61st Thessaloniki International Film Festival || 5 - 15/11/2020
Directors’ Corner: Friday November 13th
The fifth in a series of online meetings, open to public, hosting directors of both competition sections, International Competition and Meet the Neighbours, as well as the directors of the Greek films of the 61st Thessaloniki International Film Festival program, was held on Friday November 13th, on the Festival’s You Tube Channel.
The audience had the opportunity to meet the directors: Siamak Etemadi (Pari), Angeliki Antoniou (Green Sea), Christos Nikou (Apples), Vasilis Papatheocharis (Vasy’s Odyssey) and Dani Rosenberg (The death of cinema and my father too). Yorgos Krassakopoulos, the head of the film festival program, moderated the discussion, held in the frame of the Agora events.
Orestis Andreadakis, the Film Festival Artistic Director, was the first to speak, welcoming all directors: “Thank you so much, it’s a very difficult year, ιt’s a very difficult and peculiar Festival, but as we say in our motto: Cinema, no matter what! Festival, no matter what! Thessaloniki, no matter what! I know it was very difficult for everybody, but I am sure that all these previous days we gave some hope to people, some light and some good movies, too. You are welcome in Thessaloniki anytime and I hope that next time we will meet again in Thessaloniki, in packed theatres, in the big screen, to hug and kiss each other, and enjoy good cinema”.
Siamak Etemadi talked about his film, Pari: “I am Iranian-Greek film maker, I am participating in the Festival with the film Pari, actually the film had been released in theatres during this summer. Pari is my first feature film; it is about an Iranian mother, named Pari, coming to Greece with her husband to visit their son, who is studying in Athens. The parents are expecting their son to pick them up from the airport, but he never shows up. Thus starts a suspense story, in which the two parents are trying to find out what has happened to their son”.
Christos Nikou talked about Apples, his debut feature film: “It’s a story that takes place in a world where amnesia spreads like a virus and we follow the main character, who is around 40 years old. He is admitted to a hospital where he is diagnosed with amnesia, and doctors give him a treatment. He has several different activities to perform on a daily basis, in order to create new memories. Then, a lot of things happen”.
Dani Rozenberg took the baton: “My film, The death of cinema and my father too, is about a story of a father and his son, who tries to stop time through cinema, because his father is ill and about to die”.
Angeliki Antoniou said a few words about her film, Green Sea: “First I wish good luck to all directors participating in the Competition. It’s my tenth film and it is about amnesia as well. It’s an adaptation of a book, of a novel. It’s about a woman who has amnesia, and finds a job in a tavern, near the sea. She meets the owner of the tavern, a lonely man, who has given up on life. She doesn’t remember her name; she doesn’t know who she is. The only thing she can remember is how to cook. Through her cooking and affection, she creates bonds with the customers, who give back their love and affection, helping her to be cured. I think that this is the most optimistic film I have ever made. I was in the need of making a film, although we are all under a financial crisis, where the audience would feel cozy”.
Vasilis Papatheocharis talked about his movie, Vasy’s Odyssey: “We are very happy to be in the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. My film is a road movie about two strangers, a man in his late 30s and a woman in her early 20s. They travel from Spain to Greece for different reasons, without knowing each other. When they arrive in their destination, they have to face a new reality”.
“What gave the initial spark of your films’ main idea? What was the thing that urged you to make this particular film?” All directors in the panel answered in this question set by Yorgos Krassopoulos.
Angeliki Antoniou replied: “I had just read the back cover of a novel. That woman, who had amnesia, remembered how to cook and I asked myself how is this possible. How can one tell this kind of a story? Then I read the name of the tavern owner, Roula, which is a woman’s name in Greek. I read this book and I decided to make this film. This issue of amnesia is very difficult to deal with in the making of a film. We had to ask for the support of psychologists and neurologists”.
Christos Nikou explained: “My film is not realistic. I know how someone who has amnesia behaves, but I would rather create another world, a surreal one. After all, how many neurologists would watch the movie? I have always loved movies that create worlds different from the one we live in. I was also inspired by two novels, George Orwell’s 1984 and Jose Saramago’s Blindness. I started writing the script when I was trying to deal with the loss of my father. I was trying to understand how selective our memory is. How you can erase something that hurts you. If you erase it, are you going to lose your existence? After all, we are made up of our memories. I tried to give a universal meaning to my personal story by creating a world where all people would forget, and amnesia would spread like a virus. In general, movies that create worlds are allegorical. The problem with these films is that they are a bit futuristic, an element that I tried to avoid. It’s a bit boring to see all people wearing grey costumes. The allegory in my film is the way technology and social media have affected our memory”.
At that point, Angeliki Antoniou wanted to add something: “What was interesting to me was that a woman, who was not a cook, served dishes to simple people. Through offering herself to others, she got healed in a way. I believe that artists, journalists, musicians don’t have any contact with real life. They are very isolated, they create, they have an audience, but they forget how to experience human affection”.
Dani Rozenberg said: “I have seen Christos’ movie and I felt the same kind of obsession about preserving time, keeping the memories alive in the film. I wanted to keep my father’s memories alive because he was about to die. At the beginning we were shooting the film together, but then he started to suffer from pains and we stopped the shootings. After a couple of weeks he passed away. Then I tried to make a film about a father and a son, who try to make a film together. Actually I wrote a script about our own experience. While I was editing the film, I felt that something was missing. That something was the original material for this film, featuring my father. Then, I tried to combine all these in the editing process”.
Siamak Etemadi took the floor: “Just like in the film, I was waiting at the airport for my mother to come, whose name is also Pari. She is an elderly woman, who speaks only a few words in English. Every time she comes here I have to pick her up, as she can’t go around by herself. One day while I was waiting for her, her flight was a bit late and I started to wonder what she would do by herself if I weren’t there. When she finally came up, I asked that question to her and she replied: “I would have found you”. She was so sure about this. I asked myself what is this element that exists within us, which evolves into a superpower and makes us overcome all anxieties and fears, when we lose someone we love? This element sets us in a journey that can be life changing. That was the main idea, combined with my own emotions. At the time I was in a state of heartbreak. The poem I used is part of the classical Sufism poetry and talks about the process of rebirth we are going through when we don’t have what we truly desire. The combination of these three elements created the story”.
Vasilis Papatheocharis stated: “The story I wanted to show in this film was very personal; it is about broken dreams. I wanted to present people who pursue their dreams, but life, sooner or later, forces them to quit dreaming. If you asked a 6-year-old-child “what do you want to be when you grow up?” he would reply “an astronaut”. But you look up at the sky and you can see no more than six astronauts. Where are all those children? The male protagonist is in his late 30s and is still pursuing his dreams; he hasn’t realized that time goes by. Through this trip he realizes that it’s better to stay with his family than go after something that may never come true”.
At that point, Angeliki Antoniou wanted to add something: “When a director comes up with a story he always transforms a personal story into a film. I have made several films, I thought each my films was different from the others, but in the end I understood that it always came down to the same things in my head and in my heart. Every film is a variation of the same problems or thoughts of a director. I want to add that my protagonist doesn’t have a family, she is very lonely, but she finds a family along the way”.
Vasilis Papatheocharis replied in a question addressed to him by the audience: “Why did you choose to make the film in black-and-white? How was the experience of not just being the director, but also an actor in the film?” “I think all filmmakers and cinematographers want to make a black-and-white film, once in their life, because that’s how cinema was born, with black-and-white films. Some of the best directors of modern times have made black-and-white films, such as The Elephant Man by David Lynch. Most of us have started watching cinema through black-and-white films. The magic of black-and-white films has inspired us. I am not very experienced in directing the film and having a role as an actor at the same time. I was lucky because I worked with people I had already worked with in the past, and they helped me a lot”.
“After the passing of your father was there a moment where you thought about not continuing with the film and what made you go on and shape the film the way you did?” was a question addressed to Dani Rozenmberg: “Actually I wrote the script and sent it to the Film Fund. Seven days after my father had passed away, I got an answer from the Film Fund, informing me that they would give me the funding to make the film. I didn’t have the protagonist anymore, but I had the money. I decided to find an actor and make the film. An actor replaced my father, while my mother was still playing the mother part; the story was the same when I started shooting, but it felt very strange. One day I stopped and said: “what am I doing here”? I stopped shooting and rewrote the script.
“Would the main character work in another narrative and why did you choose Exarcheia as a central setting of your story in Athens?” was a two-part question set to Siamak Etemadi: “I will start with the second part of the question. Exarcheia is where I live. The main character is Iranian, he moves to Greece and the whole story takes place in Greece. The story of my film echoes my own life in a way. I was born in Iran; I came here in my early 20s and I have been living in Greece the most of my life. Exarcheia is a very hip, fashionable and at the same time revolutionary area of Athens. It’s very contradictory. It’s the center of political dissent in the city. Traditionally, it has always been oriented to the Left. Polytechneio is here, the symbol of the Greek uprising and the reinstatement of Democracy in Greece, in 1974. All symbolic elements can be found in Exarcheia. As for the first part of the question, there is a “fish out of water” hue in the story. We have a woman who comes from Iran, she is from a very traditional religious background and it’s very hard for her to find her way around in a European metropolis. We have a character with such a strong desire, ready to destroy her whole life and set it up again. All these elements are very interesting for the plot of the story”.
“Why Pari has not been filmed in Iran and if the film had been shown there what would the reaction of the local audience be?” Siamak Etemadi replied: “We hope the movie will be released in Iran at some point, there are discussions on that. One of the reasons I left Iran was because I felt that the kind of movies I wanted to make needed a different set of rules form the ones imposed by the regime in Iran. But I will be very satisfied if my work, after so many years, finds its way to Iran”.
“How was it to work with Aris Servetalis, your main actor and what does it feel having such an amazing cast in your first feature film?” Christos Nikou replied: “I had previously worked with Aris in a short film, and we decided to work together again in a feature film. This role was written with Aris in mind. He is a great tool for a director because his body language, as well as the minimalistic approach of his performance, is very powerful. I asked him to watch some films as a reference, Jacques Tati movies and two movies with Jim Carrey, and make a blend of the two. People are saying that he reminds them of Buster Keaton, on account of his melancholic look. It’s great for a director to have such a cast, because you do not have to do a lot. There is a scene where Aris is dancing. At first we had chosen Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean, but we were asked to pay in royalties an amount higher than our total budget, so we decided to go for another song”.
Siamak Etemadi pointed out: “It is really a gift when to be working with a good cast as a first-time filmmaker. It is really helpful for the whole project”. Angeliki Antoniou explained: “I had a different experience. When I shot my first film I wanted to work with actors of my age. I didn’t want to have any famous actors. Now that I have made several films, I have realized that it is better to have experienced actors. Nevertheless, you can have a very creative way of shooting with young and inexperienced actors. This experience gives the director a deeper satisfaction, as you can create your own actor. For Roula’s role I had to find a guy who wouldn’t be a caricature. Along with Yannis Tsortekis we created a sensitive and a bit schizophrenic guy, and that was not the easiest thing to do”.
Dani Rozenmberd said: “In my case amateur actors were given most of the main roles, but experienced actors took part, as well. My mother, for instance, couldn’t understand that she was acting, I was telling her what to do. It was strange because she did everything right from the first take. Because of the pandemic, no one has seen the film in Israel and I am scared about people’s reaction when they finally see it because this film is very personal”.
Vasilis Papatheocharis explained: “As I have already mentioned, I wanted to make a personal film. The parents of the character were actually based on my own parents. Before we started shooting I had to make a screen test in order to squeeze what I wanted out of the actors. The result was incredible”.
Christos Nikou addressed a question to all directors in the panel: “Most of the times filmmakers travel so much to promote their movies. I know that it’s so nice to receive all this love from the audience. At the same time I get the feeling we are losing the momentum of working on a new project. The only good thing of this pandemic is that we now have the chance to work on other projects”.
Dani Rezenmberg stated: “I agree, although some of you have already had the chance to see your film. I never saw my film in a theatre, with an audience, it’s depressing. All events and festivals were canceled”.
Angeliki Antoniou added: “Christos is right. I have been traveling for three years to promote my last movie. I met the same people in all Festivals. It was like a big family to me. I prefer losing some precious time from my next project than losing contact with this big cinema family in the festivals. Sharing is the motto of my film”.
Siamak Etemadi took the baton: “My movie was screened at the Berlinale, the last festival before the pandemic outburst. We had the pleasure of watching the film with an audience, and I feel I have learnt so many things out of this, as the audience was different every time. This experience was totally absorbing and satisfying. We decided to release the film during the summer, in Greece, because open-air cinemas were still operating in Greece. It was a bit risky, because the film has a sort of dramatic touch; during summertime people are in the mood for a lighter story. The response was much better than expected, and every chance I had I would sneak into the cinema, just to watch these people paying their tickets and watching my film. I totally agree with Christos, maybe this forced isolation is a blessing in disguise, giving you the chance to focus on your work.”
Dani Rozenberg addressed a question to all directors: “If you could go back in time, do you believe that you have taken the right or the wrong decision concerning the release of your films?”
Angeliki Antoniou replied: “That’s a very good question. It depends on the film.
I released a documentary in the summer and due to the pandemic, cinemas had to shut down after four days. How could anyone have known? Even if I made the wrong decision, I believe it’s better to release your film than keep it to yourself”.