A few months back I was fortunate enough to meet up with a powerfully friendly Spaniard called Nacho Vigalondo. He was attending the Fantastic Fest in Austin, and he was there with his first feature film, the very well-received Timecrimes. How well-received? Strong enough that the Sundance programmers took note and snatched the flick for one of their Park City at Midnight slots! (Plus Jette liked it!) So we figured we'd grab a quick chat with Nacho before he becomes the next big Spanish sensation. Here's what the award-winning filmmaker (and passionate horror geek) had to say on the eve of Sundance 2008:
Cinematical: OK, let's start off with the biggie: What's it feel like to get nominated for an Academy Award?
NV: I used to say that that wasn't a dream come true, because I never even dreamed about going to the Oscars! If you check my short films, or if you read my scripts, you'll think I'm not the kind of director that you attach to the Oscars. Having said that, being an Oscar nominee was one of the most incredible and amusing things that has ever happened to me. And it gave me the possibility to shoot a feature film.
Cinematical: Timecrimes was your first feature after a series of well-received short films. What made you switch to long-form storytelling for this particular movie?
NV: The script. I fell in love with the idea. When the Oscar thing happened, and I started thinking of myself as a feature filmmaker, I decided to shoot the impossible film, the movie you couldn't shoot in other conditions. If Timecrimes is not a common film in the US, just imagine Spain, where we don't even have a genre films market.
Cinematical: Timecrimes had its world premiere at the aptly-named Fantastic Fest in Austin last September. Since then you've screened at Sitges in Spain and several other international film festivals. What's the general reaction been so far?
NV: The movie seems to be working. We won another prize in Trieste, Italy: The "Golden Asteroid" in a science fiction festival. I love to see how the people react to the little comedy elements. And the silence of the last quarter-hour, more into suspense and horror ... What I'm most grateful about is that people keep talking about the movie after watching it, discussing what has happened on screen.
Cinematical: How important were those initial screenings at Fantastic Fest?
NV: To tell you the truth, I felt during that festival that I was 'born' as a feature director. I saw there the complete film for the first time, and that was my first crowd. I went to bed that night a bit confused, and worried (and drunk). Later that night I checked the reactions the people wrote on the website and I felt, for the fist time "This makes sense."
Cinematical: What's been your favorite part of the festival ride so far?
NV: One morning during Fantastic Fest we went to Troublemaker Studios, ate meat with our dirty hands standing next to a highway, later we went to a shooting range, and after that, sandwiches and a screening of End of the Line in an unfinished Alamo theater, the awesome Fantastic Feud and Karaoke madness. All in one day.
Cinematical: Anything you can share that WASN'T so pleasant?
NV: Why the hell do you Americans close your bars and go to bed so damn early??
Cinematical: Between the three amigos (Cuaron, Del Toro, Innaritu) and some younger guys like Juan Bayona and Rigoberto Castaneda, it seems like there's a whole lot of great genre cinema coming out of the Spanish-speaking lands. Can you explain the cultural significance of "horror stories" in your own country?
NV: Horror is in our cultural roots. As in the rest of Europe, our tradition and folklore is filled with ghost and monster stories. Add the gory Catholic stories, the bloody history we left behind, and you got us! Natural Born Horror Fans! We've got a tradition of few but strong horror filmmakers too (Iván Zulueta, Armando de Ossorio, Chicho Sánchez Serrador). But, from the seventies, genre has never been a prime interest in our film industry, although there's a big horror fandom. Some Spanish directors are changing the situation. Anyway, we love to create our stuff, but we can't deny the huge British / American influence.
Cinematical: Do you find that the horror genre earns more respect outside of the U.S.?
NV: Definitely yes. Talking as a horror nerd, but also knowing that well-done horror brings the filmmaking language to the top of its potential. And brings the money too. Horror can be fun, high art, and industry at the same time.
Cinematical: What are your favorite films?
NV: My favorite movies of all time are The Birds and Evil Dead 2. But I love all the Terence Fisher films, Black Sunday (Mario Bava), Used Cars (Robert Zemeckis), The Big Heat (Fritz Lang), The Train (Frankenheimer). I'm chained to genre films.
Cinematical: What was the biggest unexpected hurdle you had to leap while making Timecrimes?
NV: Shooting most of your film outdoors, in the north of Spain, means fighting against weather most of the time. We even became a bit famous in Spain when an official "little hurricane" (if a hurricane can be little) destroyed one set ... the same time we were shooting there. Anyway, a film with such few elements, but with this intricate plot asks for a very careful storytelling. Solving the script and the visual plan of this film has been an actual puzzle.
Cinematical: Tell the truth: Did you honestly think you had a good chance of getting into Sundance? (That's not a knock on the film, but the Sundance programmers are pretty demanding when it comes to genre films.)
NV: Coming to Sundance is a total surprise. Not only because of what you point out, but also because we we weren't a world premiere. Being here is an amazing award itself. And an opportunity to meet again with some good friends.
Cinematical: Magnolia Pictures has recently championed a whole bunch of really interesting genre films (including Severance, The Host and the upcoming The Signal), so it must have been really cool to get in good with those guys. What sort of plans do they have for the film's theatrical (and DVD) release?
NV: I think it's too soon to tell, and the Sundance reactions will be important to those decisions, but both releases, theatrical and DVD, are for sure this year! I feel Magnolia offers the best chance for our film. They understand deeply the "shape" of the film and you can check -- they know and love the genre. They are the coolest guys; you can get drunk and chat with them about movies all night. I hope this isn't our last time working together.
Cinematical: One of today's big trends is the remake. How would you feel about an offer for an English-language remake of Timecrimes?
NV: The remake rights are being sold these days, and It seems it's gonna be a bigger movie than mine. I can't find proper words for such an exciting situation. This is incredibly flattering and I'll enjoy this new situation a lot, but I think my duty now is moving forward to another director.
Cinematical: One of the cool things about the film is that it's a densely-layered combination of horror, thriller, sci-fi, and mystery. Have you found that some viewers "get lost" in the movie?
NV: I think that in these kind of stories you have to deal with that. But I feel we, the directors, shouldn't be afraid of complexity in stories. Anyway, my biggest worry making this film was that I would bore the audience. As in classic crime novels, you can daze, but never bore.
Cinematical: Are you hoping to get "repeat viewers" who want to watch the movie a second time after seeing how it ends? (It's definitely that type of movie!)
NV: That would be great! I'd love to offer a discount with the ticket "If you buy one, the next will cost half." The last shot of the film works in the sense of offering the audience something to keep playing in their mind. If that moves them to the theater again, what can I say?
Cinematical: Scoop time: What's your next film going to be, and when can we expect to see it?
NV: I wrote a script called "The Ramp," about a guy trying to jump into a UFO with a car. And I'm working on a zombie twist ... Horror, mystery, and sci-fi are incredible fields if you try to do something new and surprising! When are they going to let me shoot the next one? Thats another mystery!
Timecrimes will screen (at least) five(!) times during next week's Sundance Film Festival. (Showtimes available right here.) Beyond that, the distribution is being handled by the fine genre fans over at Magnolia Pictures, so you can expect some release date information as soon as it's available.