The director returned to Sundance this year with "Red Lights," featuring Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy as scientists who debunk local paranormal activity with the help of a student, portrayed by last year's Sundance darling, Elizabeth Olsen. On the opposite end of their spectrum is Robert De Niro as a man named Silver, who was famous in the 1970s for his supposed supernatural powers and is now back in action after a long retirement.
Below, Cortes discusses his new film, "Red Lights" -- which, despite mixed reviews, was picked up by Millennium for a reported sum of nearly $4 million -- and wades into the "Buried"-"127 Hours" debate.
Is debunking paranormal phenomena a real profession? I'm afraid it is. I did a lot of research, for a year and a half. Everything is based on something I found in my research. You would be surprised to learn how much money there is in this world.
Has anyone ever reached Silver's height of fame? He seems very famous in this movie, and I can't think of anyone comparable on the scene today. In the '70s, characters like Uri Geller were pretty famous. But nowadays it's more healers. You would be surprised at how much money these people move. They can be in a crowded, huge theater like they were rock stars.
There's a scene with a young Robert De Niro... [Laughs]
Why are you laughing? I'm laughing because, I know, the young guy does it perfectly.
How did he do the face? Was that a CGI face? No, no. That's a friend of mine. It pleases me to hear that. It means that we succeeded.
Did your friend meet De Niro? Yeah, they met once. It was just, "Hello."
I can't imagine De Niro being too pleased with his impersonator. No, no, he was open to talk about everything. If he didn't like that, he was careful enough not to tell me. He's very, very nice. He doesn't behave like a star. He's so collaborative. He makes things easy.
Sigourney Weaver debunks paranormal activity in this film. Basically, she could be in "Ghostbusters" as the villain. You're right, in a way. It's a character that I wrote with her in mind.
Was she hesitant? Like, "That seems too much like what I've done before." No, she loved it. She was in a world that she was in before, but in a very different role, with different kinds of characters. I mean you can put her in "Ghostbusters," but certainly the characters in "Ghostbusters" have nothing to do with the ones in this film. But in a way, you're right, she has this handbag -- this folder of previous work that make her work for the role.
Like "Alien" and "Avatar." Yeah, all that. You have this sense of a veteran, right-and-wrong woman who also keeps her warmth.
Cillian Murphy does a trick in which he can maneuver a quarter through all of his fingers. Did he know how to do that or did he have to learn how to do that? He did have to learn how to do that. For a couple of months before doing the shoot.
Now for the rest of his life, he can do that. If you're at a bar somewhere, that's great. You're right. Everything can be done, that's what the film is about. Everything you saw there, they do. When DeNiro puts his fingers inside the other guy's body -- everything's done and they did it themselves. Everything. And everything you see in the film can have an explanation. That's why it's so physical.
How much emphasis do you put on the reaction at Sundance? It seems to fluctuate depending on what screening was attended. As a director, you don't pay attention. You have to keep your center, because the wind comes and goes. It changes so much, and paying attention to it will make you make wrong decisions constantly. On the other hand, as a producer, or as someone who wants to refund money to your investors, you see that war as so real. You see your own movies several times and there's several different energies in the room.
I very much enjoyed "Buried." Do you wish that "127 Hours" had come out in a different year? No. Not at all.
People often compare the two, but I don't think they're much alike. I haven't seen it. I really like Danny Boyle, I really respect his work. His came out when I was doing the promotion and I didn't have the chance to see it. One of these days, I'm certainly going to see it, but you cannot think of films as a race because you become crazy. It's funny: in Spain, everyone saw "Buried" first, and then when "127 Hours" appeared many people reacted badly in a pretty unfair way. They thought it was brave to stay in a box for an hour and a half, so if you show flashbacks [as "127 Hours" does], you're a coward. And it's stupid. Because it's not his fault. Films are good or are bad and they're not brave or bold or whatever. You shouldn't ask films to compete. But that's what happens in the world. Film festivals are very weird places, but that's part of the game.
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter