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Cannes 2013: For 'Blue Ruin' helmer, a new path to career-building

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CANNES, France--Most of the attention at the Cannes Film Festival this week centers on the big names--Nicolas Refn, Alexander Payne, James Gray.

But the springtime cinema gathering can sometimes makes room for someone a little different. Someone, say, like Jeremy Saulnier, a little-known director who, at 36, has used a little pluck and plenty of Kickstarter to defy the stereotypes of the world's most prestigious (and expensive) festival.

CHEAT SHEET: Cannes Film Festival 2013 trailers

Saulnier's new film, his follow-up to the modestly performing 2007 genre comedy “Murder Party,” premieres Saturday in the Director's Fortnight section, where it is expected to draw attention both for its unusual genesis and unlikely genre spin.

A revenge drama called "Blue Ruin," Saulnier’s film centers on a homeless man (Macon Blair) who sets out to kill the person who murdered his parents but winds up starting an unfortunate chain reaction instead. Unlike most revenge thrillers, the movie--as filmgoers will see and no doubt Tweet about Saturday—offers a revenge kill  20 minutes in before setting down its true narrative path, making it a study in the price of justice as much as a vendetta narrative.

Thanks to the democratizing advantages of crowdfunding, Saulnier is showing an alternative path to the normally elite precincts of the Cannes Film Festival.  The film isn't like most here, which are financed lavishly by foreign distributors, Hollywood studios or government film funds.

Saulnier and his wife liquidated their retirement accounts, refinanced their home and ran up well over a $100,000 in credit-card debt to make the movie. But the real key came when, needing tens of thousands of dollars to trigger cast and crew deals, Saulnier put his project on Kickstarter. He raised the necessary $35,000 in a matter of weeks.

"My wife was the biggest reason I made this movie, because she pushed me to do it when I was doubting myself. But Kickstarter is a close second," the director said.

Saulnier was sitting at a table at this city’s landmark Grand Hotel, where industry movers-and-shakers seal deals over glistening bottles of rose late into the night. As he talked about his film, Saulnier betrayed a newcomer's surprise at the trappings many veterans take for granted. “Eight Euros? For a small bottle of sparkling water?” he said, his eyes nearly popping out.

Unlike the directors who stay at suites in the glamorous old hotels that line the Boulevard de Croisette, Saulnier is bunking with his producers and crew at an apartment near the train station. They found the place online and were grateful when they arrived and it turned out not to have been an Internet scam. (This was not the case on their first day of shooting “Blue Ruin,” when an online payment for a location had a...less happy ending.)

Already "Blue Ruin" has drawn the attention of the international sales company Memento Films, which is representing the movie to distributors at Cannes. Saulnier is trying to keep his attitude healthy—not expecting too much, but trying to enjoy the moment.

"Even if we make no money, I can just have a career," he said. He paused. "And I can go to nice restaurants when I get home."

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