BY GENE TRIPLETT
A big-screen crime thriller shot primarily in Oklahoma in spring 2009 with Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson and Casey Affleck in the lead roles has kicked up controversy at the Sundance Film Festival for its reportedly graphic and “ultra-real” depiction of violence against its female characters.
But Oklahoma Film and Music Office Director Jill Simpson said audience reaction to the film “The Killer Inside Me” was “split” during a question and answer session with director Michael Winterbottom following the movie’s premiere screening at the Park City, Utah event.
“There was a lady who was one of the first people to ask a question and then she basically was very vocal in her protest of the film and then got up and walked out and people were booing her,” said Simpson, who attended the screening.
There were also reports that Alba herself got up and walked out of the theater in the middle of the film, but Simpson said the actress had to leave early to catch a flight back to Los Angeles.
“That was predetermined before she got there, that she had to go back,” Simpson said. “So she came and was onstage before the film and then she had to go back to Los Angeles. I don’t know what the details were.”
The film is based on a novel by Anadarko-born pulp fiction writer Jim Thompson, about a West Texas deputy sheriff (played by Affleck) whose dull personality masks the mind of a sadistic serial killer.
Thompson was known for stark, noir-style stories told from a criminal point of view, including “The Getaway” and “The Grifters,” both of which became successful motion pictures.
Winterbottom reportedly defended “The Killer Inside Me” during the festival Q&A, saying, “It’s not only just about what a killer is like or how a killer behaves. It’s also kind of a very dramatic version of how we all are.”
Simpson admitted finding some of the more violent scenes in the film unexpectedly disturbing.
“It is violent and what I will say about that is it’s very true to the original novel,” Simpson said. “And when I read the script I compared the script page by page to the original book and in my mind it’s very hundred percent in keeping with the novel down to the dialogue.
“I think what people are taking exception to is the way it was shot, which I think even I was surprised in a few scenes,” she said. “But it’s not my job. What we’re here to do is administer the (Oklahoma film incentive) rebate program and basically we don’t have creative authority over the films that are shot here.”
The feature was filmed in Guthrie, Tulsa, Enid, Oklahoma City and Cordell in May and June 2009. A few exterior scenes were filmed in New Mexico. It is the first major motion picture shot almost entirely in Oklahoma since the box office hit “Twister,” which was filmed here in 1996.
Winterbottom has also directed the films “A Mighty Heart” and “24 Hour Party People.”
Simpson said “The Killer Inside Me” was a “hot ticket” at Sundance, playing to packed houses during its first two screenings on Sunday and Monday. However, some critics who saw the film have said its graphic violence may prevent it from finding a major distributor.
“I don’t think the film is rated yet, and it’ll be interesting to see if they still have to go the route of getting North American distribution,” Simpson said. “They have sold foreign territories but they did Sundance and they’re going to Berlin so it could be there will be some editing going on.”
Two of the film’s poducers, Chris Hanley and Jordan Gertner, joined Simpson in representing Oklahoma on a Sundance panel discussion billed as “Practical Considerations and Conversations with Film Commissioners and Filmmakers Regarding Accessing Film Incentives.”
Holdenville native filmmaker Sterlin Harjo also represented Oklahoma on one of the Sundance juries. Harjo made his directorial debut with “Four Sheets to the Wind” at the festival in 2007, and his second feature, “Barking Water,” premiered at the festival in 2009.
Another Oklahoman making his directorial debut at the 16th annual Slamdance Film Festival, held simultaneously with Sundance at Park City, was Tulsan Jerry Lamberton, presenting his documentary “Biker Fox.” The film follows Frank P. DeLarzelere III, Tulsa’s self-proclaimed “misunderstood motivational bicyclist, nature conservationist and muscle car guru.”