Director Michael Winterbottom insists he isn't exploiting Meredith Kercher's death with new film The Face of an Angel

 

Less than a week after Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were found guilty of the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher for a second time, a teaser trailer for a new production was creating buzz at the European Film Market in Berlin.

The 32-second clip, released on Tuesday, seemed to show parallels with the sensationalist murder trial; it went viral and was picked up by news sites around the world.

The Face of an Angel is the latest film by acclaimed British director Michael Winterbottom, whose work includes 24 Hour Party People and The Look of Love. Backed by the BBC, it was partly based on Angel Face: Sex, Murder and the Inside Story of Amanda Knox by the journalist Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Yet after the teaser brought some critical response online, the director was keen to explain the motives for making the film and how he had made pains not to upset those close to the case. This included fictionalising the characters and the case.

Winterbottom told The Independent: "Whenever you make a film based on a true story, and I have made a lot of those, you have to deal with it as honestly, accurately and sensitively as you can."

Film magazine Empire described the filmmaker as having "a strong track record in handling true-life stories with care and diligence". Those include Mighty Heart, about the search for the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, and Welcome to Sarajevo, about ITN reporter Michael Henderson in the besieged capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"Our film is trying to get back to the important point that a family has lost their daughter and that is the heart of the story," he continued. "The Kercher family behaved with an incredible amount of dignity through a very difficult situation. We don't want to do anything that would be upsetting to the people close to the case.

'The Face of an Angel' is directed by British director Michael Winterbottom (Getty) 'The Face of an Angel' is directed by British director Michael Winterbottom (Getty)
The Face of an Angel, which stars Kate Beckinsale, Daniel Bruhl and the model Cara Delevingne, looks to use the case to explore the sensationalising of murder trials and society's fascination with violence. "The heart of the story can be lost among the sensational elements, with the soap opera instead going on for years," he said.

"This case is an extreme example of the phenomenon of TV news and newspapers reporting violent crime," Winterbottom said. "There was a huge amount of press attention. Then there were the many books and TV documentaries as well as a TV film."

He said: "Talking to Barbie and others, they were aware they focused on sensational elements that sell. What goes missing is the person who's the victim."

Winterbottom met the Angel Face author two and a half years ago. "I hadn't followed the case that closely and I read her book by chance," the director said. "I thought she was an interesting character and could be a starting point for the way the media treat cases like this." He added that the foreign correspondents in Italy proved to be a parallel "of the story of students from different cultures going to Italy in the first place. It was the starting point".

Knox and Sollecito were found guilty of the murder of Kercher in 2009, but the verdict was overturned in 2011. The acquittal was overturned two years later, and last week the retrial of the murder charge affirmed the verdict of guilty.

First teaser clip for The Face of an Angel:

While the parallels between the cases are stark, the film's characters have been renamed and the setting has been moved from Perugia to Siena, which also attracts foreign students. "The closest any of the main characters in the film are to the real case is the journalist covering the story."

He said that it does not seek to dramatise the events around the murder or impose theories of guilt or innocence. "It doesn't make a call on the real case," he insisted. "The real focus isn't about how did it happen, you never know. There have been various verdicts with different results and talking to journalists who covered the case for years, you find half think 'innocent' and half think 'guilty'."

Shooting on The Face of an Angel finished two weeks ago. The director has not seen a rough assembly of the film yet, let alone the teaser, which was put together by the sales agents to drum up interest at the market in Berlin.

The timing of the trailer shortly after the overturning of the verdicts "is just coincidence", the director said. It is understood there has been interest from distributors. The film will be completed by the summer and Winterbottom hopes it will be released in a year's time.

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