American Animals: Ole Bratt Birkeland riffs off classic heist movies
Lifting its title from a line in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, American Animalsis a rare breed indeed. In recounting the unlikeliest of art thefts, the film has a wholly unique DNA, blending documentary and drama, indie-style naturalism and heist-movie tropes, anamorphic and spherical lensing. “On its own, the story was good but not amazing, but it presented an opportunity to find a new way of telling a true story,” says British writer/director Bart Layton of the central event, one of the most audacious art thefts in recent times.
In 2004, four students from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, broke into the library’s special collections room in broad daylight to steal its most priceless books: that Darwin tome, Audubon’s Birds of America, and other rare manuscripts. It wasn’t for love or money; all four came from caring, financially comfortable families. The students were simply adrift in the malaise of youth, and this was their misguided search for identity.
When Layton read about the theft—first in the news, then in a Vanity Fair piece—his instincts as a longtime documentarian kicked in. […]
Published in the June 2018 issue of American Cinematographer.