On screen, two girls in white dresses stand against a wall. One is motionless, her face obscured by a white, beaked mask. The other, maskless, is bent over, picking up a basket of roses at her feet. Only seconds earlier, that basket was in the middle of a river; its relocation to what appears to be a hotel room is unexplained. The girl straightens up slowly and the two stare into space—past the guitar propped nearby, past the bedspread with its wild pattern but drab colors, past the duffel bag and discarded clothes that lie on top of it.
The video cuts to black and there’s a jumble of accented voices—excited, talking about the South By Southwest music festival—before focus shifts to a stage where Fanfarlo is playing “The Walls Are Coming Down” before a whooping crowd. The juxtaposition of these scenes is disorienting, but it sets the tone for this and every other entry of Under the Reservoir, a four-part series of mini-documentaries about the London-based band’s experiences at this year’s SXSW, which also incorporate the parallel world of the mysterious girls that grace the cover of the band's 2009 debut album, Reservoir.
The theme of things not being exactly what they seem runs deep in the documentary series, deeper than most viewers would probably realize, the group’s vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Simon Balthazar explains. “Where the name Reservoir comes from is this idea of cities that have been swallowed up by reservoirs, by man-made lakes. … The kind of thing where you’d have a big government project of a building a reservoir for the common good, but the actual—at the bottom of that is a very human story where a city might get sacrificed for this big project and you have these almost ghost towns under water,” he says.
To create Under the Reservoir, Balthazar and his bandmates worked with filmmaker Brian Gonzalez, who none of them had met before arriving in Texas in March. Balthazar gives a vague account of how they came into conversation with Gonzalez (“mutual friends kind of thing”), but vividly describes the first time the band talked with the filmmaker and knew he was the one to make the project a reality.
“[We played at] this fancy hotel and playing there was really bizarre because we were playing in this sort of ballroom with chandeliers,” Balthazar remembers. “It was really creepy—it was like playing in The Shining. Like something between Twin Peaks and The Shining. … We were just walking around the grounds of this hotel, and there were all these weird, labryinthe paths with shrubbery, and we just happened upon this Jacuzzi. Like an outdoor Jacuzzi, overlooking this golf course. There was a lemon tree growing and big pool and stuff. And it was in the middle of the night, and it was all really surreal. We ended up sitting in the Jacuzzi, like chilling after the show, and having essentially a conference call with Brian.”
They had a few more phone calls and left almost everything else up to chance; Balthazar even says he’s pretty sure Gonzalez found the girls that starred in the film's dream sequences at the Austin airport. Gonzalez captured as much of the band’s stay in Texas as possible, from the members goofing off in the streets to them ducking into a studio to clean up a demo of “Atlas,” which had just been requested for the soundtrack of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. (Balthazar laughs as he says, “We’re quite adverse to big commercial things normally, but [Twilight is] the kind of thing where it’s kind of on the right side of trashy.”)
On July 13, Fanfarlo released their The Fire Escape digital EP and they're currently working on a new album, but they haven't completely sated their filmmaking curiosity. “I think we want to make a film over in Europe as well,” Balthazar says. “Now that we’ve made a documentary, I think we want to make something that’s more sort of in the fictional or arty direction. Something more purely from our minds.”