JUST TALKING 17/3
The section “Just Talking” in the framework of the 14th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival held its final round table discussion on Saturday, March 17, 2012 at the Excelsior Room of Electra Palace Hotel. The directors Everardo González, (Drought), Myrna Tsapa (Katinoula), Stavros Psyllakis, (METAXA, Listening to Time), Nikos Dayandas (Sayome) and Anthony Baxter (You’ve Been Trumped), participated in the discussion.
Katinoula is the leading character of Myrna Tsapa’s homonymous documentary, Katinoula. She is an 87 year old woman who lives in Cairo and despite her old age, she still actively serves a Greek-Egyptian lady of her age. Speaking about her film’s topic, the director said: “We run across Katinoula while filming a short documentary series for the Greek National Television. Katinoula came out through the material we gathered for that work. It was impossible to pass her by, although we initially were meant to film the lady she works for. However, once we saw Katinoula, such an authentic woman with a very wise aspect on what matters in life, we understood she had a very important message to pass”.
Nikos Dayandas in his documentary Sayome, portrays an equally attractive personality. The leading character, under the same name, Sayome, lives in Crete for 35 years now and she decides to travel and revisit her homeland, Japan. “There, Sayome feels like a fish out of water. She is no longer thought to carry the ‘Japanese identity’ and that after spending 35 years in Crete she is more of a Greek. The film follows her in this journey and through the relationship with her family. I think this is a film about family and identity”, noticed the director.
Deeply human, Stavros Psyllakis’ film METAXA, Listening to Time, deals with the daily life of cancer suffering doctors who continue serving at the Metaxa hospital. The filmmaker pointed out: “The film doesn’t refer to cancer as a disease and doesn’t mean to offer encouragement to people who suffer from it. I’d say that the film with the opportunity of a critical situation that brings a person face to face with death, becomes a film essay about life itself, it triggers people to talk about their lives. My feeling while watching the film at the 14th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, on the big screen for the first time, is that the existence tragedy and resolution co-exist”.
At next, in his documentary You’ve Been Trumped, Anthony Baxter focuses on the battle of a group of proud Scottish homeowners who oppose to the millionaire Donald Trump’s expansive plans which put in danger a protected area. “The surprising thing about this story is that the media wouldn’t mention at all that such a plan could cause a very serious disaster. It’s the classic David and Goliath tale, in which the locals try to protect their environment and heritage”, underlined the director. He also added: “Both during shooting the film and during its distribution, the difficulties I had to face were enormous, as everyone was afraid of Donald Trump suing them. However, our intention is to screen the film in USA too, in July, and this is important, as his public image is what matters to him”.
Everardo González’ documentary, Drought, deals with an environmental subject too. The film records the massive exodus performed by the residents from the ejido (communal land) of Los Cuates de Australia, in Northeast Mexico, during the drought period. “The strange part is that to the documentary’s characters, water deficiency is no tragedy, but their way of living. I was patient and kept waiting. At first, I thought nothing would happen, but shortly things started to move. The reason why I had to spend so much time there was that I had to wait for the rain too, and because the balance was so fragile and I had to be accepted in the community. There were days that I would forget I was there to film”, explained the director.
Two of the topics under discussion were the documentaries’ budget as well as the problems during their production. Mr. Dayandas spoke about the various institutions that supported him and commented that: “the process has turned out to be unexpectedly easy and quick”. On the other hand, Mr. Baxter, whose film had to face and still faces the biggest obstacles said: “I tried very hard to find a fund, but with no success. I have nothing against them, but I have to admit that the certain pitching sessions I participated in, looked like a fraud to me. I felt the commissioner editors were more interested in what others would say rather than helping the filmmakers. In the case of my film, specifically, I think they were afraid of being sued”. The director noted that, in the end, he had to mortgage his house and that he used the internet to find the money. “Funding is a tormenting procedure and so is the procedure of promoting, selling and distributing the film”, mentioned the director. As for Donald Trump, the director commented: “Trump reacted to the fact that I used a certain scene in my film and we hired a lawyer to defend us. We included this scene in the film because it’s an important one. There is nothing he can sue us for”. Mr. González had a different experience in relation to funding. As he said: “International Documentary Festival Amsterdam supported me and for the second year they brought me in contact with the Tribeca Film Institute. In this way we were able to hire the necessary collaborators such as a producer and a sound technician. We also got help through a governmental Mexico programme, and we asked for donations too”.
The filmmakers were asked about the reward they get from their hard work of making a documentary and they pointed out the significance of such an experience. “It’s a unique experience as you become part of what you’re shooting. For a while, I turned into the 87 year old Katinoula, I imagine Anthony turned into Donald Trump for a while, Stavros may become ill for a while and that’s a precious reward”, said Myrna Tsapa. Nikos Dayandas, in his turn, explained: “I have so many questions about the reason why other people do whatever it is that they do. I studied archaeology and I find there are many common elements between documentaries and this science. I simply chose not to occupy myself with the dead and, instead, to be out here, part of the life. Documentary is a great living ‘space’”. Mr. Psyllakis noted he’d never regretted abandoning the profession of the mechanic, he studied, which could bring a better income: “Despite the difficulties, I enjoy it, because I meet people, things keep happening, I gain valuable experience and I never get bored”. Mr. Baxter, in his turn, explained: “I want to tell the story, that’s my motive. Locals trusted me, despite the negative experience they got from the Media”. Mr. González, pointed out: “I was born in Colorado, my father is a vet and I was raised in a rural environment. In a way, I’ve always wanted return to this life. It’s been a privilege for me to be able to do so, while in Los Cuates and I thank the local people for that”.
The filmmakers also spoke about the relations they develop with the people they film and the way they handle them afterwards. “Completing a film is so hard, I always think I’m not going to do it again. I always get the feeling that I betray the people, because I have to leave. It’s difficult to preserve the kind of the relationship I’d like, because I have to move to something else. With Sayome, of course, things differ, as she’ s my aunt” underlined Mr. Dayandas. Mr. Psyllakis noted: “I always hold on to my relationship with the people I’ve filmed, because they are part of my life. There is a continuity”. Mrs. Tsapa said on her behalf: “When we finished I wanted to take Katinoula with me, however, she didn’t want to leave Cairo. I find it extremely difficult to part from the people I meet and spend so much time with. It’s not easy, but I keep doing it”. Mr. Baxter spoke next and commented: “It’s hard to part from the people in the film and from the story itself. I still feel like being in the filming process, every time I present it to the audience and the people are in my mind a lot”. Finally, Mr. González noted: “I try not to take it very seriously. You make friends and as it happens with friends, you get to meet some of them often, some of them never, but you always have them in your mind and you feel glad you met them”.