The future of cinema has arrived in the form of 38-year-old Vancouver writer-director Panos Cosmatos and his debut feature film, Beyond the Black Rainbow. Shot in Vancouver, the film was released for some North American festivals in 2010 but wasn’t distributed on DVD and Blu-ray until Sept. 2012. Raised in Victoria on Vancouver Island, Panos is the son of the late Italian-born director George P. Cosmatos, who has directed 11 feature films himself. When George Cosmatos passed away in 2005, Panos inherited his father’s lucrative royalties from the 1993 Hollywood blockbuster, Tombstone. Unable to secure financial backing for his bizarre but very original script, Panos put over one million dollars of his inherited fortune into producing his own film. The fact that the film was entirely self-funded allowed Panos to be unencumbered by the expectations of executives or the dictates of test audiences, an extremely rare circumstance for a first-time director, and the result is nothing short of a minor movie miracle.
What is Beyond the Black Rainbow about? The story is set in a New Age commune in 1983. The commune’s goal is to foster spiritual self-discovery through a process of experimental, mind-expanding techniques. But dark forces lay hidden beneath the veneer of “enlightenment.” The film unearths a concept recently articulated by famed Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek who asserts that, while New Age religions often stress individual self-discovery through techniques like Transcendental Meditation, the way these techniques are often presented, with monotone-voiced “gurus” repeating rehearsed phrases to large groups, can create a frightening paradox where one’s sense of individuality is actually consumed in the process.
Initially written by Panos in the form of an extended stream of consciousness, Beyond the Black Rainbow is less a story than an experience and attempting to convey that experience in an article would be a misrepresentation of the film’s true power. It is still worth noting the fantastic set design (his production designers initially laughed at the idea that his sets could be built with such a small budget), expert use of sound and great performances that gain depth with each new viewing. Also, the incredible soundtrack by composer Jeremy Schmidt creates a retro-futuristic dreamscape that in many ways narrates the film as the dialogue itself is mostly minimal.
While the last decade has seen numerous Canadian filmmakers achieve great success domestically and internationally, none had the debut of Panos who has emerged virtually out of the blue. Prior to Beyond the Black Rainbow, his experience was limited to visiting his father on film sets, observing his late artist mother’s creation of abstract sculpture, some freelance graphic design work and a few short films seen only at small festivals in Victoria. In the time after the death of his parents (his mother died in 1997), Panos has admitted to spiralling downward into depression and alcoholism before finally seeking counselling and ultimately feeling inspired to attempt a feature film, some of the ideas for which he had already been harbouring for many years.
On his twitter account, Panos has recently expressed a desire to work with 3D as he feels it’s the future of cinema. For someone like myself who has thus far been ambivalent towards the use of 3D, the thought of what the director of Beyond the Black Rainbow could do with this technology is wildly exciting and creates a lot of optimism as cinema moves forward into a new era. I was also born and raised on Vancouver Island and Panos has quickly become a huge inspiration. He offers overwhelming evidence that a key figure on the vanguard of artistic achievement can surface and succeed right in our own backyard.