Magazine article Screen International

Bart Layton Talks Genre-Defying Sundance Premiere ‘American Animals’

Magazine article Screen International

Bart Layton Talks Genre-Defying Sundance Premiere ‘American Animals’

Article excerpt

Screen speaks to the director and producer of heist drama.

American Animals, UK filmmaker Bart Layton’s second feature, is, he hopes, genre-defying. The story of four US college students who make off with rare, covetable art books from a university library in Kentucky in 2004, it would be easy to describe it as a heist movie based on a true story.

But Layton’s aim was for American Animals to transcend easy categorisation and challenge audience expectations of truth and fiction on screen. “I wanted to explore the idea of whether there is a new or a slightly different way of telling a true story that is definitely not a documentary but includes some non-fiction elements,” Layton says.

Speaking ahead of the film’s premiere today (Jan 19) in US Dramatic Competition at Sundance Film Festival, Layton is at pains not to give too much away before an audience sees it for the first time. “In this version you are constantly aware it is a true story and because of that you have more skin in the game and you have to lean in in a slightly different way,” he says.

Sundance return

Layton is back at Sundance six years after The Imposter debuted at the festival, a feature documentary that probed the concept of identity by telling a ‘stranger-than-fiction’ true story in a cinematic way. (It went on to win Layton a Bafta for best British debut.)

In 2013, he was selected to participate in the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, followed by the Director’s Lab in 2015, working both times on American Animals. The film is Layton’s first with actors and a screenplay. He was interested in how the young thieves were directly inspired and informed by the plots of heist movies such as Ocean’s Eleven and Guy Ritchie’s Snatch.

“There’s a point in the story and the movie where they become slightly detached from reality and possibly are closer to living out a movie fantasy than they are in touch with the reality and the consequences of their actions,” he explains.

American Animals stars a quartet of rising actors - Evan Peters and Blake Jenner from the US, Canadian Jared Abrahamson and Dublin-born Barry Keoghan, a 2015 Screen Star of Tomorrow - as the four disaffected, middle-class boys who steal rare art books, including a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species from a university library in Kentucky. …

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