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DISPATCH FROM AUSTIN | Fantastic Fest Concludes With Spanish Influence and Paul Thomas Anderson

DISPATCH FROM AUSTIN | Fantastic Fest Concludes With Spanish Influence and Paul Thomas Anderson

In the final four days of Fantastic Fest 2007, American filmmakers captured the realistic horrors of our world, while Paul Thomas Anderson, two first-time directors from Spain primed to hit the big time, and the ultimate fanboy documentary wowed audiences. Genre festival programming doesn’t tend usually to scream “documentary”, so the popularity of Hasko Baumann‘s “Mobieus Redux: A Life in Pictures” was a little bit of a surprise, but a well deserved one. Baumann’s doc tracks the life and work of French comic artist and author Jean Giraud, whose work is praised both on screen and off by greats like Stan Lee, Mike Mignola and Jim Lee. But it was his work in character and set design that he will probably be most remembered for.

Through testimonials from film legends like cult director Alexandro Jordorowsky and effects expert H.R. Giger, Giraud’s body of work unfolds in films like “Alien” and “Tron.” “For me, the best part was meeting all these great people,” Baumann said about his experience filming. “Jordorowsky alone took forever to get… but he eventually warmed up to us.”

And directors Gregory Wilson, Ryan Thiessen and Greg Swinson have been stirring up a lot of controversy with their brutal approach to horror, including “Jack Ketchum‘s “The Girl Next Door” and “Five Across the Eyes.” Wilson’s film, “Girl,” set in Indiana in 1965, is the true story of Sylvia Likens, a young girl who was tortured in her basement by several neighborhood children under the instruction of a family member. Meanwhile, Thiessen and Swinson’s “Five,” which could easily pass as a true story, is a vicious chase movie about five girls lost in the middle of nowhere being hunted down by a lunatic with a shotgun.

The film takes place in near-to-real time and utilizes a jarring handheld camera technique to give the plentiful violence a rough, documentary feel. “It was hard to find actresses,” Swinson recalls, commenting on various reactions they had to the cruelty of the story. “Some were interested and then read the script and then said ‘no.’ These were pretty much the only five we could get.” A somewhat bizarre change of pace from the pop horror that propagates the rest of the festival, both films fully embrace the darker side of humanity that is so often turned into slightly lighter entertainment.

If the realism belongs to the Americans here, the breakouts certainly belong to the Spanish. Probably the single most talked about film in the festival was Nacho Vigalondo‘s “Time Crimes.” Starting slow with a timid showing on opening day, this smart yet modest time travel story generated so much buzz that fest organizers had to turn many away for the second screening. Vigalondo’s first feature is a complex and clever story of a man whose life changes forever when he travels back in time one hour and triggers a series of events that will force him to fight the inevitability of fate in trying to correct his mistakes. “There are two kinds of time travel movies,” Vigalondo remarked in a Q & A. “Those where you can change things and those in which you can’t. I prefer the challenge of writing something that can’t be changed.” The challenge paid off as Vigalondo took home the Fantastic Fest AMD Next Wave Award on Thursday night, the biggest honor of the festival.

Another Spanish first feature that has been dominating conversation over the past several days is Juan Antonio Bayona‘s “The Orphange.” A period ghost story with a heart, Bayona’s film was the fourth of five secret screenings that Fantastic Fest has had to offer. Chosen by Spain to be their Foreign Language Oscar entry for 2007 and to be released in the U.S. by Picturehouse later this year, “The Orphanage” has been getting due praise all over the globe. Bayona attributes his success to the heart behind the project. “It was the first film for a lot of us. It really meant something special… And I hope that shows through on the screen.” Despite being a first time director, Bayona was backed by producer Guillermo del Toro, who gave an endearing if affectionately teasing introduction to the film.

The event made for another great surprise for salivating Austin audiences who were more than thrilled to find out what the final secret screening was. Much to their surprise and delight, Paul Thomas Anderson arrived with the very first public screening of his latest masterpiece, “There Will Be Blood,” capping the fest with a thrilling high.

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