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May 30, 2012/For Immediate Release

Media Contact: Marla Carpenter, 336-770-3337, carpem@uncsa.edu

 UNCSA FILM ALUMNUS TAKES CANNES
BY STORM

Writer/Director Jeff Nichols is lauded for his newest effort, MUD

 


WINSTON-SALEM – At the recent Cannes Film Festival, University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) School of Filmmaking alumnus Jeff Nichols achieved major filmmaker status by competing in the main competition (for the Palme d’Or) and garnering major press for his newest film, MUD, starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon.

 

Though it did not win, the film “is a surefire best picture nominee at next year's Oscars,” said Jason Solomons in the U.K.’s The Guardian.

 

Solomons continued: “MUD takes its name from its lead character, played by Matthew McConaughey, delivering the best performance of his career … as a fugitive holed up on an island in the Mississippi after murdering a rival for his lover Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Mud is wanted by the police and bounty hunters hired by the murdered man's family. He is discovered, however, by two 14-year-old boys, Ellis and Neckbone, who live in houseboats along one of the river's swampy tributaries. They fall under Mud's charismatic spell … .”

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Jeff Nichols

The LA Times said: “At 33 and with just two features under his belt, Nichols came to Cannes as the youngest and least experienced of the North American directors, an estimable group that includes Wes Anderson, Lee Daniels and David Cronenberg. But he emerged with perhaps the best-received film of them all with MUD, a coming-of-age drama graced occasionally by thriller touches. …

 

Nichols may emerge as the true star of the movie, and, in some ways, even one of the breakouts of the festival,” the Times continued. “A niche Sundance-y director just a year ago, the young filmmaker has begun to take his place on a global stage.”

 

Thewrap.com said, “… the aw-shucks director so captivated the media at the film’s news conference that they almost totally ignored the two gorgeous Hollywood A-list stars in his film. … Reporters and photographers screamed ‘Jeff! Jeff!’ after the press conference ended. The director signed more autographs than McConaughey ….”

 

A native of Little Rock, Ark., and resident of Austin, Texas, Nichols received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Directing from UNCSA in 2001. He first emerged on the scene with his critically acclaimed 2007 drama, SHOTGUN STORIES. He reteamed with that film’s star, Michael Shannon, on TAKE SHELTER, an apocalyptic, psychological thriller that premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where it was in the Dramatic Competition. TAKE SHELTER won both the Critics’ Week Grand Prize and the FIPRESCI award at the 2011 Cannes festival.

 

During interviews, Nichols noted that his first time at Cannes was in 2000, when he was studying at UNCSA and won an internship with Kodak at the American Pavilion.

 

Thewrap.com noted: “At the press conference, Nichols also painted an idyllic portrait of being one of the first graduates of the (University of) North Carolina School of the Arts, which is now hard to get into but in Nichols’ day was ‘the place for those of us who couldn’t get into NYU or couldn’t afford it.  It was the best thing that ever happened to us.’

 

“Most of Nichols’ crew is made up of his former classmates.

 

“‘The way you make a movie defines the kind of movie you make,’ he said, “‘and I like being on a set and seeing my buddies over there.’”

 

Peter Debruge in Variety hailed the work of those “buddies,” describing “ …a world fully steeped in the texture of its Arkansas Delta environs without needing to inject the sort of picturesque cutaways d.p. Adam Stone (’99) contributed to David Gordon Green's (‘98) early pics. That tangible sense of place owes largely to the contributions of Green's longtime production designer, Richard A. Wright (‘99), as adept at building houses on water as he is putting boats in trees.

“Stone complements Wright's work by adopting a looser, more organic visual style, collaborating with Steadicam samurai Matthew Petrosky (‘00) to bridge the claustrophobia of ‘civilization’ with open-air footage shot either on water or at the remote island hideout.”

 

Solomons, in The Guardian, concurred: “Writer-director Nichols, working with cinematographer Adam Stone, succeeds in capturing the life and the geography of his locale, its beauty and its dangers, as venomous snakes crawl in the swirling, brown water and local divers fish for oysters and crabs in their own nets.”

 

Thewrap.com quoted Nichols from the MUD press conference: “‘The South is precious and the South is fleeting. It has a particular accent and culture that is fast being homogenized. I wanted to capture a snapshot of that life before it’s over.’”

 

The Associated Press noted that MUD was among several “southern U.S. films” that screened at this year’s festival. It quoted Nichols as saying: "Well? Southerners are good story-tellers."

 

The Cannes Film Festival concluded this past weekend.

As America’s first state-supported arts school, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is a unique stand-alone public university of arts conservatories. With a high school component, UNCSA is a degree-granting institution that trains young people of talent in music, dance, drama, filmmaking, and design and production. Established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, the School of the Arts opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.

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