(b. January 6, 1969 Detroit, Michigan)
A highly innovative, visually stylish and commercially aware filmmaker with a reputation for delivering superior production values on a limited budget, Vincenzo Natali moved to Toronto with his family when he was one year old. He attended the film programme at Ryerson University in Toronto and went on to work at Nelvana Animation Studios as a storyboard artist. After the broadcast of his short films Mouth (1992) and Playground (1993), he was accepted into the director’s lab at the Canadian Film Centre, where he completed his award-winning short film Elevated (1996), a stunning and visceral horror comedy.
His first feature film, Cube (1997), was presented at more than twenty international festivals and received five Genie nominations and the award for best Canadian first feature at the Toronto International Film Festival® (TIFF). Produced through the Canadian Film Centre’s Feature Film Project on a budget of $600,000, Cube did huge business in Japan and France, where it broke all box-office records for a Canadian feature. Though it had only a brief theatrical run in Canada, it played on more than 220 screens in France – grossing nearly $15 million – and became a cult hit on the North American video market.
After efforts to develop the $20 million sci-fi picture Splice fell through, Natali made two very different movies: the American-financed, psychedelic spy thriller Cypher (2002), and the Canadian sci-fi slacker movie Nothing (2003), both of which premiered at TIFF. He also co-founded the production company Headspace, through which he develops his projects.
The sleek Cypher follows Morgan Sullivan (Jeremy Northam), a dweebish middle manager, who’s bored by his dull existence except when he slips into his alter ego, the debonaire industrial spy Jack Thursby, who ‘s employed by the ominously named Orwellian DigiCorp. Flying around the country to repot on confidential business seminars, Sullivan encounters the mysterious Rita (Lucy Liu), who seems to know more about his future than he does. Bothered by headaches and hallucinations, Sullivan is approached by a competitor with an offer to become a double agent. Soon, he finds his own identity being traded like a commodity. A prescient take on identity and technology (the film precedes Facebook and Second Life), Cypher recalls the work of seminal sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick.
Though it shares the sci-fi/fantasy milieu with its predecessors, the Toronto-set Nothing is significantly more absurdist. It follows two loser shut-ins – Dave (David Hewlett) and Andrew (Andrew Miller, who also co-wrote the script) – who live beneath two rapidly decaying overpasses. One fateful day, they discover they have the power to will away anything they don’t like. The first thing to go is the rest of the city – a development which somehow makes it a quintessential Toronto movie. By the end, there’s nothing left but their heads and an eerie white backdrop. By turns abrasive and brilliant, Nothing is nothing if not fearless.
In 2010 Natali released the long awaited sci-fi thriller Splice (2010), with Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody as two genetic scientists who begin conducting surreptitious experiments using human DNA. Eventually they “give birth” to a creature, which turns out to be both more and less human than they’d anticipated. The nature of the relationship between the creature and her creators is chillingly complex and conflicted. Widely released in Canada and the United States, Splice is both a troubling investigation of medical and scientific ethics and a very unsettling thriller.
All of Natali’s films explore notions of the self and what makes us human, concepts that are inevitably under attack in his work. In this sense (as well as his interest in science fiction), there’s a direct relationship between his work and that of David Cronenberg.
Film and video work includes
Little Rosey series, 1990 (storyboard artist; TV)
Babar series, 1991 (storyboard artist; TV, 26 episodes)
Beetlejuice series, 1991 (storyboard artist; TV, 38 episodes)
The Adventures of Tintin series, 1991 (storyboard artist; TV, 13 episodes)
Eek! The Cat series, 1992 (storyboard artist; TV, 13 episodes)
Mouth, 1992 (director)
Playground, 1993 (director)
Dog City series, 1993 (storyboard artist; TV)
Boulevard, 1994 (storyboard artist)
Blood & Donuts, 1995 (storyboard artist)
Johnny Mnemonic, 1995 (storyboard artist)
Space Cases series, 1996 (director; TV, one episode)
Elevated, 1996 (director; co-writer with Karen Walton)
The Boys Club, 1997 (storyboard artist)
, 1997 (director; co-writer with André Bijelic, Graeme Manson)
PSI Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal series, 1998 (director; TV, one episode)
Milkman, 1998 (storyboard artist)
Earth: Final Conflict series, 1998-1999 (director; TV, three episodes)
, 2000 (storyboard artist)
Cypher (a.k.a. Brainstorm) 2002 (director)
Nothing, 2003 (director; executive producer)
Getting Gilliam, 2005 (director)
Paris, Je t’aime (a.k.a. Paris, I Love You), segment Quartier de la Madeleine, 2006 (director; writer)
Splice, 2010 (director; co-writer with Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor)