3rd Evia Film Project: Day 4 Highlights: Masterclasses by Emin Alper – Yorgos Tsourgiannis, Katerina Bei, Pantelis Panteloglou

3rd Evia Film Project: Day 4 Highlights 

Masterclasses by Emin Alper – Yorgos Tsourgiannis, Katerina Bei, Pantelis Panteloglou

Let’s get a taste of all the events and activities that took place on Friday 5th, July, the fourth day of the 3rd Evia Film Project, in Edipsos, Agia Anna and Limni:

Masterclass by Emin Alper – Yorgos Tsourgiannis

Emin Alper, one of the most significant Turkish filmmakers of our time, visited Northern Evia for the screening of his film Burning Days, which won the Fischer Audience Award for a film in the “Balkan Survey” section of the 63rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival. 

Within the framework of his presence at the 3rd Evia Film Project, Emin Alper delivered a masterclass on Friday, July 5, in Agia Anna, together with the renowned Greek producer Yorgos Tsourgiannis, co-producer of his film Burning Days. They talked about what it means to make cinema in uncertain times and geographical contexts, and to develop alternative methodologies in order to overcome erratic limitations.

The masterclass was prefaced by the Festival’s artistic director, Orestis Andreadakis, who touched upon the first time that the Festival came to Northern Evia three years earlier and the process of seeking a venue for the seminars that the students of the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens would participate in. “When we chose Kanatakia, a lot of people wondered why we would do the seminars in a tavern. However, we thought of something the teachers and of course, the Festival’s President, Eleftheria Thanouli, Professor of Film Theory at the Film Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, know very well; that the educational process has nothing to do with walls, but everything to do with passion and love of learning," he stressed. He congratulated both students and professors for their exceptionally high level of knowledge and also welcomed 12 students from the ANT1 Media School, an initiative of Fanis Mouratidis.

Immediately afterwards, he welcomed the “brave neighbor and friend of the Festival” Emin Alper, the great producer, Yorgos Tsourgiannis, who has films such as Dogtooth in his portfolio, as well as the moderator of the discussion, partner of the Festival and author, Yiannis Palavos.

Yiannis Palavos thanked the audience for its attendance and briefly presented Emin Alper’s work, divulging that he has created four films that have travelled to the world’s biggest festivals, having earned a number of awards. Initially, he asked the speakers how they met, and Emin Alper recounted their introduction at a pitching platform in 2016, where he was presenting the Tale of Three Sisters. Yorgos Tsourgiannis recalled that between them there was instant chemistry and that at the time, Greece was not an obvious choice for a co-production country. "For me, Emin's films were a great discovery, a great thing, in which I wanted to participate," he stated.

“You encounter many producers, yet with only but a few you have such good chemistry,” Emin Alper said in agreement. He indicated he shared a similar perspective on things with Yorgos Tsourgiannis and they have an excellent relationship. This professional relationship has been maintained through the years, despite the strained relations between the two countries. Both agreed that this has never been a source of contention. In fact, Yorgos Tsourgiannis remarked that these two countries have a lot in common, that the people of these two countries share many similarities with one another.

In regards to the role of the producer, Yorgos Tsourgiannis said that the objective is "to help the project come to fruition and, particularly in arthouse cinema, protect the creator’s vision. The role of the producer has much to do with the creation of a common vocabulary, facilitating meaningful communication with creators."

Emin Alper stated that the only chance to really distance yourself from the script of your film, is to hear a substantial critique: "It's crucial for this critique to originate from people you trust. Too much talk too soon can confuse new filmmakers. Yorgos Tsourgiannis is one of the people I trust. I always read through his thorough commentary, and then I make adjustments." He then joked about AI's attempts to write a script in his own style: "Despite my best efforts, unfortunately, AI gave a happy ending to the story."

He stressed that the script writing process has much to do with patience. He noted that he writes his first draft very quickly, within a period of 2-3 weeks. Then, he starts making corrections. He takes a two-month long break to distance himself from his writing and comes back with a new perspective. “The script continues to change throughout the editing process, as well. I feel the only thing really stopping the changes in a film is an invitation from a festival," he explained, adding that usually after 4-5 months of changes, he feels he has exhausted all possible alternatives to a script, at last.

Next, he discussed the issues he had with the Ministry of Culture of Turkey during the filming process of Burning Days. He said he had to return the money allocated to him due to the ministry not being content with the changes made to the film after the initial draft: "I was blamed for the homoerotic content of my film because in Turkey, homophobia is now the official political practice," he explained, yet pointed out that the film’s reception by the audience was particularly touching.

As for the challenges encountered in Greece and the wider region, Yorgos Tsourgiannis observed that in general, things are going quite smoothly, but he feels that they can be derailed at any time: "I often wrestle with bizarre provisions of the law and I’m jealous of my Western counterparts. The West has always been a fantasy to which I succumbed. However, I had to work so hard to overcome various hurdles that now, I have become stubborn and I wonder; if we all leave, who will be left behind?" He added he is constantly looking for co-producers as the opportunities for funding in Greece are limited.

Emin Alper expressed that every country has its issues, but that the issues in Turkey are rather grave: "Sometimes, due to the various delays and obstacles, I end up feeling like an investor or a bureaucrat. I often stop feeling like an artist and that's exhausting. I have reached the threshold of a nervous breakdown numerous times," he said. He added: "I have thought about leaving Turkey. But there are two types of people: those who can and those who cannot live abroad. I belong to the latter category." 

Yorgos Tsourgiannis advised the young emerging filmmakers to take their time in creating a film and not to be and not to be discouraged by the difficulties of this job. He stressed the need to seek refuge in their fellow students and future partners. Emin Alper also endorsed this human-centric approach, underlining that solidarity is extremely important in this line of work: “Find friends, not partners. Prepare yourself for the inevitable disappointment. Your films may disappear among thousands of others. Don't be discouraged. If you are particularly fragile and vulnerable, don't do this job. And the worst thing, which I have unfortunately observed in people who have tasted failure, is that they became full of malice. Please don't become spiteful. Don't let disappointment embitter you in an irreversible way." On what he looks for in a filmmaker, Yorgos Tsourgiannis said that he follows the human-centric approach he mentioned earlier: “While I do not underestimate the importance of an idea’s content, what is the most essential for me is the kind of person I have before me and how they communicate their idea to me", he stressed.

Emin Alper also offered a couple pieces of advice to the students: "Be realistic with your scripts, especially in the beginning. I always have 2-3 scripts as alternatives, even now. I often feel like a contractor with all the plans I devise, but unfortunately, it's part of the job," he said, humorously. "In recent years, our gamble as filmmakers and as members of society is to protect Justice. The first thing that all oppressive regimes attack is Justice. The law puts obstacles in their path. In my country we constantly bear witness to gross injustices. With my cinema, I want to be part of this modest struggle against the oppressors," he emphasized.

"I hid my dreams for many years," he declared shortly before the end, on the challenges faced by professional artists. "I was working a regular job, but I realized quickly that the only way to be truly happy was to shoot a film. Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of creating stories and films," he admitted.

Concluding, he spoke about the value of pitching in his line of work, noting that even though he doesn't enjoy it himself, it is particularly useful: "When you hear your own story, when presenting it to others, you understand if you have created something truly boring, or, conversely, something truly fascinating."

Masterclass by Katerina Bei

Katerina Bei, beloved screenwriter of great cinematic hits such as The Murderess, Eftyhia, as well as TV hits such as Remember When, etc., delivered a masterclass in Agia Anna concerning the question of how easy it is to put your thoughts on paper and how realistic it is to believe that’s enough. She spoke on the collaboration between a screenwriter, a film director, and a producer, while comparing the similarities and differences between the scripts written for the small and the big screen.

The masterclass was prefaced by Eleni Androutsopoulou, head of the Greek Film Festival: “We are hosting one of the most important Greek screenwriters in film, and television, who has done numerous collaborations with renowned directors and producers," she said, welcoming Katerina Bei.

Katerina Bei welcomed the students. Initially, she expressed that she is self-taught, lacking the opportunity to study scriptwriting. Reflecting on the things that are important for her when she starts writing a script, she shared that there are four main pillars: the idea, the characters, the hidden meaning and the ending. 

She stressed the importance of having your ears open and listening, as well as that of communicating with the environment through every possible way. “Nowadays, owing to the internet, we have access to conditions and people we would never have encountered otherwise. That is a gift for us who write,” she underlined. She counseled the students to watch reality shows in order to observe the movements and reactions of the actors in building a character and suggested reading psychology books for exactly the same reason. "Anything related to people is very important for this job," she emphasized.

On the characters in a film or series, she said: "We don't want one dimensional characters, we want fully fleshed out ones. Many times, the character themselves generates the action and the plot and if you know them well, that opens up the scope." She prompted the students to keep asking themselves what exactly the script they are writing might evoke in each person and to try and connect mentally with their story.

Additionally, she stated that even though she follows the four pillars mentioned above to begin writing, there are other screenwriters who don't. She noted that some need more time and more elements, emphasizing that when one starts writing scripts, it is better to have a lot of elements that will aid them in shaping the story.

Concerning when a story can be deemed complete, she shared with the students a trick to help them evaluate whether their writing is well-crafted and structured correctly: "After you finish the script, pick a random scene, read it separately, and wonder: if it were removed from the script, would there be a gap? If not, you need to rework it." She stressed this parameter, noting she strongly believes that every detail in the script must serve the development of the action, otherwise, it has no place in there.

She also referred to the importance of not waiting for inspiration to come. She said the more you seek it, the faster it comes, the more you think about it at night in your sleep and dedicate your time to it, the more ideas will come to you: "Set a schedule for yourself. Decide on a number of pages and write that many every day. Take care of the inspiration, so that it may take care of you too." She assured the attendees that with hard work, they can improve what they choose to do.

At this point, she showcased certain excerpts from films Eftyhia, and The Murderess, noting the changes she made from Papadiamantis’ original text, or specific elements from the life of Eftyhia Papagianopoulou, to better adapt them into the present day and facilitate the needs of the film. She stressed that biography is a terribly challenging genre, primarily because you are asked to squeeze an entire life into a few hours. It's also difficult because each person being biographed has relatives with memories and different perceptions of reality: “In biography I feel as if I must apologize continuously,” she stated


She advised aspiring screenwriters to be prepared to step back, to maintain a balance, and to avoid placing their ego above everything: "Be prepared to negotiate for five, but keep in mind to onto two. Not cutting out anything is not possible. The world isn’t ready to accept masterpieces in their pure state," she said humorously.

She then went on to talk about the instances during which a screenwriter serves a director's vision, working on assignment. In such cases, the screenwriter must find ways to satisfy the director without having to compromise his own aesthetic vision, she said. "In this job, we are often called upon to justify ourselves – both to producers, and channels. However, you must learn to take a step back on a couple of things," she advised the students. "It's not just your baby - there are many ‘mothers'. Many of the comments you will hear will be forgettable, but some will be useful.”

She declared she does not separate cinema from television, adding "television matures you, it's a great school". In television, there is time pressure and high demands, the professional screenwriter is required to develop both speed and communication skills.

She highlighted how important it is to separate the specializations and pointed out that in recent years, films with different directors and screenwriters seem to do better. She also admitted she often borrows elements from people in her personal life and integrates them into her characters. She mentioned that the best characters are not a copy of real people, but that conversely, they borrow elements from various fronts to transform into multidimensional and engaging characters.

In response to a question from the audience on whether she agrees with Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author, concerning the theory claiming that once a work is completed by the author in its textual form and released, its interpretations belong exclusively to the reading public, and it is beyond the author's control, Ms. Bei replied in affirmative. “For me, it is very enjoyable because all the different interpretations make me feel as if my writing is multidimensional. The only failure I acknowledge is if something essential in the structure of the script is not understood. The different understanding of a character’s action is, naturally, welcomed.”

Finally, she urged the students to knock on doors and send their work to production companies fearlessly: "They may not choose you right away, but they will keep your contact details and, in the future, when they are looking for a writing team, they may pick you." Concluding, she said that for her, "perseverance is more important than talent."

Masterclass by Pantelis Panteloglou

Pantelis Panteloglou, the artistic director of Olympia International Film Festival for Children and Young People and president of the European Children's Film Association delivered a masterclass on Friday, July 5th in Agia Anna, attempting to set off on a journey through cinema from the early 20th century to the present, with the aim of identifying the key and invariable points, as well as the relentless radical changes of this relationship, with a focus on the Greek reality.

Initially, Mr. Panteloglou welcomed students and audiences alike to the event and immediately asked what their first purely cinematic experience was. Most of them mentioned a children's animated film and Mr. Panteloglou said that it was to be expected, as there is a solid niche in the market, which is driven by children as viewers and it is linked to mainstream cinema and Hollywood.

Reflecting on the origins of cinema, he said that it is a relatively new art form, some 130 years old, pointing out that the current perception of it has not always prevailed. Cinema has recently acquired a language of its own, he stressed. Initially, it was a product, a dialogue between filmmakers experimenting in the technical and commercial aspect and the audiences who were experiencing the new formats for the first time. The Lumiere brothers' cinema involved either realistic depictions, or visual tricks and illusions. People at the time were enchanted by these practices; audiences maintained their childhood innocence, and were open to the experience of cinema. Mr. Panteloglou emphasized that we are skeptical due to our experience with audiovisual media, whereas children aren’t.

""The discussion about children and cinema includes another one about the magic of cinema. Cinema is a fabrication. It resonates, influencing the world’s perceptions, or even misleading it. It alters a static society into a more dynamic one," he commented.

Mr. Panteloglou indicated that from the beginning of cinema, many associated the new medium and especially its more "realistic" productions with education and learning in general. In Greece, figures such as Kostis Palamas or Gregorios Xenopoulos wrote about cinema and the prospect of its connection to the needs of childhood (mostly in education) as early as 1915-16. He mentioned that the first recorded Greek school to organize screenings for children in 1916 was the private "Protypon Konstantinidou School" on Alexandras Avenue in Athens, where a number of progressive teachers worked. These first organized efforts to provide children with meaningful content struggled to go up against "market trends", the mainstream practices of the time, and censorship.

On the subject of children and cinema, of particular importance during the interwar period was the women's movement, which still had not gained the right to vote, he noted. This mix of interested parties - the women's movement, demoticists, socialists and progressives in general, was in contact with the outside world, exchanging experiences.

He added that cinema triumphed, despite conservative reactions. During Pangalos’ dictatorship in 1926, the General Security Service organized film screenings for children. This was repeated at various points before and after World War II. The organized school attempted to find ways to access film projectors and educational films. During the post-war in Greece, there was a local film industry with significant Greek productions. Although cinema was a source of entertainment for everyone, it did not find a place in schools (even though it drew on themes from Greek school life).

At this point, he discussed the mutual suspicion between the state education system on the one hand and filmmakers on the other, which lasted until very recently, into the 1990s: "This suspicion led to the self-fulfilling prophecy of the disconnection between education and cinema in the era of the first metapolitefsi. The former was not interested in the latter, with the exception of only a few notable persons trying to break down the invisible barriers of education," he commented. He also mentioned that television and video were never incorporated into Greek schools and that the important initiatives of the 1990s (Melina project, Let’s Go to the Cinema program) failed to reach all students due to lack of resources.

Next, he spoke about the activities of the Olympia International Film Festival, whose people constructed their own activity upon this deficit of gigantic proportions and managed, at last, to build an organization with a perspective on the issue of connecting the art of cinema with children and education. Mr. Panteloglou referred to the necessity of the children watching creative cinema and gaining an aesthetic education. Following this, he made a brief presentation of the Festival’s activities, as well as the possibilities of cooperation with it.

Mr. Panteloglou then referred to today's audiovisual media and their rapid evolution: "Today, most things are determined by the very big players, both in production (mainly, big American studios) and in distribution (themselves and their Big Tech partners). Everyday uses of audiovisual media are controlled by algorithms and commercial experimentation has very direct consequences for large audiences. The audiovisual works we watch are, for the most part, created by us, distributed without us being paid and we even pay to watch them ourselves," he commented.

He came to the conclusion that the progressive petition of the Interwar period for cohesive offering and use of cinema during childhood remains even now and it is even more topical: “It would be a mistake to see the new state of things as unprecedented because the motives behind its emergence are not so different from the historical motives behind commercial film production. Additionally, the actors realizing the current circumstances do not differ radically in terms of their intentions," he said.

Finally, in response to a question posed by the audience about whether the level of production of children's films has worsened compared to the past and whether the language of communication with children has been simplified, Mr. Panteloglou affirmed that this is indeed the case: "European studios try to imitate American ones and end up with a similar result, with a much smaller budget. Instead of differentiating themselves, they are unfortunately homogenized," he concluded, highlighting the necessity of taking a child seriously.