Vail filmmaker releases debut feature with ‘Backgammon’ |

Vail filmmaker releases debut feature with ‘Backgammon’

"Backgammon," directed by Vail-based filmmaker Francisco Orvananos, hits theaters Friday in a limited national theatrical release.
Courtesy photo |

The remote mountains of western Colorado may seem an unlikely place to launch a commercial filmmaking career, but that’s what director Francisco Orvañanos has pulled off. His debut feature film, the psychological thriller “Backgammon,” begins a limited release theatrical run in New York, Los Angeles and Denver today.

The film is a slow burn thriller, where a group of college friends’ boozy weekend in a country mansion turns creepy. Gerald (Alex Beh) is a volatile, drunken artist who scares off two friends on the first night, leaving him with his girlfriend, Miranda (Brittany Allen) and Lucian (Noah Silver). When Gerald goes missing, too, Lucian and an increasingly unhinged Miranda are left alone in the spooky house while we’re left to wonder what’s going on.

A native of Mexico City, Orvañanos moved to Vail six years ago with his wife and four children. In Mexico, he’d made two short films and aimed to make a feature in the U.S. A screenplay based on R.B. Russell’s 2009 novel “Bloody Baudelaire” caught his attention.

“I was looking for something that was manageable as a first feature,” Orvañanos said recently over coffee at Victoria’s Espresso in Aspen. “So, five characters in one house worked.”

He collaborated with Russell and screenwriter Todd Niemi to shape it into “Backgammon,” focusing on the tension between Lucian and Miranda while keeping viewers guessing about their motives.

“It’s not about outward violence, but there’s a lot of violence that happens between the lines,” he said. “I love films that have you thinking about where it’s going and, before things happen, allow you to be a detective and keep your mind active — films where you have to psychoanalyze the characters. I love that sense of discovery and being a part of the process.”

They shot the film over the course of three intense weeks at a house in Maine in 2012. But Orvañanos’ true feature filmmaking education began when he started editing the raw footage. Over three years of post-production work, Orvañanos went through four editors, working first in Park City, then out of his home in Vail — where he’s based his 3:1 Cinema production company — and then in New York City.

He finished his final cut in February 2015, and got the film onto the festival circuit, with stops at the Sarasota and Denver Film Festivals (it’ll also get a hometown screening next month at the Vail Film Festival). It’s also available via video-on-demand today.

“I feel very fortunate and proud that we were able to make it,” he said. “There were tough moments along the road but now I feel relieved in many ways. Now we’re celebrating this moment.”

Orvañanos is currently at work on a new screenplay for a horror film. He’s been inspired by the new genre movement that some have dubbed “art-house horror,” in which he can use a subtle, slow-building approach and tell a horror story without necessarily worrying about jump-scares and gore. He is hopeful he’ll finish the screenplay by summer.

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