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Five Questions with Arbitrage Director Nicholas Jarecki

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This Friday, Roadside Attractions releases Nicholas Jarecki’s debut feature, Arbitrage. The following interview was originally published on the eve of the film’s Sundance Film Festival premiere.

Currently best known for his documentary The Outsider, Nicholas Jarecki is poised for reevaluation with Arbitrage, his narrative directorial debut. Jarecki spent a long time ruminating over what kind of story he wanted to tell, ultimately deciding on a thriller set within a world he knew quite a bit about. Set amidst today’s tumultuous economic terrain, Arbitrage considers the ethics of a hedge-fund mogul. The film has already garnered attention thanks to its A-list ensemble, but Jarecki hopes his script will force audiences to continue thinking even after the credits finish rolling.

Filmmaker: Your film is a suspense thriller, but also about a man’s morality. How do you categorize the movie? Is it a cinematic ride, a character study, or a snapshot of the American financial landscape?

Jarecki: Arbitrage is a dramatic thriller about a desperate man who must do whatever it takes to stay alive. It’s also an erotically charged, luxurious ride through high and low and the gray areas of contemporary New York morality. Six characters interweave as they all confront the same basic question: will you give up the power you love to hang on to your last shred of humanity?

Filmmaker: You worked with Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta, and Monica Raymund. Can you speak about working with such a large, talented ensemble cast of actors?

Jarecki: I felt lucky every day I went to work with the gifted group that came together for this movie. They taught me an enormous amount; together we went on a real journey of discovery through a one-month rehearsal process. We explored the characters, toured the stock exchange, got drunk, and rewrote the script by acting out scenes in my apartment like crazy people– we came together as a family. When we hit the set, we were confident enough in our ideas and comfortable enough trusting each other to be able to take risks in the moment. There’s nothing more a director can hope for.

Filmmaker: What motivated you to tell this story?

Jarecki: I always dreamed of being a movie director and early experience taught me I’d have to write my way in– after 11 scripts I finally focused in personally and seized upon a world with which I was intimately familiar and characters who continuously fascinated me. I knew a lot about finance since I owned my own business and both of my parents were at one time commodities traders. During 2009 I read a lot about the financial crisis and I asked myself– how did the world turn upside down? Who are the people in charge? What personal problems do they have and what do they do when they’re in over their head? Then I thought of the character of Robert Miller and I asked myself what I would do if I were him– and from there I got lucky because the story began to write itself.

Filmmaker: What was the hardest part of putting Arbitrage together?

Jarecki: Bringing together the right group of artists to make the film more than a screenplay. Beyond getting the financing together (which wasn’t actually all that tough as some great supporters showed up on the scene), it was the luck of connecting with the right like-minded cast and crew that elevated the film to something I hope is cinematic. If I hadn’t found my team, Arbitrage would have stayed ink on chopped-up trees.

Filmmaker: Your narrative directorial debut is premiering at Sundance. How do you feel?

Jarecki: Honored to be a part of a great tradition that celebrates independent thinking and the free flow of ideas. Exhausted since I finished the sound mix yesterday at midnight. Excited for what is to come.

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