James Schamus Directing Debut ‘Indignation’ Wins Over Sundance Audience

Sundance 2016: The premiere audience cheered for the quiet film about a precocious college student in Ohio in the 1950s

Indignation Sundance

Veterans of independent film greeted “Indignation,” the directing debut of James Schamus about a young intellectual butting heads with life, with cheering and enthusiastic applause at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday night.

Based on the book by Philip Roth, “Indignation” stars Logan Lerman as a precocious college student at Winesburg University in Ohio in the 1950s. Marcus (Lerman) is escaping the working class reality of his New Jersey parents, a kosher butcher and housewife, via a college scholarship.

But he soon finds himself butting heads with the head of the university over religious matters (Marcus is a militant atheist), while discovering the mysteries of sex with the beautiful but fragile Olivia (Sara Gadon).

The whole movie is worth seeing for a brutal, brilliant scene between the dean of the college, played by a wonderfully smug Tracy Letts, and Marcus. The scene goes on for something close to 10 minutes, as Marcus pushes back against the dean challenging his character, his spiritual beliefs, his dating life.

The end of the scene ended with the audience breaking out into cheers.

“It was hard stuff,” Letts said at the q&a after the screening.

“That scene was such a gift,” said Lerman. “I spent months worrying about it.”

Schamus was visibly moved at the q&a when a cast member read a complimentary email from Philip Roth, thanking Schamus for making such faithful adaptation of his book.

The movie is for sale, and a number of buyers – notably from Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions – loitered in the lobby after the screening.

Schamus, the former longtime chief of Focus Features, once made movies like “Brokeback Mountain” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It seems he has now proved he knows how to direct movies of quality too.

“There is not relationship between how much fun you have making a movie and whether it’s good,” Schamus admitted to the crowd. “But this has been a pure joy.”