challenges everything he believes — about kindness, sincerity, love, sex, the future, and the dynamics of male-female relationships.

“The film is honest and romantic and funny and unsentimental and timeless and hopefully will resonate with everyone who has had their heart broken (or broke hearts) as a teenager.

Biggest Challenge?: “Like most independent films, our production was so, so limited with shooting time. Our shoot was very ambitious — with car accidents, sex scenes, and long tracking shots. Also, we shot in Athens, Georgia (my hometown) in August, so there were thunderstorms and 100 degree weather. The heat was insane. It’s a sweaty film!”

What I Shot On: “Panavision Millenium XL and a Panavision Platinum (we shot on anamorphic 35 mm).”

What I Want Audiences To Remember: I hope audiences feel something. I hope they relate. I hope they take the lives of these characters as seriously as I do. The term ‘teen film’ can be used pejoratively, and I hope we make some tiny step towards dignifying the genre. This is a film about teenagers — but the film’s value system isn’t adolescent.

Films Used for Inspiration: The Last Picture Show, A Swedish Love Story, Say Anything, Splendor In the Grass, Breaking Away, Antoine and Colette

In the Works: Writing, writing, writing.

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on January 17 for the latest profiles.

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