CULTURE

Instant success for new arrival

Kathimerini ery rarely do young film directors achieve runaway international success with their debut outings, especially if they are not English-language projects. New arrival Juan Antonio Bayona, 32, has already astonished with «El Orfanato,» or «The Orphanage,» a mystery-thriller that had already generated considerable excitement before its first official screening at the most recent Cannes Festival. The movie lived up to its reputation. Excited movie-goers walked out of packed screenings in awe of the its impact, many admitting that the suspense literally had them jumping out of their seats. Not surprisingly, «The Orphanage» quickly secured distribution deals throughout the world and has since proven a box-office hit. Moreover, it has been submitted as Spain’s entry for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Langaue Film category. A guest at the recent Thessaloniki International Film Festival’s feature on Spanish cinema, Bayona, a diminutive figure, strutted about endlessly with what appeared to be success-fueled confidence – perhaps too much of it. However, during an interview with Kathimerini, it quickly became apparent that this confidence stems from an artist with thorough knowledge of his subject and focus. The response to your film, at the Cannes festival and everywhere else it’s been screened, is spectacular considering it is a directorial debut. The same goes for its commercial success. How have you taken all this? It’s nice to get a good response, and this does not only apply to the director, but the cast, the score’s composer and the rest of the crew. There was a very special energy between us when shooting so we were able to overcome all the obstacles created by the budget’s limits. And then came the screening at Cannes, where we got a standing ovation. The thing with a debut is that you have nothing to compare it to. You had the support of Guillermo Del Toro in the production. Was there any pressure regarding the outcome? None whatsoever. We’ve been friends for the past 15 years. I met him at a festival in Spain, when he was a new arrival. He was presenting his first feature-length film, «Cronos,» as a director, and I made out that I was a journalist to get free tickets. So, by doing these phoney interviews, I managed to meet people I respected. Guillermo is one of those, and we became instant friends. In the meantime, I went to film school, I taught at the same school and also started making TV ads and video clips. Guillermo was always around and knew what I was up to. When he found out that I wanted to make my first film, he immediately wanted to contribute. How difficult is it for a new director to get funding for a film about ghosts? No Spanish film producers were interested in providing money for my script. They insisted that there were elements that they did not like, such as the combination of horror and drama. But it was precisely this aspect that made us believe that «The Orphanage» was different to other horror movies. In other words, there’s a balance between horror, mystery and emotion. They would tell us that there was no specific bad guy. But we wanted to address the badness that exists in each and every one of us. The prospective producers were looking for a simple formulaic thriller like those that are shot in the hundreds. Nobody wanted to take on this movie, until Guillermo took over. Why is it that horror movies featuring children are always the scariest? Throughout the history of horror movies, the objective has been to stun the viewer… changing impressions about stereotypes. This can be seen from as far back as the times of «Frankenstein.» In the beginning, we simply see a beast, but there’s a human-like soul in this creature. The general view of things is that children represent goodness. So it’s very interesting when this perception is overturned. Also, films see the world through the eyes of their characters. And children see the world from an entirely different perspective than grown-ups. Which is why I believe children make great material for thrillers. Do you feel that there are any influences or references in the movie? I wouldn’t say that there’s anything specific. While we were preparing to start filming, however, there was much discussion between members of the production team about «The Turn of the Screw» by Henry James. I believe that «The Orphanage» carries the same kind of ambiguity, because, until the very end, nobody knows exactly what is going on and how the characters have developed. Do you intend to stick to the horror movie genre? I don’t know. The truth is that I always liked it as a genre. I’ve seen thousands of horror films in my life. But the strange thing is that even though the original plan for «The Orphanage» was for it to be a horror movie, I almost entirely dealt with it as if it were a drama when filming began. There’s a story in it about faith and loss, and I conducted some research into this by talking to parents who have lost their children or with psychological support groups for people who have lost loved ones. Many young directors who achieve sudden success are targeted for Hollywood productions. Is this something that would interest you? I’ve received many ideas from the USA, but haven’t decided on anything, or whether I’m even going to take on any of these projects. Above all, I’m interested in getting excited by a story. Now whether a story is in English or any other language is of secondary importance for me. If I feel that some proposal needs to be done in English with American ways of production, then I’ll do it.