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Weekly Director Profile: Brett Haley

By Elizabeth MacLeod | Film | June 12, 2017 |

By Elizabeth MacLeod | Film | June 12, 2017 |

Brett Haley is an American writer and director who was born in Danville, Illinois, but raised in the Florida cities of Key West and Pensacola. In 2001 he attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Filmmaking, with a concentration in Directing. After graduating in 2005 Haley got some experience under his belt and directed a multitude of shorts, The Life and Death of Jimmy Katz (2005), The Ridge (2005), Sprinkler (2005), Seconds (2006), More Abandon (2007), before tackling his first first feature length film.

The New Year

Haley’s feature debut The New Year (2010), with a screenplay written by his sister-in-law Elizabeth Kennedy, debuted at the Sarasota film Festival and won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. The film is about a young woman named Sunny (Trieste Kelly Dunn), who left school and returned home to care for her sick father (Marc Petersen), and is forced to reexamine her life when her high school rival Isaac (Ryan Hunter) returns home for the holidays. The New Year is an adequate debut, a low-key film examining small-town malaise and deferred dreams through a mumblecore lens.

I’ll See You In My Dreams

Haley made two more shorts, A Night Out (2010) and Three (2012) before premiering his second full length feature I’ll See You In My Dreams (2015) at the Sundance Film Festival. Starring an impressive cast of excellently aged actors, including Blythe Danner (Husbands and Wives), Sam Elliot (The Big Lebowski) and June Squibb (Nebraska), the film follows the follows a widow and former singer (Danner) who decides to shake up her lonely life and forms relationships with two very different men (Martin Starr, Elliot). I’ll See You in My Dreams was one of 2015’s summer art-house hits, making nearly $7.5 million in the box office. The film’s success, made even more impressive by the recent hemorrhaging of art-house cinema and that it didn’t feature “mainstream” stars, definitely raised Haley’s profile.

The Hero

Aging Western icon Lee Hayden (Sam Elliot), is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and tries to reconcile with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) while striking up a new relationship with a younger woman (Laura Prepon). The film premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and has received strong reviews, with Sam Elliot’s performance being singled out as understated and excellent. The Hero will be released June 9th, 2017.

Brett Haley appears to have settled into a sweet spot of making films about the rich and layered lives of people in their twilight years. I’ll See You In My Dreams’ box office proved that audiences, in particular the older audiences who are the lion’s share of art-house cinema patrons, still crave intelligent and insightful films that don’t fit the four-quadrant formula. Haley could comfortably build a career in making films for the older art-house crowd that counter-program the glut of superhero and boom-boom-boom 3D explosion films that have overtaken the cineplexes.

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