Agora Talks: A pan-European road movie in the era of the pandemic




Agora Talks: A pan-European road movie in the era of the pandemic



In the framework of the Agora Talks of the 62nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival, the discussion “Lost in Corona-shooting, Daughters, a pan-European road movie during Covid-19 era” took place on Sunday, November 7th, at Warehouse C, at the Port of Thessaloniki. Initially, Bettina Brokemper, the producer, from Heimatfilm Company and Konstantinos Kontovrakis, the producer from Heretic Company, took the floor, welcomed the audience and shared the story of the film Daughters.


The two producers had decided to collaborate on an international road movie that would be shot in 4 different countries, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Greece, with an international cast of actors. In Greece, filming would take place on the island of Amorgos. The project, as they explained, began with a lot of enthusiasm, but the pandemic has turned the production data upside down. The two producers shared with the audience the challenges and difficulties that arose in their effort to make a film at that time.


Ms Brokemper said: "Εverything was going smoothly, we had found great partners and funding and we had just started shooting, when the pandemic and the closed borders changed our plans and we were forced to stop shooting. As producers we saw many problems arise because of this situation. We are responsible for the people working for us; we had to report everything to our sponsors. There was a lot of uncertainty about everything”. As the producer Bettina Brokemper pointed out, the international landscape of film production made it even more difficult to deal with the issues that arose. "I had to learn all the different rules and health protocols of each country. I read about 500 pages of protocols that were constantly changing. Italy was also blocked. I received a phone call informing me that Greece would probably open on the 15th of June and we thought to change the order of shootings and go first to Greece for the shooting. The problem was that there were no flights to Greece and we had to find a way to bring in our team and equipment. We finally rented a plane to bring everything from Germany." As she clarified, they also had to communicate with all the actors and staff, as time was pressing them, since they had already planned to participate in other productions.


"We had to make a whole new planning to gather them on board and go on. We had to deal with all these people from different nationalities that had to work together. They were people who didn't have the time to get to know each other well. It was an achievement, mainly by the directing team, to be able to bring everyone together in this film", Mr. Kontovrakis said. "The situation also necessitated the renegotiation of the budget for the completion of the film, since the difficulties that arose from the situation increased the cost of the film. The insurance could not cover us for what arose with such conditions. What I feared the most was that whether cancelling the film production should cost us less than its completion. I made countless calculations to prove that it would cost us less to continue shootings. In general, I would say that it was the most difficult thing I have done in terms of film production", Mrs Brokemper added.


Then, Mr. Stelios Kraounakis, the third guest and Head of the Department of Development of Financial and European Programs of the National Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME) that supported the film, took the floor. Mr. Kraounakis initially presented some interesting data regarding the action of EKOME in supporting audiovisual productions before and during the pandemic. "We started our activity in 2018. In the first year, 36 project applications were submitted; half of them were international. In the second year we had 56 applications, half of them again related to international projects. The first five projects received funding of almost 1,500,000 euros. Then the pandemic showed up and uncertainty prevailed. EKOME people stated that the Centre would remain open for applications, budget changes and payments. We continued to work from home. We wanted to send a message of patience and solidarity. By the end of the summer we had received 29 applications."


He also referred to committees’ way of dealing with the producers' applications. "They consisted of EKOME executives collaborating with executives of the Greek Film Centre. Cooperation is very important. Together we are trying hard to urge Greece to be at the spotlight of filmmaking ". He pointed out that the increase in the rate of the Cash Rebate program from 35% to 40% offered greater incentives for participation. As a result, we had 32 new projects applications in October, November and December 2020. "We count 72 approved applications in total, in 2020," he noted.


Finally, Mr. Kraounakis briefed the audience on the events of the year 2021. "This year, projects with high budgets could apply. And then big productions like Greek Freak, Tehran, Cronenberg's latest film, Barracuda (The Enforcer), Expendables and others showed up: 115 projects had been submitted by October, with 160 million for investments in Greece, and shootings took place in over 146 different places throughout Greece", he concluded.


Following the end of the data presentation by Mr. Kraounakis, Mrs. Venia Vergou, the last speaker of the evening and director of the Hellenic Film Commission, took the floor. She visited the island of Amorgos during the shootings to assess the situation. "Producers from all over the world were calling us to find out what's going on in the country, if they could do shootings. Once we found out that an international production was shooting there, I knew I had to see how things were going, how the protocols were being applied. I realized, to my great surprise, that everyone took health and safety issues seriously." As Mrs Vergou pointed out, the implementation of the protocols was very important, because if there were even one case in production, would seriously damage Greece's reputation would be severely damaged.


She then narrated a story from the shooting of the film, capturing the particular circumstances of the pandemic. "At some point during the shootings in Amorgos, a ship approaching Amorgos was bound to stop in the middle of the sea because of an engine failure. Therefore, they had to stop shooting. In different circumstances, this would be serious problem. However, the covid circumstances have changed things. This problem didn’t seem to be so serious anymore."


The evening ended with a positive message the two producers shared with the audience. As they explained, despite the big problems, the film left them with a taste of unity and hope. "We wouldn't have done it alone. We have received the support of many institutions. We would like to thank them very much. They all had to work together, especially in such an international production. All this left us with a sense of unity and joy. It's like a chain. In order for the chain to work, all pieces must be in place", Mr. Kontovrakis said. "It left us with a feeling of unity. We have become a second corona-family. We all had the same problems; we faced them together and we came out stronger. We learned to focus on the solution and not on the problem. This film brought us problems, but also the hope that together we can find solutions", Ms. Brokemper concluded.