Panos Cosmatos: Beyond the Black Rainbow takes place in “the not too distant future,” but of course that future is now the past.
Tribeca: The film has been called a “Reagan-era fever dream.” What inspired you to relive this time in history and its effect on society?
Panos Cosmatos: I grew up in the 70s and 80s. The way I remember it, the time had a very vivid feeling: mostly a blend of being hypnotized and intoxicated by pop culture and an omnipresent terror of the world coming to an abrupt, apocalyptic end. After my father died in 2005, I realized that time period was very important to me. The movie takes place in a nostalgic landscape that is poisoned by fear and regret.
Tribeca: Could you talk a little bit about the retro and heavily stylized way in which you shot the film? Its eeriness at once sucks the audience in and keeps them at a distance.
Panos Cosmatos: I wanted the film to feel like an artifact and unearth memories and evoke the sensations of a different time, but that era doesn’t seem so much like an age gone by to me now, but like a different dimension altogether. It’s an amalgamation of memories, fantasies and nightmares from the past not a reconstruction of reality or the execution of a rigid mythology. All aspects of the design, texture and the look of the film are an extension of those ideas. We modeled the looks we were after on stills from films of the era. To create a simultaneous sense of familiarity and disorientation the design of the institute and it’s inhabitants was drawn, primarily, from action figures and play sets from the 70s.
Tribeca: The film is heavily reminiscent of Kubrick particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey and sci-fi films of the 70s and 80s. What films/filmmakers inspire you/your work on this film?
Panos Cosmatos: I love Stanley Kubrick, and have seen, and probably internalized, all of his work, but any similarity was not my intent. My private dictum when writing and directing the film was “a live action adaptation of a Saturday morning cartoon written by Jean Rollin and directed by Michael Mann in the late 70s/early 80s.” A movie I kept revisiting was the only feature Saul Bass ever directed, Phase IV, as well as an interactive underwater science adventure film that I saw in a museum in the early 1980s. The “acid trip” sequence, for one, was directly inspired by the “battle of the Gods” in Fritz Lang’s fictional film within a film of Ulysses in Godard’s Contempt.
Tribeca: The analog synth score, composed by Jeremy Schmidt from the band Black Mountain, is a key facet in establishing and building on the world in the film. Did you work closely with Jeremy to achieve this transporting result?
Panos Cosmatos: We hung out and discussed at length the tones, textures and moods we are into and wanted to achieve for each sequence. I’m a fan of his music, and we share many similar sensibilities and interests so it was a real pleasure to work with him.
Tribeca: What's the craziest thing (or “lightning strikes” moment) that happened during production?
Panos Cosmatos: Probably the last setup on the first day of shooting. It was a long take with two characters in close up together. A couple of takes in, watching the actors perform my dialogue, is when the reality of what we were doing really sunk in. It was a very strange, intense sensation, like dreaming with my eyes open.
Tribeca: What’s the biggest thing you learned while making Beyond the Black Rainbow?
Panos Cosmatos: I love working with actors.
Tribeca: What do you want audiences to take away from Beyond the Black Rainbow?
Panos Cosmatos: Honestly, whatever they want. The film is as narratively ambiguous as possible. I hope the audience is drawn in visually and sonically but make their own emotional interpretations, like a cinematic Rorschach test. There is no definitive or correct way to look at this movie.
Tribeca: What's your advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Panos Cosmatos: Less talking.
Tribeca: What are your hopes for Beyond the Black Rainbow at Tribeca?
Panos Cosmatos: That the people that would be into it get a chance to discover it.
Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?