61st Thessaloniki International Film Festival || 5 - 15/11/2020
Directors’ Corner: Tuesday November 10th
The second of a series of online meetings, open to the public, hosting directors of both competition sections, International Competition and Meet the Neighbors, as well as the directors of Greek films participating in the 61st Thessaloniki International Film Festival program, was held on Tuesday 10th of November, on the YouTube Film Festival Channel.
The audience had the opportunity to meet film directors Dimitris Koutsiabasakos (Daniel ’16), Danilo Caputo (Sow the Wind) and Lili Horvát (Preparations to Be Together for An Unknown Period of Time). Elena Christopoulou was the moderator of the discussion that was held in the frame of the Agora events.
Danilo Caputo spoke up first, talking about his film Sow the Wind. “I am very glad to present the film in Thessaloniki. The film is set in Apulia, Italy. I am originated from this region. It is a film that really touches upon many things I am really close to. Nika, a young girl, returns home after three years of absence. Her family is in financial dire straits, awaiting the promised compensation for the area’s dying centuries-old olive trees. This defeatist approach is rejected by Nika, who embarks on a quest to restore balance, having almost religious faith in nature’s survival forces. Soon, she realizes that not only trees, but also people are somehow infected. The pollution has infected people’s minds and she decides to do something about it”.
Dimitris Koutsiabasakos talked about his film, Daniel ’16: “Daniel, a German teenager, is sent to a juvenile offender community in Greece, to serve his sentence. There, in an abandoned village of the Evros river region, near the borders with Turkey, he experiences never-felt-before emotions and is called to solve difficult dilemmas. We follow this path of his life and how his final decision will be a surprise, not only for the audience, but for him as well. These communities have been operating in Greece the last twenty years. When I came across an article about the existence of those communities, I made an in situ research. It was very interesting to see those German teenagers in Greece, leaving in this rural area. We wrote a script for a fiction film, but the action takes
place in this area, near the Turkish borders, where these juvenile offender communities are really located”.
Lily Horvát spoke about her film, Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time. “It is maybe the longest title in the Festival. It is my second feature. I am so happy to be part of this year’s Thessaloniki Film Festival program. Márta, a 40-year-old neurosurgeon, abandons her promising career in the US to unite with the love of her life, in Budapest. However, a shattering shock is in store for her, as her “soul mate” has no recollection of even meeting her. That’s how the story starts. It’s an inner journey”.
Next, Elena Christopoulou, discussion moderator, took the baton: “We have three completely different films, but the thing that I really liked in all of your films was the use of the sound. Danilo has a background in classical music, in his previous film sound also had an important role. In this film, Nika’s attention to hear the nature’s voice is what drives the action. In Preparations, the male protagonist is listening to classical music, too. The silences become highlighted. In Daniel ’16, the soundtrack by Vangelis Fabas is accompanying the characters, but we have the sounds of the Muslim prayers and the Internet café sounds, as well. Would you talk a bit about how you have worked with the sound directors, or explain what the element of the sound is to you?”
“For us, sound was already there, in the script. Through sound we tried to enter into Nika’s head. That was interesting, because what was going on inside her head was very different from what was going on inside other people’s head. Nika has grown up with her grandmother, who was almost a “witch”. She had her own way of communicating with the trees, with living creatures that are not human beings. Somehow, what Nika learnt from her was to listen to things, to listen to the trees, to the rustling of the leaves, to all these small sounds that we don’t pay attention to. We also decided to use music on this film; it’s always difficult which music to use. We wanted to open the door for hope and at the same time try to bring reality to another level, to give a sense of mystery through music”, Danilo Caputo pointed out.
According to Lily Horvát, “we wanted to create a world representing the inner state of Martá. We experimented with many sound effects and real sounds. We built a lot of contrast between the sound parts and the silent moments of the film. Silence, as I mentioned, is very important to Martá, because she is alone a lot of the time. But, still, film silences are never a mute thing. We have used a lot of city noises, public transport sounds. Trams have become an important element. Those tram noises even played a part in the film and our music composer ended up including those sounds in the film soundtrack. As for the classical music, I wanted the male protagonist to have his own world because we see him through the eyes of the female protagonist, but at the same time I wanted him to be a three-dimensional character. Classical music plays a crucial part in his life and added a lot of things in the depths of his character”.
“At the beginning of my shootingg, I only knew one thing, to follow my character through sound. It is the first time he is sent to a foreign country, so he perceives sound very clearly. When I started editing, I didn’t imagine my film with music at all. Music is a very difficult question for a movie. It’s a big decision to have music in your movie. Music is timeless, a very ancient form of art; it has the ability to create something unique. Sometimes it seems to be a foreign body in a film, so I didn’t want a lot of music at the beginning. But during the editing process, I discovered that I wanted a lot of music in my movie. I told Vangelis Fabas that maybe we need to write some songs. At the beginning he didn’t agree with me, finally we understood that this was a very good path to follow. Of course, I was very lucky because Christos Gousios is a great musician and a well-known sound designer in Greece. He started to “read” the movie from his point of view and he came up with solutions that are really amazing, I thank him for that. I pay great attention to sound because we can’t see without hearing. Sound is as important as the image”, Dimitris Koutsiabasakos said.
“What kind of feelings did you want to highlight in your films?”, Elena Christopoulou asked the directors. Danilo Caputo replied first: “Anger was a starting point for me as it comes with a feeling of weakness and the need to understand the reason why something is happening. There is a scene where Nika sees someone throwing trash in the countryside, something that happens a lot because people don’t recycle and the first reaction is anger. But then I try to understand what mentality could allow something like that to happen. We always catch a glance of the factories in the background, because the city where we shot the film has the largest steel factory in Western Europe. They have been there since 1960s’; they are still there polluting the environment. I really wanted to understand why people, when they have to choose between work and health, they always choose work. We have been almost brainwashed. When people are brainwashed, they are willing to accept everything. This is the mentality I wanted to discover. People prefer to die of cancer and not of hunger. Corona virus is putting everyone to this test. Every state is wondering whether to leave people die of corona virus or of financial problems.
Lili Horvát went on to speak of her film’s key feeling: “I focused on the role of imagination when we fall in love. It’s a common experience, when we fall in love, we project a lot of things in that person and maybe we share more about us. When the actual being together happens, it is a quite a task to find happiness. I also wanted to show how differently two people can experience the same feeling”.
“What lies underneath the film is the feeling of being alone, the feeling of being socially excluded, the feeling of a loss of someone beloved and the feeling of being aggressive to other people even though you know that you need them. This feeling inspired my story. My protagonist can’t function inside his family. His family can’t help him. He starts a journey on his own and he manages somehow to find a solution, he wants to find a solution and he is very brave”, Dimitris Koutsiabasakos stated.
Afterwards, Dimitris Koutsiabasakos replied to the first question posed by the audience on whether his film can be described as semi-documentary: “The style of the movie is a documentary-type movie, because I wanted to highlight the sense of reality, in this sense I borrowed some stylistic methods of documentary, but it is a fiction movie”.
Lili Horvát replied in the question “what was your greatest concern while writing the film?” by explaining: “One of my producers, when he read the script, he said that we have made an anti-feminist movie. You see a crazy woman running after a guy, while being a top neurosurgeon. I wanted to show that this weakness of hers was in fact a sign of real integrity”.
The next question as to whether a strong witch tradition can be found in Apulia was addressed to Danilo. He replied: “In the North of Italy, in the 50s, there was a strong tradition of ritual magic, meaning that magic was used to cure people from diseases, if a child had a problem, if anybody had sleeping troubles. They believed that a physical problem was in fact a psyche problem and through the use of ritual magic they gave solutions to these problems. There is lot of documentation on that. All of that disappeared in 60s, along with the economic boom in Italy. Nowadays, witch tradition only survives as a folklore reminisce”.
Lili Horvát went on to reply to the following question: “Which directors would you say influenced your work, or your view on film making in general?” “During my studies in Paris I had the chance to watch all classic films that really formed my perspective in cinema. That was the first time I met Bergman, Hitchcock, Cassavetes. In the case of this film, Krzysztof Kieślowski was a big influence with his female characters as well as Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I also paid homage to a scene of Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders. Some viewers recognize it, while some others don’t, because it is used in a different way, so every time someone says how beautiful scene this is, I always feel that I don’t deserve this praise”.
“We usually see things the other way around, stories of immigrants and how they reach Germany and adapt to life there, but you bring German characters to Greece. It’s an interesting twist. What inspired you to write this story?” This was the next question addressed to Dimitris Koutsiabasakos. “Some years ago, I read an article in a Greek newspaper referring to this issue. I was very impressed. My partner and I visited this facility, we discussed with people working there, with teenagers, the inmates of this facility and so we wrote the script. This is of course a refugee story, my main character is a refugee, he is European and he comes to another country, Greece. I believe that the history of mankind is a refugee history. This issue is very important and very easy for everyone to understand. There is no nation or state that has not experienced to be a refugee or to have a memory of this experience; it’s very familiar to all people. I have to admit that you can be a refugee in different ways, Lili’s main character is a refugee, as she is living in a completely different emotional environment. She feels lonely, no one can understand her, and she is a refugee, too. Same with Danilo, this girl who knows what is happening, she loves her olive trees, but nobody else understands her”.
The next question matched up with the previous one. “How do the Government and society deal with the issue of the refugees and what are your observations in the matter, what do you think is going to happen in the next months or in the next years?” Dimitris Koutsiabasakos replied: “This is a very difficult question because what we live or what we are experiencing now, or what happens, is unprecedented, the events follow one another. Major changes happen, especially in our neighborhood. I am very pessimistic in this issue, things are worse now than six months ago, or a year ago. You see what happens in Armenia, you see what happens between Turkey and Greece. Turkey uses refugee flows as a weapon to negotiate with Europe. I am afraid of what is going to happen”.
“Is violence necessary for things to move forward?” Danilo Kaputo takes a stand: “I don’t think violence is necessary, but I think some form of persuasion is necessary, some form of action is necessary. You can’t just observe things and allow them to keep happening. We need to do something. Some form of action is necessary, some form of action that is not violent against people. This helps public attention to focus on different possibilities, different alternatives. I think that action is necessary, violence not”.
“Do you believe that what happens at the end of your movie, could happen in real life?” This was another question addressed to Dimitris Koutsiabasakos. “Yes, of course, although it isn’t a real event. The meaning of the scene is very realistic. There is hope for life, although I am pessimistic as to this issue, as I told you before. It is very important not to lose our hope. We have to keep going and to keep fighting for our life and for our beliefs”, Dimitris explained.
Afterwards, all four directors addressed questions to one another. Lili Horvát answered to a question posed to her by Dimitris Koutsiabasakos as to how she staged the atmosphere in her film. “I think a lot of stories fit well in digital technology but in this case, I felt that I would prefer these imperfections abs grains, the secrets that celluloid carries within. That was a decision that I made early on. I also had two good partners but despite the budget concerns, we decided not to take back this decision. I saw a street photo exhibition in Vienna, from an American photographer, Saul Leiter, from the 50s. There was a photo with a yellow cab, in the streets of New York in the 50s. On the back seat a man sat, but the only thing you could see was his hand holding the handle. That’s the way I wanted to picture the main character of this film. Then we looked up the photographer, we studied his work and we built a lot in terms of atmosphere based on his photos”.
Danilo Caputo’s question to Lili Horvát was: “How was your relation with the actors, did you spend enough time with them?” Lili said that they were rehearsing quite a lot before the shooting and since the film required more time on lights, on building the lights, that gave them the time to rehearse even during the shooting days. “I felt that this created an extra focus not only from the actors’ side, but also the whole crew was so much focused on our work, because it costs a lot of money and we didn’t have the time to do many shootings. Everybody was really attentive. There is a pressure due to technical difficulties. As to the protagonist, it was her first big screen role – she played a lot in independent theatre, and smaller film roles, we rehearsed a lot even the little intimate moments, how she walks, how she talks, the tone of her voice, how she opens a door, how she looks herself into the mirror. With the male lead things were different because he used to be a big actor in his prime days, but then quit acting and turned to theatre directing. He hasn’t accepted a role as an actor for about 15 years now. That was his big comeback. With him we didn’t rehearse a lot, he was a professor at an acting school and that created a sense of curiosity to my protagonist, Natasha. There was chemistry between the two protagonists that was evident in the film”.
“Actors in your film are so realistic that you have the feeling that you watch a documentary. You have the feeling that you watch real people in a screen and not actors. How did you manage to get this result?”, was the question addressed by Dimitris Koutsiabasakos to Danilo Caputo. “Ι tried to avoid rehearsing the scenes, I rather preferred working with the actors on the thoughts of the characters, on their biography, we were improvising, but we never actually rehearsed. During the shooting, I tried to give them a lot of freedom, I didn’t want anything specific. I let them give whatever they could, as long as it was true, even if it wasn’t in the script. It was a bit strange, most of the crew thought that I wasn’t directing them, by giving them so much freedom. It’s easier for them to be told what to do. I studied Philosophy and during my studies I discovered cinema, when I was about 20 years old. Everything started in 2012 with a Work in progress in the Agora section of the Thessaloniki Film Festival where I met Konstantina Stavrianou. She liked the project and she decided to help us finish it. Few years later, I was in Paris looking for a producer for my film and Konstantina helped me with that, too”.
“Where there any major changes in your script during the course of the movie’s shooting?” This was the last question addressed to the directors. Dimitris Koutsiabasakos replied as follows: “It is said that you write the film three times. The first time it is written by the scriptwriter, the second time by the screen shooter and the third one is the editing, in every process you make changes. So, during the shooting I made changes, and I made changes during the editing as well, but not major ones. We cut off one or two scenes. There are some directors that forget the script and improvise, I am not like that but I do make some changes during the shooting”. Danilo Caputo also replied to that question: “I didn’t make any major changes. I replaced some actors before the shooting took place. I had a certain idea of how Nika should be throughout the script and for most of the casting sessions. The Nika I had in mind was more severe and autistic, she didn’t have any softness; she was like a warrior”.
Discussions in the Directors’ 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.
Watch online: https://www.facebook.com/events/387052425668755/