I can list a plethora of fancy adjectives describing how Guillermo Del Toro’s cinematic contributions have paved the way for numerous up and coming Latin American filmmakers. But that still would not explain why one should care, or see his films. The visionary work Del Toro brings to the screen is something that must be experienced first hand.
On October 15, Del Toro became the first recipient of the Visionary Award, directed by the Cinema of The Americas, a program which examines the dynamic work that comes from South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. The Chicago International Film Festival presented a discussion with Del Toro about his career, spearheaded by frequent collaborator Ron Pearlman. Honored for his unwavering creativity, he is known and often praised for his “child-like sense of wonder.” The discussion was followed by a special screening of his Spanish thriller, The Devil’s Backbone, as well as an after party where Del Toro and several other festival filmmakers gathered to continue the celebration. I had the honor of interviewing Del Toro on the night of his presentation. As I made my way through to my spot on the red carpet, notebook and voice recorder in tow, I realized that this was the moment several aspiring journalists dream of: The opportunity to have a one-on-one interview with someone they have long been inspired by. This was my chance to interview one of three people who have made me experience cinema not just visually but mentally and spiritually as well. As he approached me, I nervously shook his hand and stumbled my way through my first question. Realizing that he was just like any other person, I began to relax and regain composure.
Aside from his several cinematic narratives, Del Toro, in collaboration with Chuck Hogan, has recently released the second installment in his book trilogy, “The Fall.” At a time when nearly everyone is reeling from recent vampire hysteria, Del Toro takes us beyond sparkly vampires and into a world where vampirism is seen as a plague, a virus of sorts, which people have yet to come to terms with. Del Toro says that writing a book is completely different from screen writing. “When you are crafting a screenplay, you are indicating very little in terms of descriptions, whereas in a book you are free to write about anything with greater detail, so I find writing fiction very liberating,” he said. In the first book, “The Strain,” the vampire virus has taken over New York City. It is spreading across the country and soon, the world; the only thing standing between them and their plot for world domination is a couple of scientists, an old man with a thirst for vengence and several juvenile delinquents who have joined the cause.
The book reads like a well-crafted, non-stop thriller and Del Toro and Hogan hold nothing back describing the vampiric plague with exceedingly horrific detail. It’s almost like taking a field trip through Del Toro’s imagination. And yet, you force yourself to keep reading. Although the story is quite different from several books with similar subject matter, Del Toro says they did not stray from the traditional vampire story. “It’s actually the opposite, we are going to the most ancient traditional vampire story, which is traditional in European folklore. The original notion of vampires in the old world was that they were reanimated corpses with hunger who were more like parasites than anything else and now they are sort of romantic leads, so I think that it’s the modern versions that have strayed,” states Del Toro. The story itself is fast-paced, with cynical humor and multi-dimensional characters, save for one, Dr. Nora Martinez, which I still feel is slightly underdeveloped. Del Toro, however was quick to respond. “When you plan a trilogy, you have to pace it and you have to choose which characters are going to make it. There are a few characters that die in the second book, so we needed to get everything in but essentially two characters come to their own in the third book” and that includes Nora, he said with a smile.
Not wishing to give too much away, Del Toro declined to give hints about the direction of the story. Fans of the trilogy will have to wait until early next year, when the fate of humanity will be revealed.