It's a rare treat for a first-time filmmaker to have a feature screened at Sundance, and rarer still for his or her work to receive an award from the prestigious festival. This year's edition wasn't Macon Blair's first time at a festival (he has, after all, starred in films like Green Room and Blue Ruin), but it was his first time as a director. Starring Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, his violent and comedic thriller I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore took home the prestigious Grand Jury Prize at this year's festival.
"It was fucking berserk man," Blair tells Exclaim! of his experience at Sundance. "Frankly, I was astonished that we got in, in the first place. I love this movie, it's my child. But I'm also hyper-critical of it, and all I can see when I watch it are the mistakes that I made. So I was astonished that we got in, I was astonished that it got set up in the competition section."
When it played on the festival's opening night, Blair was nervous about the audience's reception but quickly relieved when they laughed and jumped at all the right parts. Still, he never thought he'd win an award.
"I went into the award ceremony feeling very relaxed because I just felt there were so many great films there," he recalls. "I felt very assured that I would not have to get up on the stage and say anything. I was thinking that I could just go and hang out and have some free beer. I was very astonished to be called up onstage at the end there."
While he was working on Green Room, Blair vocalized his desire to direct. "I had been focusing on writing and acting for the last decade or so, and I just mentioned sort of casually that this is something I want to do in the next couple of years," he recalls.
Producers at Film Science asked for a first look at Blair's screenplay, and eventually Netflix and XYZ Films came on board.
In the film, Lynskey and Wood form an unlikely bond when they decide to hunt down some petty thieves. As the story unfolds, things become increasingly ridiculous — and violent — with occasional gore that will feel familiar to those who've seen Blair in Saulnier's films. For Blair, the shifting tone was only natural.
"I don't think it was deliberate, wanting to mash up genres," he says. "I think I was sort of planning for the eventuality that it's just a film that you only get to do this one time. So what are all the boxes you want to check off? I knew I wanted to do a crime movie, I wanted to do a kind of friendship/romance movie, I wanted it to be funny. It was mainly about wanting to have these sort of different feelings but be able to do them all in one movie for fear that if I put off the comedy for later on I may not be able to have that opportunity."
Fortunately for Blair, the success of I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore means he'll have plenty more opportunities behind the camera. In fact, he's already got another comedic romp in pre-production and we can surely expect it to be another wickedly satisfying hit.
Blair's projects are enjoyable to watch because he's enjoying himself so much as he makes them. As he puts it, "Whether it's directing or writing or acting, the whole point for me of wanting to work in movies was just about trying to find a way to support my family and pay the bills doing what we did for fun as kids — run around the neighbourhood with a video camera and make movies."
I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore is out today (February 24) on Netflix.