Director Francisco Orvañanos will screen psychological thriller ‘Backgammon’ at Vail Film Festival |

Director Francisco Orvañanos will screen psychological thriller ‘Backgammon’ at Vail Film Festival

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

If you go ...

What: “Backgammon” (89 minutes) screens at the Vail Film Festival.

When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 9.

Where: Vail Cascade Theatre, 1300 Westhaven Drive, Vail.

Cost: Festival passes start at $59.

More information: View the full lineup for the Vail Film Festival at

The remote mountains of western Colorado may seem an unlikely place to launch a commercial filmmaking career, but that’s what director Francisco Orvananos has pulled off. His debut feature film, the psychological thriller “Backgammon,” celebrated a limited-release theatrical run in New York, Los Angeles and Denver on March 11.

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.

‘Bloody Baudelaire’

A native of Mexico City, Orvananos 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 United States. 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,” Orvananos 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 Orvananos’ true feature filmmaking education began when he started editing the raw footage. During three years of post-production work, Orvananos went through four editors, working first in Park City and then out of his home in Vail — where he’s based his 3:1 Cinema production company — and then in New York City.

Available on-demand

He finished his final cut in February of last year, 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 Friday.

“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.”

Orvananos 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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