Director’ Corner on Monday 9/11


5- 15/11/2020


Director’ Corner on Monday 9/11


The very first in a row of online meetings, open to the public, hosting directors of both competition sections, International Competition and Meet the Neighbors, as well as directors of the Greek films 61st Thessaloniki International Film Festival program, was held on Monday 9th of November, at 17:00, on the Festival’s YouTube channel.


The audience had the opportunity to meet the participating directors, Marco Papadopoulos (Sarmako – A Tale of the North), Azra Deniz Okyay (Ghosts), Fokion Bogris, (Amercement), Aleem Kahn (After Love) and Bogdan George Apetri (Unidentified). Elena Christopoulou moderated the chat that was held in the frame of the Agora events.


Marco Papadopoulos was the first to take the floor, talking about his film Sarmako – A Tale of the North. “It is a film I directed one and a half year ago, in Thessaloniki, and for Thessaloniki. Students from the Film Faculty of Thessaloniki, professional actors, as well as local actors from Thessaloniki, participated in that film. The film is about the Civil War and Rebetiko. It is addressed to music lovers and people who are interested in Greek history. I confronted certain difficulties during the production of the film, yet, I am very glad to see my film participating in the film festival and I hope you enjoy it”.


Azra Deniz Okyay referring to her film Ghosts, said: “the film was shot a year ago and the shootings were completed in 17 days. It contains four crossing stories. I was inspired by the domino effect describing how one’s life can interrupt the life of someone else. The fifth character is the city that “eats” them all up. I finished the shootings in the beginning of September and here I am with all of you”.


Aleem Kahn was the next to speak, describing his film After Love: “This is a drama that is set in Dover, Southeast of England and in Calais, across the English Channel. It is about a woman in her sixties, whose husband has died suddenly and after his death she discovers a big secret of him, that he has another family back in Calais. She decides to go over there and this makes her ask herself about every part of herself, the choices she had made and her identity. It’s a film about grief, identity and family. It is about the way we construct a family, how it is put together. It’s a very personal story, it is not autobiography, but it’s very much inspired by my mum. The lead character, Mary, was very much based on my mum. I am very pleased that my film is screened in your festival”.


Next, Bogdan George Apetri talked about his film Unidentified: “It’s a pleasure for me to meet all of you and maybe we are going to meet in two or three years in Thessaloniki. I also have big memories of Thessaloniki because my first trip after the collapse of the Communism in Romania was in Thessaloniki, when I was in high school. I remember I bought my first sneakers in Thessaloniki. I am from Romania, but I have been living in New York for 19 years. I still feel one hundred per cent Romanian and it’s weird because it goes back to all the films that I am making right now. I am doing a trilogy for three stories set in my small country, in Romania”.


Fokion Bogris referring to his film noted: “It’s the first time after so many years we can’t be in Thessaloniki. I’d really love to be there this year. Last ten years have been amazing in the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. My film, Amercement, is about the real-life story of a cannabis dealer. I can talk to you about the real-life character. The guy I came across in 2013, he was the cousin of a close friend of mine and I listened to his real-life stories, I thought they were interesting, amazing, and funny. At that moment I was just looking for an idea to start writing a screenplay. It was just the right timing. It took us seven years up to this point and here we are discussing with you guys online”.


“Although, we have five very different films not only in content abut also in style and approach, there is a common thread in all projects, the theme of letting go. All your characters have to go through their journey. They have to let go of the past or some kind of memories or some parts of themselves that they are not feeling good about, or clashes with society that restrict them from moving forward. This is the first step that leads them ahead. I was wondering how and if, because this was my interpretation of things, this process of letting go was a part of how you envisioned your characters and their journey”, Elena Christopoulou noted.


Aleem Khan explains: “I think that one of the things I wanted to explore in the film was this idea of identity and how we construct our identities, but more importantly, who we construct our identity for. When I think about my mum when I think about my family, my family is Muslim, my mum is white my dad is Pakistani, I grew up in an environment where I felt like a bit of an alien. There is a theory of code switching, how we are playing different versions of ourselves, showing different facets of ourselves and whom we show our versions of ourselves to. It sounds a very interesting idea. I spent about six years writing the script and it was something like a therapy, I think it took me so long to write, because I was exploring subconscious deep questions in terms of my own life in a way trying to find answers. By the end of the film, Mary, the lead character in this film, is in a position where she isn’t perfect, her life isn’t perfect, her life has changed forever, but she has all of the information now to move forward. My approach was really about engaging in a close reading your life, so close you can’t even distinguish what is right and what is wrong. It’s interesting about this idea of leaving things behind; I don’t see it this way personally. I think it’s about bringing in everything with you. I don’t think this character can leave anything behind. Grief is not something that you leave, it’s something you carry throughout your life, and you learn how to coexist with that. It’s a paradox, it’s bittersweet, it’s life. Because you just find the way to move forward while you carry everything on your back and the question about her religion. By the end her conviction of faith is more clear”.


Azra Deniz Okyay says: “I have decided to write about these stories. It was about how to handle big shock of chaos and how my characters get into the light. They leave chaos and get to the future. They are seeking their identity through chaos. Because I am a woman, I make films about women because I know them very well. A woman’s character is different than a man’s character and through filming I show the way they are handling different situations. My film has to do with the city chaos. The last scene of the film was shot in a ghetto where all of a sudden, a riot took place. Six police tanks arrived in the place aiming at our film making team. I think that my generation is learning how to make films in chaos”. Bogdan George Apetri characters experience chaos too. “Through this conversation I realized that when we are shooting a film and we finish it, we let it go. I think that all of us had this experience. We have ideas and emotions in our films and we invite people to watch these films in a way that changes everything. Chaos, yes, is the heart of my movie and of my main character”.


“In Sarmako, everything is leading to chaos, because there are two political periods that are in a deep political chaos and of course it is difficult to reconstruct a political era, I mean you choose carefully what you show and what you don’t. You try to find a certain balance in this chaos you create, but whatever happens in this film leads to violence in the end. There is a Tarantino-like violence explosion, because the characters don’t have any way out, they have to take revenge, they have to defend themselves somehow. You see all this raw violence; maybe it’s something subconscious, you have to find a solution for the ending. There are films, which celebrate violence, but if you use violence realistically there is always a justification. Violence leads to revenge; revenge leads to violence or violence leads to counter violence. This is a very interesting motive; it leads to certain twists” said Marco Papadopoulos. Fokion Bogris agreed, “You see violence as a solution and possibly a good way to end up with your film”. Bogdan George Aperti added in this respect “The most violent part of my film is the last 15 seconds. Though, I agree, cinema doesn’t have to be only truthful but also interesting. You need to de-crystallize life. Otherwise you end up with a flat story. It could be truthful, but not interesting”.


Audience questions followed. Aleem Khan answered a question about whether the film After love is based on real facts. “Yes and no. My grandparents lived in a town next to Dover, so I know this landscape very well because I have spent my childhood there. We didn’t have much money, but we would go to Calais for holidays because it was very cheap. There is something about the proximity of these two places. When it’s a clean day you see Calais from Dover. This image, this idea is kind of a mirror. This story is not autographic because I don’t have a stepfamily in Calais. I used my mum as a kind of barometer in order to approach my film character. In the film we see how we break our rules and keep secrets from the closest people in our life, we are all liars – I wanted the audience to put themselves in Mary’s shoes”.


The next question is addressed to all the directors “Do you feel that the COVID pandemic could start a new film genre? Films not only for seclusion, but films made by people in seclusion. Azra Deniz Okyay answered the question: “There will be many dystopian films and that will be the problem. People will be writing about that, but as a genre it will be kind of dystopia. Film directors will not deal with the pandemic, but with all these problems of the mankind. We can find another topic referring to the pandemic, as for example the fact that we have all stayed at home”. According to Bogdan George Apetri, “everyone is free to write and to make movies, thus I hope there will be some good movies”. “Maybe they will be so fed up with this COVID-19 pandemic so they don’t want to hear about it again. The whole world is living it and we are sick of it. I certainly wouldn’t be watching a film about the pandemic. I am done, I’ve lived that”, Aleem Khan stated. “I feel the same way as Aleem. We had too much of this in our everyday life lately. I am not sure if I want to watch a movie that deals with the pandemic. On the other hand, maybe, you can’t exclude it from cinema. It’s too serious to be ignored. And also, I don’t really like films that are about global disasters. I like films that focus on two or three characters. I am not really into films that deal with huge global problems”, Fokion Bogris added.


Marco Papadopoulos had to answer a question about the reason why he had made a film about the Civil War and why he decided not to be documentary. He explained: “I don’t do documentaries, I only do fictional films. A lot of films have dealt with the Civil War, but in combination with the Rebetiko there’s only the work of Kostas Ferris, the film Rebetiko, and the series To Minore tis Avgis, which also focuses on this music genre, but neither of them features the Civil War. I asked myself why. Maybe you could combine Rebetiko with Civil War and other historical events that occured in Greece. Also, Civil War pretty much fits into Rebetiko and also the esthetic of Rebetiko, this is a whole combination that comes together. So I decided to do this film because it’s very interesting historical era that fits with this musical genre. Also, because it fits in our modern society. There are problems in the film with tax fees, with some debts, which is of course the economic crisis we have right now. There are also coincidentally some things that are happening right now, for example during the civil war the cinemas were closed due to some tax problems. So I think there are certain connections and also the big wounds of the civil war in general. As you see in the Greek news, especially, but in all over the world the big gap between the Left and the Right and also, let’s say, the impact of the Second World War and the Civil War, is always present in our society, so this is something I wanted to show. Every era influences the one to follow”.


In another question, addressed to the film directors, on whether cinematography by its nature is and should be a scientific tool for studying life, humanity, nature, space and time, history, biology etc not to represent but to transfer universal consciousness, Fokion Bogris replied: “I don’t agree with the scientific part, there is no scientific thing about making a film. It has to do with human feelings”. Azra Deniz Okyay added: “I don’t agree but I can mention that first art is not copying anything, but in the same time you need to bring your tools and some mathematics sometimes for the script. All these you learn them on your own. We are not copying nature, but we are bringing our tools, so I am in the middle, it doesn’t mean that I agree”.


The conversation went on with a question on how difficult was it for the filmmakers to find money for making their movies. “For me it wasn’t the easiest thing in my life, we had terrible moments; I don’t want to talk about that. I belong to a generation that has to find solutions. In my country there is no solution for making movie” said Azra Deniz Okyay. “I just took a look at my bank account and tried to figure out how to do it and I finally worked it out, I didn’t have any money funding or any company behind my back”, Marco Papadopoulos explained.


Fokion Bogris replied with a touch of humor “Drug dealing would be a solution for all of us. It really crossed my mind when I was making the movie, it was a story of drug dealer, so maybe if I did it myself, it would be true to my movie, it’s illegal of course, but it’s just a thought, you know. I am just saying this because it was a nightmare to get financed; actually, I never got financed for this film. I was only offered some money from friends and family”. “First of all, I hope Fokion doesn’t start drug dealing, I want to meet him in Thessaloniki at some point. Of course, getting money is very difficult. If you have an idea, my advice for someone young is not to wait, money is important but it’s not everything”, Bogdan George Apetri stated.


According to Aleem Khan “we are very fortunate in the UK that we were able to apply to the British Government Institute for public funds and finance the film with the BBC films. So I made short films and I was based on my short films”.


“I really agree with Bogdan that nowadays is easier to shoot a film, you can do it even with your mobile phone. To finance your own first film probably is just like a suicide, but you have to do it if you believe in your idea”, Marco Papadopoulos stated.


In the last question on whether the leader role of the films could be from the opposite sex and how this would affect the scenarios, Fokion Bogris said: I am thinking about what you said I think that it would be fantastic. Of course, it would be a different movie. If the protagonist would be a girl she would be dealing with a man’s world and that would be interesting, that would be great. I don’t know what my next movie is going to be, or to put it right, I don’t even know if I will ever make another one, but I would love to make a movie with a female leading character”.


“In my movie this wouldn’t work because it has to do with an era with specific patriarchic stereotypes”, Marco Papadopoulos mentioned. Aleem Kahan also agreed by saying “The answer is simply, no, for my film too, this story is about motherhood in many ways and it would be a completely different story. I think this is a bit of a question to yourself when you start writing a story you should interrogate, could this character be male or female, why is this character male or female. What would happen if this character was male or female, to my film it’s not really applicable”.


Discussions in the Director’s Corner are held in English and are open to the public every evening at 17:00 until Friday November 13th on the YouTube Film Festival Channel.


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