Interviews with filmmakers

Greek filmmaker Konstantinos Antonopoulos about his remarkable Oscar-shortlisted film Postcards from the End of the World – SIFF 2020

The following interview with Konstantinos Antonopoulos was initially taken at Syros International Film Festival, on September 6, 2020, with a follow-up via FaceTime once I got back to Berlin, on September 16. 

There was literally so much to talk about. The short film Konstantinos showed at SIFF, Postcards from the End of the World, is so beautifully shot and rich with meaning that you can easily go off at a tangent while discussing it. And I obviously had to ask him about the festival itself, about its splendid backdrop – I’ve never seen sunsets as seductive or the moon to shine so bright over a huge expanse of water… Konstantinos must have been as sensitive to the beauty of the island since the starry sky of Syros found its way into his film and felt as alive and palpable as I experienced it in real life. There’s also a highly sought-after sea view in the film that is “ranked 4.5 on Trip Advisor”, the ironic omniscient narrator informs us. The beauty of nature isn’t the main theme of the film however, only its setting…

But first things first…

Dana: You strike me as an exciting new voice in contemporary Greek cinema but I can also see an affinity (both tonal and thematic) with established Greek filmmakers such as Yorgos Lanthimos, Athina Rachel Tsangari. A new weird wave of Greek cinema perhaps? A more optimistic one, dare I say. I’m thinking here of the optimistic ending of your short film, Postcards

Konstantinos: I think it’s impossible to be a Greek filmmaker today and to not be influenced by Yorgos Lanthimos. He’s one of the most interesting filmmakers in the world and I think he created a school of followers in Greece, with all the good and the bad that comes with it. And I feel that both Yorgos and Athina Tsangari come out of a longer tradition that toys with this mixture of existential tragedy and a playful, humorous tone. This actually existed in Greek cinema, I refer to them as the 3 Ps: Nikos Panayotopoulos , Giorgos Panousopoulos and Nikos Papatakis, a Greek filmmaker who lived in Paris for many years and was the lover of the singer of Velvet Underground whose stage name, Nico, was in reference to him…

So the new Greek wave, the weird wave, has a lot of tradition behind it. These filmmakers peppered their films with humour, absurdity and playfulness, the mix of tragedy and absurdity. But the films of those filmmakers didn’t travel internationally as much as the films of Theo Angelopoulos for instance, with his long takes, so they aren’t so well known to the international audience. 

I definitely feel part of this tradition in the sense that I draw some joy in treating stories in a similar manner. It’s a defence mechanism that helps to deal with the uncertainty of the present. Living in Greece means living with the fear that everything might collapse the following day, we face a lot of disappointment, disillusionment and I think that humour is a defence mechanism to deal with this everyday tragedy. 

Dana: I know it’s not your first time on the island, you’ve been a regular at SIFF since its inception 8 years ago. What do you appreciate the most about the festival?

Konstantinos: I first went to SIFF in their third year. It was already an impressive festival back then. It started with a few American kids who were somehow related to Greece and to the island of Syros, the founders of the festival were all very young. I remember being very impressed with the programming: the choice of movies is always surprising, they have a really good eye for experimental films that are relatable and interesting, narrative films that are rare and touch on aspects you haven’t seen before, that treat filmmaking and storytelling in surprising ways. The festival is also very good at creating thematics and incorporating the island in setting up the festival. They will screen crazy movies in crazy locations that are also very beautiful and unexpected. I remember many screenings where they used super 16 stock or even super 8 in weird locations, on the beach or on a hill. They even created a drive-in cinema for the festival, something we don’t have in Greece, I definitely never experienced one before. And the music: every year they will have a concert or an audio-visual performance that is cutting-edge experimental or very interesting. So overall I’m very fond of this festival. 

Dana: What have you screened at the festival previously? 

Konstantinos: Nothing, I was there to teach a film-making workshop to teenagers and I was very impressed with how talented they are…

Dana: Having seen your short now, I bet you could have taught them how to shoot the perfect short film…

Konstantinos: (Laughing)

Dana:  You shot Postcards on Syros of all the 200 plus islands in Greece. How did that come about? 

Konstantinos: The story of this family on vacation called for an island but a deserted, less civilised one, a landscape that makes you feel uncomfortable. And Syros is a very beautiful island so I wasn’t considering Syros as a location at all, I was looking for something more rough. And I found that sort of island but production has a totally different set of parameters and it would have been very difficult to shoot there. So I was at Syros during the festival and realised that actually Syros has this completely wild side, the North of the island is a protected area, it’s very steep and rough and rocky and you can film it as if you’re in the middle of nowhere. Also we found people on the island who were very attuned to art projects and they were willing to help us. So the festival played a role in introducing us to the artistic community on the island that was super friendly.  

Dana: Postcards could be interpreted as prophetic given the current COVID 19 situation…

The film was actually inspired by another crisis we had in Greece, the financial crisis in 2015. I was at the festival during the week that saw the climax of this Greek drama of the financial crisis: the referendum was held that week, there was a lot of pressure, the banks closed down, people couldn’t draw out money, there was a lot of uncertainty and rumours that Greece is going to exit the EuroZone. It was really like…

Dana:  The end of the world…

Konstantinos: It felt like that a little bit. You don’t know what’s happening, what the next day will bring, everything may collapse or everything may stay the same. And it was weird being on the island at that time: one one hand you could feel the pressure, the negativity, on the other hand everything was so beautiful, the sun was shining, people were swimming in the sea. You felt as if nothing could go wrong. And this paradox, this collection of antithetical elements stirred up something in me and I felt it’s a good way to open a movie. But I shot the film a few years later. 

Dana:  How do the two crises compare in your eyes, the Greek financial crisis and the global pandemic? 

Konstantinos: (laughing) It’s interesting…Both crises are something we have to learn to live with since both are here to stay. It’s important to be aware that things can fall apart at any moment. As I was growing up, everything was getting better and better financially, in every sense but it was a bubble. Things go in circles, or in spirals or in weird shapes and we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that things will always go in the same direction. 

Dana:  About the family at the heart of your film – you managed to capture the chaos of family life beautifully but also show us a glimmer of hope and maybe a way out of the humdrum of marital existence. I also loved the layering of looks in your film. The film opens with the main characters looking at another family that seems the ideal family. But this is contradicted later on and you’re creating a contrast between the two families.  

Konstantinos: Hope is a weird word for me but I’ll admit that being just miserable won’t get you anywhere! 

As I was working on the script, I realised I was actually writing about my own family, my own parents. I remember going on vacation with them as a child and they were arguing about the most mundane, boring things, practical matters that meant nothing. And I remember thinking: these people should just break up, they clearly didn’t fit together. But sometimes I could also see the love. And today they are happier than ever! So I guess I’m also thinking about couple life, myself, what does it mean to be a couple or in a marriage for a really long time. And I think love works in very peculiar ways and this is what I was investigating a little bit in my movie. Even in the most dysfunctional of relationships, there can be something deeper that ties people together. 

Dana:  In the second half of your film, this family decides to start anew, to create a new world. Which takes them seven days, like in the Bible…

Konstantinos: Yes, there’s this Biblical reference. But the end is a bit more open-ended than that. There’s the threat that things could easily return to the dysfunctional “normality”. Which is something that I feel could easily happen with our situation now. For instance, during the quarantine, a lot of people in Greece, including myself, were super happy, we found time for ourselves, time to think, to read. Most people discovered something about themselves during the quarantine, or did things they couldn’t do normally. But as soon as the quarantine ends, whatever they discovered could easily disappear. 

Dana:  Yes, we could slip back into our old ways. Very symbolical in this respect is the sound of the ferry at the end of your film, signalling the return to normal life. The old world is making a comeback and what you built in the meantime may easily vanish. 

Konstantinos: Exactly. 

Dana: Something that amused me about the new world the family is trying to build is that their new goals and resolutions include learning French and also patience. Is patience is one of your favourite virtues?

Konstantinos: (Laughing) Definitely, my favourite virtues are Courage and Patience.  Patience is in a way the opposite of courage but it also has a lot in common with it: being so courageous that you will wait. 

Dana:  The end of the world comes against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty, the calm blue sea and the starry sky above reminding one of Kant’s moral code that the other family in your film struggles with, they embrace an “everyone for themselves” type of philosophy. Could you talk about the antithesis and tension created through these juxtapositions?

Konstantinos: This is a tool I actually want to explore further: working with directly contradicting elements within the same space, frame, scene…This may sound too theoretical but Hegel has this idea of thesis- antithesis – synthesis. And I think something new and more revealing comes out if you show opposite sides of the same thing. If you show a tragedy taking place while on vacation on a very beautiful island, with its almost “postcard” quality, where everything should be perfect, this creates a contradiction and it says something more profound about the drama and comedy of the situation. The combination of the two shows that there’s no comedy without tragedy. And that’s one way to talk about tragedy, to reveal the comedy of it, and vice-versa. This reveals the human experience in a fuller way. 

There is something revelatory in contradictions, paradoxes: the beautiful family on the beach, all dressed in white, they are in the end those willing to save themselves at the expense of everyone else…

Dana: There are many twists and turns in your 25 minute narrative, you managed to compress so much story and so much about the characters in such a concise format. Do you intend to develop the idea further into a feature film perhaps?

Konstantinos: I think it’s an idea that can be further developed but somehow I moved on to other things at the moment. There is this idea that short films should not be compressed feature films and I agree with that. But I do feel that Postcards is toying a bit with a bigger format. That’s why I used tools that filmmakers don’t use that often, like voice-over narration and playing a little bit with reality, in order to be able to narrate a longer story in a shorter form. 

Dana:  Last but not least, who are your actors playing the main couple in the film?

Konstantinos: The main actors are Giorgos Gallos and Angeliki Dimitrakopoulo. Giorgos comes from a theatre tradition and he’s been doing a lot of TV recently. 

Actor Giorgos Gallos who plays Dimitris, themale lead in the film

The reason I chose them is two-fold: 1) they are both parents, they both have two kids and experienced all the tribulations and trials of being a parent; and 2) in their real life they are the opposite of the characters they are playing and this supported my desire to work with contradictions. Giorgos plays a shy man in the film who doesn’t take a lot of initiatives but wants to show he is the man of the family, that he runs the family. In reality he’s the opposite of that and I thought it would create an interesting tension if he were trapped in this role. The same holds true for Angeliki who’s also very dynamic in her life, she’s like a teenager in a way. And in this movie she had to be more of a mum, more of a wife. She was stuck in a role that was not herself and I was hoping to see the tension of that. 

Dana: Your next project? 

Konstantinos: I’m working a feature film set in Medieval times. I plan to shoot in two years from now, the financing is slow but hopefully in 2022 the film will be in the can. 

Dana: And in Cannes hopefully!

Konstantinos: (Laughing) I’m also working on other things at the moment: other shorts, documentary films, installations, art projects…By the way, I was looking at your film blog and I really enjoyed browsing through it, I was reading an interview with Radu Jude about Aferim!, a film I very deeply admire. I really look up to this filmmaker and to this film specifically. It’s also a work that feels tragic and absurd and comedic. 

Dana: Indeed, you and Radu Jude have a lot in common. And the propensity towards the absurd is definitely part of the Romanian sensibility too. This just brought to mind something he said when he accepted his Silver Bear award for Best Director at Berlinale: “If I’d known I would get this prize, I would have tried to make a better film!” 

And if you’ve read so far into this article, you’ll now be rewarded with the trailer of the film:

https://vimeo.com/30915820

Superb Performances & Other Splendid Surprises from SIFF 2020 – Syros International Film Festival, Greece

Right. SIFF instead of TIFF. or TIFF… In keeping with the “winds of change” that shook the world this year, I also decided to change what would normally be a pre-determined film festival circuit this summer (Cannes, TIFF, Karlovy Vary, Locarno, Venice) in search for smaller film festivals, preferably in a setting of splendid nature, that we city dwellers found ourselves craving more than ever during the recent quarantine.

This is how I came across the Syros International Film Festival (SIFF), now in the 8th year since its inception on a remote island in Greece that is nothing like its famous touristy neighbours everyone has visited or heard of (Mykonos, Santorini, etc), and more of a “best kept secret” in the South Aegean sea.

Taking into account the special conditions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Syros International Film Festival had to adapt and change its format by expanding its activities throughout the year into an “Off-Season” edition.
The festival began in Athens in early July (the month when it usually takes place) and will culminate at the end of the year.

SIFF 2020 Day #1 Photos by Alexandros Petrakis

In August, SIFF traveled to its home location, Syros, for the first event of a series of actions which will unfold on the island. On August 1st, a screening was held including a selection of films filmed with Edison’s kinetoscope. This is not some random curatorial whim: according to historical sources (ELIA, the Hellenic Literary and Historical Archive Society), Hermoupolis, the capital of Syros, the Cyclades, and the South Aegean, hosted the second film screening ever within the territory of the Greek state in 1900 – two years after the first screening in Athens. With the tools of digital technology and with the aim of celebrating a landmark moment in Greek cinematic heritage, SIFF has prepared a mapping and creative reproduction of a portion of this screening program of Edison’s kinetoscope, thus marking the 120-year anniversary of that historic screening.

Unfortunately I missed all that as I could only make it to Syros at the beginning of September when the festival organised four consecutive evenings of film screenings and musical performances on various locations on the islands: the historic shipyard of Tarsanas, a drive-in cineman that was purposefully created for the festival and an opening night at the Pallas open-air cinema in Hermoupolis.

The entrance to Pallas open-air cinema in Hermoupolis

This year, the festival’s program was anchored in one central action per day – a very attractive proposition since most film festivals have you running around like a headless chicken trying to catch as many film as you can cram in.

No, SIFF seems to say: it’s time to watch less, and think more, about cinema.

SIFF 2020 Day #1 Photos by Alexandros Petrakis

All screenings and events took place outdoors and drew on, as every year, the cultural heritage and history of Syros in unexpected ways.

To my surprise, the opening night film was Fedora, Billy Wilder’s penultimate film, with William Holden, shot in a melancholy Corfu, far from the drama of Hollywood. The evening continued with a program of short films presenting three different versions of island life: one from 1961 by Leon Loisios, an anthropological document that captures fishing practices in the seas of Lesvos and the fruit of the collaboration among some of the most prominent intellectual figures of post-war Greece (playwright Dimitris Kehaidis, film writer Yannis Bakogiannopoulos and directors Stavros Tornes and Roviros Manthoulis); another by Loukia Alavanou titled Merciful, Wonderful (2013); and Gyres 1-3 by Ellie Ga (2020).

Tarsanas shipyard – the location for Day 2 of SIFF 2020

The second evening of screenings and performances took place right by the seaside, at the Tarsanas shipyard, an in-use ship-building and maintenance site that keeps the traditional techniques of shipbuilding alive. The event brought together contemporary Greek artists working with eight-millimeter film, the cinematic format most associated with capturing the holiday experience, the film material used in the first “home movies”.

SIFF 2020 DAY #2
Photos by Alexandros Petrakis

To accompany these experimental films, there was a film performance entitled Houses Off, Deserts, Etc. by Constantinos Hadzinikolaou, a Greek filmmaker and writer; a live score by Christina Vantzou who premiered an  original musical composition that accompanied the screening of the film Hotel Monterey (1973), a silent documentary by the pioneering Belgian director Chantal Akerman.

What stood out the most for me was the musical performance of Home Tapes by Natasha Giannaraki and Lara Eidi, based on Natasha’s archival footage from Super 8 films and mini DV tapes documenting a previous decade of life, a quilt made of different travels: Athens, London, remote Greek islands, San Francisco, New York, Mexico, Thailand, Australia.

Home Tapes had its world premiere on September the 4th at SIFF where the two artists performed an original score on stage.

Lara Eidi at SIFF 2020

Interestingly, I met Natasha and Lara on the ferry back to Athens, thanks to the festival bags we were all carrying. No PR necessary on Syros island!

I asked them how they met, how the collaboration started and here’s what I found out:

Natasha: “I met Lara at a local festival 8 years ago in Athens. She was different to anything I ever heard. I heard this voice coming from afar, and her music was beyond anything I heard- she stood out because she was artful, her musicianship virtuosic yet spoke to people’s straight to the heart. We had a beer, and she had expressed her wish to collaborate on a project. I kept track of her career when she moved that year to London to study Jazz at  the Guildhall School of Drama, and saw her expand her voice and musicianship to become a sought after and passionate multi-disciplinary artist. Her music is really genre-defying, as is her sense of artistry, something I can relate to . 

Things happen for a reason, and we found ourselves reconnecting in Athens (she returned temporarily) at our local cafes. I invited her based on our mere conversations about art, music and storytelling, a craft which I respected her for and vice versa, and I invited her to compose the music for my debut feature film. “No pressure”, I added, it’s only if you feel it speaks to you.

What happened next was nothing short of magical. On a blistering heatwave, we found ourselves sitting on my veranda, my partner eager to hear Lara’s feedback for my film after I showed her my film. Her response: she picked up my guitar, and right there, on the spot composed what became the title track for my film,” Everything’s fine”. It was as if she delved instinctively into the heart of the story, and like a fairy godmother swooped down to translate what I needed: catharsis. I took a deep breath, as it became clear that her music and voice was healing to me, and surely, will be healing to those who watch the film”. 

And if you’d like to know more about this very talented duo, here’s their short bios:

Natasha Giannaraki is an artist whose work encompasses moving image, performance and sound. She studied Fine Art and Communication Design at Central St Martins where she first got acquainted with super-8 film. She used it for her graduation project and continued capturing moments from her life with it. She took a break from filmmaking and co-founded the band Berlin Brides, where she was the singer and lyricist. She recently collaborated with Eva Stefani in 2017 for her film Manuscript, commissioned by the Documenta Basel exhibition, as a sound designer. The following year, she went back to her super-8 archives and edited a short film for her song LA bed from footage she had shot in LA with actress Ariane Labed. “ Home Tapes” was created through the process of capturing and closely examining her archives (super-8 and mini DV) from the time period of her student years in the early ‘00s. More at https://vimeo.com/natachef

Lara Eidi is a singer-songwriter, jazz vocalist and composer (BBC Artist of the Year). She was born in Athens to Lebanese-Canadian parents. Having received her Masters in Jazz Voice from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Lara has created a name for herself as an extremely versatile vocal artist and composer. She has worked with established names in both the folk and jazz scene in London, Athens and abroad (Ian Shaw, Union Chapel, Beirut International Festival) and is an avid believer in music education for the community. As a recording artist with two EP’s , now preparing for her album with her trio (Dave Mannington and Naadia Sheriff) she’s been portrayed as “ Joni Mitchell in person yet with a voice like Streisand- a truly unique and soulful presence “ ( Sandy Brown Jazz UK). She was commissioned by Natasha to compose the original score for her film, providing what Natasha described as a cathartic, healing soundscape. In short, all the loose ends of her project were tied, ringing true for the title track, aptly titled “Everything’s Fine”. More at www.laraeidimusic.com 

Day 3 of SIFF2020 took the audience to yet another surprising location: Dellagrazia Drive-in cinema, Posidonia, on the Southern part of the island.

SIFF2020 DAY #3
Photos by Alexandros Petrakis

What caught my attention the most from that evening’s programme was a film that was introduced as “quasi-prophetic” for the current coronavirus situation: Postcards From the End of the World – a 23min film by Konstantinos Antonopoulos, an exciting new voice of contemporary Greek cinema.

Luckily on my last day on the island I had the possibility to sit down with Konstantinos Antonopoulos for a proper interview during which I showered him with so many questions, not only about himself as a filmmaker and his previous participation in SIFF but also about the story of the festival itself, its unique curatorial voice and unconventional approach to how we see and experience cinema.

To find out more about Konstantinos’s film and all the SIFF stories he shared with me, read my interview with him here.

The Most Memorable Shorts from LOCARNO 2020 – Pardi di Domani

Although Berlinale 2020 has been the last film festival I covered for VICE this year, it doesn’t mean I haven’t partaken in any forms of visual pleasure since the virus took over our world…

With film festivals changing to a virtual online format (“We Are One” Film Festival in May-June) and cinephile platforms like MUBI showing filmmakers’ retrospectives while adding new titles to their digital library every day, there are always magnificent films to watch, without the need to ever leave your living room.

But there’s nothing to match the excitement of a real film festival and my presence on the wonderful Greek island of Syros, capital of the Cyclades, in the South Aegean Sea (the divine sound of this location…) for the unconventional and truly unique Syros Film Festival, which is about to launch its 8th off-season edition TONIGHT, is testament to that.

But first things first: Locarno 2020 – a film festival I have a deep affinity for.

I couldn’t be there in the flesh this year but I caught up with the festival on the 4K film projector in my living room – almost as good as the one in Piazza Grande:). And to my surprise, I managed to watch pretty much all the short films selected in the Pardi di Domani section this year. Good short films are like tasty snacks – rather moreish, causing a desire for more, so I kind of binge watched:)

The international competition comprised a very diverse lineup. Here’s some of the titles:

  • 1978, by Hamza Bangash – Pakistan – 2020
  • An Act of Affection, by Viet Vu – Portugal/Vietnam – 2020
  • Aninsri daeng (Red Aninsri; Or, Tiptoeing on the Still Trembling Berlin Wall), by Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke – Thailand – 2020
  • Bethlehem 2001, by Ibrahim Handal – Palestine – 2020
  • Digital Funeral: Beta Version, by Sorayos Prapapan – Thailand – 2020
  • Ekti ekgheye film (A Boring Film), by Mahde Hasan – Bangladesh – 2020
  • Fish Bowl, by Ngabo Emmanuel – Rwanda – 2020
  • Giòng sông không nhìn thấy (The Unseen River), by Phạm Ngọc Lân – Vietnam/Laos – 2020
  • Gramercy, by Pat Heywood and Jamil McGinnis – USA – 2019
  • Here, Here, by Joanne Cesario – Philippines – 2019
  • History of Civilization, by Zhannat Alshanova – Kazakhstan – 2020
  • I ran from it and was still in it, by Darol Olu Kae – USA – 2020
  • Icemeltland Park, by Liliana Colombo – Italy/United Kingdom – 2020
  • Kako sam pobedio lepak i bronzu (How I Beat Glue and Bronze), by Vladimir Vulević – Germany/Serbia – 2020
  • Life on the Horn, by Mo Harawe – Somalia/Austria/Germany – 2020
  • Memby, by Rafael Castanheira Parrode – Brazil – 2020
  • Nour (Noor), by Rim Nakhli – Tunisia – 2020
  • O Black Hole!, by Renee Zhan – United Kingdom – 2020
  • Pacífico Oscuro, by Camila Beltrán – France/Colombia – 2020
  • Parcelles S7 (Land Lot S7), by Abtin Sarabi – Senegal/Iran/France – 2020
  • Play Schengen, by Gunhild Enger – Norway – 2020
  • Retour à Toyama (Return to Toyama), by Atsushi Hirai – France – 2020
  • Spotted Yellow (Zarde khaldar), by Baran Sarmad – Iran – 2020
  • Statul Paralel (The Parallel State), by Octav Chelaru – Romania 2019
  • Szünet (Break), by Levente Kölcsey – Hungary – 2020
  • Ta cong an chu lai (Cloud of the Unknown), by Gao Yuan – China – 2020
  • The Chicken, by Neo Sora – USA – 2020
  • The End of Suffering (A Proposal), by Jacqueline Lentzou – Greece – 2020
  • Thiên đường gọi tên (A Trip to Heaven), by Linh Duong – Vietnam/Singapore – 2020
  • Thoughts on the Purpose of Friendship, by Charlie Hillhouse – Australia – 2020
  • Where to Land, by Sawandi Groskind – Finland – 2020

And even if none of these names don’t make your pupils dilate or fill your soul with desire, it’s worth checking out these creations since some of the selected participants are on their way to become the great filmmakers of tomorrow – as the name of the section implies.

The fact that the quality of all these shorts was outstanding goes without saying but what stood out for me were the following three shorts, which could very well fit into an article titled: Mums, Mars and MRIs from Locarno 2020.

Very quickly and in no particular order (text to be refined, copyrights to be checked at a later stage), here goes my selection:

Push This Button If You Begin To Panic, by Gabriel Böhmer – United Kingdom/Switzerland – 2020

This cut-out animation short reflects the filmmaker’s personal experience of healthcare as a patient and practitioner. Full of amusing and witty remarks and observations (a note on the doctor’s office reads: “One symptom at a time, please”), the film reveals the absurd wold of our healthcare system with its fragmented perspectives about what constitutes health and disease. Interestingly the film’s screenplay had to be changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. If in the past the doctor’s advice to “Come back when you’re sicker” sounded strange and absurd, it now sounded like sound advice!

This short was actually past of the Swiss competition which was replete with similarly intriguing treasures.

The End of Suffering (A Proposal), by Jacqueline Lentzou – Greece – 2020

This Greek short film is a most delightful, imaginative proposal for how to end human suffering, structured as a dialogue between a human (the filmmaker herself?) and a muffled voice from outer space – a Mars alien in this case.

The idea for this short came to the filmmaker one night while watching the starry sky on an island in Greece. She saw a bright red star dominating the darkness but she didn’t know what to make of it. Later at a party, she met an astronomer who confirmed the red star was actually Mars and it could be seen without a telescope at that time of the year. Pure magic!

The entire film is based on an imaginary, “New Agey” kind of conversation with a know-it-all being. The film stands out aesthetically too: shot on 16mm to create a different texture that immediately conjures up a world of myth, uniting the past with the future.

This film is the first in a series of future shorts in which the filmmaker intends to connect, by way of her imagination, with various other creatures inhabiting different spaces in our solar system and collect as many pearls of wisdom as she can, all in a brave attempt to save humanity from pointless suffering, thus gracefully positioning herself in the long tradition of Greek philosophers that engage in Socratic dialogue, from Plato to – can someone name a contemporary Greek philosopher who does the same?

Where to Land, by Sawandi Groskind – Finland – 2020

This short film one is about the filmmaker’s mum and the difficult relationship between the two. It’s a very moving watch and the filmmaker himself admitted that the making of the film served a “therapeutic” role. Without revealing too much, the film manages to create a lot of mystery and emotion through its intuitive selection of scenes and images and the intriguing intertitles separating them.

This short is even more outstanding as the filmmaker confessed to not having any experience directing, the whole film being more of an attempt at finding his own visual style, an experiment in image-creation.

And while the mother in the film does not have a voice of her own, both literally and figuratively (which made her recognise herself perfectly in it), the filmmaker definitely found his.

New Horizons Film Festival, Poland – The Place to Catch Up on the Buzziest Titles of the Festival Circuit This Summer

New Horizons Film Festival, taking place every July-August in the beautiful city of Wrocław, Poland (home to the oldest restaurant in the world, legend has it), is the perfect example of what I would call a boutique film festival catering for a discerning audience. Unlike most film festivals, that are usually spread out all over a city, almost all the Nowe Horyzonty film screenings take place in one venue, making it possible to maximise on your viewing time, a precious asset for a film journalist.

The programme is diverse and bold, as far away from conventional cinema as possible, with a penchant for personal, provocative films from all over the world, experimental and hybrid works,  films made by artists from other artistic disciplines, forgotten and underrated works, yet atypical and searching for something fresh and innovative.

Nowe Horyzonty

If you’re lucky to be invited, the festival will put you up in a nice hotel (I stayed at the delightfully minimalist Puro Hotel last year) and invite you to all kinds of exclusive film gatherings & art/music events every evening. Last year I had the chance to meet some new independent filmmakers whose films were making a lot of buzz on the festival circuit, such as  People That Are Not Me, a personal film about millennials struggling with love and relationships, from Hadas Ben Aroya, a young female filmmaker I would describe as an Israeli Lena Dunham, as well as catch up with filmmakers I’d already met and interviewed before, Florian Habicht being one of them (read my previous interview with Florian here).

His latest film, Spookers, a documentary about New Zealand’s only haunted attraction theme park, is as spooky as it sounds. Set in a former psychiatric hospital, the film is a multi-faceted portrait of the fascinating people who work there. The film also touches on mental illness and includes a fascinating, in-depth interview with one of the former patients who was hospitalised there for years suffering with schizophrenia.

Below is my interview with Florian Habicht from Nowe Horyzonty 2017.

Spookers Park in New Zealand is known as one of the biggest scare parks in the world. What drew you to this place?

I was actually asked by Mad Men production company if I wanted to make a film about this place.  I knew about it but I was too scared, horror is not my thing. It’s been going for 10 years, it’s open on Friday and Saturday nights, half an hour South of Auckland. It’s the only scare park in the world where the scarers are allowed to touch you.

This time I had a feeling I should go and check it out. When I got there all the performers were putting on their make-up and masks and prosthetics and…what I got was a lot of joy and excitement.

Did you get to know them before starting shooting?

Yes, on camera, I spontaneously gravitated towards certain people and they ended up being the main characters in the film. That was quite strange, out of 200 people who work there, the people I went to at the beginning, or came to me, ended up being the main characters.

200 people work there but not on the same night?

No, it’s 60 on a night.

And you focus on 10 main characters in the film. Talk a little bit about them.

I think they are a very special group of people because they are very brave, very young, honest, which makes great artists. They are ready to share very personal things.

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And they are all actors, right?

Yes, they are all actors but they haven’t been trained. They auditioned to work at Spookers and then they learnt the job by scaring people. Then they taught each other…

Some of the people in the film refer to themselves as freaks. They are very unusual characters, it’s probably what drew you to make this film.

They are unusual characters, like you and me.

And everyone else!

Yeah!

 

Who fascinated you the most?

The first who fascinated me was David, who is Zombina. When I saw Zombie Bride in the dark, we met in the dark in an alley way, I thought it was so amazing. Then I got to know him and he’s the most soft and beautiful person…He only dresses up as a female character at Spookers. The character is totally his creation, the clothes, the make-up. He’s such an amazing performer.

The dance you captured in the film is astonishing…

Yes, they had techno music for Halloween once at Spookers and he was dancing like that.

Most of them have deep issues that resonated with the film…and they opened up on camera. Did that surprise you?

Yes it did. Almost everyone has an interesting issue and then the masks, a bit like myself with my video camera, I saw a similarity there. It’s something that lets you be more free, more who you really are.

You found a former psychiatric patient, Debra, who was hospitalised there for 18 years. Tell me her story…

She’s remarkable. For me, she experienced the horror of life but also the magic of life, all in one body and soul. Right now she’s teaching mental health at an university. She lectures there and she’s also helping people who hear voices. She heard voices when she was young and was diagnosed with schizophrenia later on. Her doctors told her patients that their visits upset her and they stopped visiting. But she was not upset by that, she was upset for being there. Now they changed the whole system in the way they deal with mental health patients, now it’s community care. There are still psychiatric hospitals but it’s not for long term, only for short-term.

Debra was adopted twice. Her first adopted parents gave her back and then she was adopted again. You need so much love as a child, and being adopted is hard enough for adopted people, imagine being adopted twice!

In your interview with her, she came across as someone so vibrant and optimistic, she totally blew me away.

Me too. And she only got out because the place closed. She only got well  afterwards. The electric shock therapy didn’t help her at all, it was the community that helped her recover.

Half of the people there are Māori and islanders. As a New Zealander, I love Māori, they are amazing on camera, very natural. Most of them don’t have much money. In  New Zealand, there’s a problem with poverty. I live in a city and where I live it’s money, money, money, it makes me depressed. It used to be the colourful, artistic, cool part of town and now it’s the trendy, money people. And most of the people in the film have so little money. The park makes money but the actors work only twice a week there. But the background where they come from.

What I found interesting is that this place is a family business. 

Yes, the idea was to have a maize, then they asked the local bank manager if it was OK to dress up and scare people with a chainsaw! And there was this guy, a friend, the mayor of the city and his wife Beth, who had the brains. And when that bank manager was chasing people with a chainsaw, the people just loved it, they went crazy for it. And it was supposed to be just one show. Then they realised they can make a business out of it. So they got other friends involved, to dress up, put on masks.

So that was the pilot…which became a series…

Exactly. That’s when they relocated to Auckland and they were looking for a building.

Was it a coincidence that they chose this former psychiatric hospital as their location?

They say it was, yes.

Is it true the place is haunted?

Yes, everyone who works there experiences supernatural things. For me, I could feel the energy was very heavy, different rooms felt different, vibrations or whatever you call it. But other people hear things, see things…There were a lot of intense things that weren’t allowed in the film.

But you didn’t capture any ghosts on camera?

No. (laughing)

Ghosts or no ghosts, there’s a very dark side to this documentary. 

Yes, and come to think of this, New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Every day, one and a half people kill themselves. And the government cut funding to mental health. There was a line you ring if you’re feeling depressed and the government took the money from them, they needed to give more money to the rich! We have a very right-wing government that is very money-focused.

I thought Scandinavia had the highest suicide rates…

Actually there’s a Scandinavian country where men live very long and it’s because every night before they go to bed they meet each other and they compliment each other: You’re so wonderful, I love your jacket…And those men live 10 years longer. That would make a good subject for a future documentary!

15+ Films I Most Look Forward 2 Seeing @ BERLINALE 2017

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COMPETITION

1      The Party  – United Kingdom
By Sally Potter (Orlando, Yes, Ginger & Rosa)
With Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall

Why? Because the director is a risk-taker who never disappoints. The film was also described as “a comedy wrapped around a tragedy” and I’m in deep admiration of anyone who can pull that off.

2     On the Beach at Night Alone –  South Korea
By Hong Sangsoo (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, Right Now, Wrong Then)

Why? Because his films can stimulate my parasympathetic nervous system like nothing else (in cinema today). If looking for something intelligent as well as light-hearted, look no further.

3      The Other Side of Hope – Finland / Germany
By Aki Kaurismäki (The Match Factory Girl, I Hired A Contract Killer, Juha, Le Havre)

Why? Curious if he changed his mind about something he mentioned in a 2012 Guardian interview:

“For mankind, I can’t see any way out,” he says in his deadly monotone, “except terrorism. We kill the 1%.” Which 1%? “The only way for mankind to get out of this misery is to kill the 1% who own everything. The 1% who have put us in the position where humanity has no value. The rich. And the politicians who are the puppies of the rich.” (very radical but I’m also thinking: you can’t get more Vitamin D deficient!)

4        Ana, mon amour – Romania
Romania / Germany / France
By Călin Peter Netzer (Child‘s Pose, Maria)

Why? Because his latest film was the most intense drama I saw in ages. It also won the Golden Bear in 2013 so let’s see how this one compares.

5       The Dinner – USA
By Oren Moverman (The Messenger, Rampart)
With Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloë Sevigny

Why? Do I really need another reason besides the very intriguing cast?

PANORAMA

1       Fluidø – Germany
By Shu Lea Cheang

Set in Berlin and described as a “para-pornographic work of underground science fiction”, this is the first feature film immersion by Taiwanese-American artist Shu Lea Cheang.

2        Kaygı (Inflame) – Turkey
By Ceylan Özgün Özçelik

The story of the incremental roll-out of wide-spread censorship of the press in Turkey and its effect on the work of a young female journalist.

3         The Misandrists – Germany
By Bruce LaBruce

The favourite filmmaker of the punk/underground art crowd whose 1994 film Super 8½ was a kind of “fuck you” valentine to the world” continues to question authority and the dominant ideology in this feminist fairy tale.

4         Fra balkongen (From the Balcony) – Norway
By Ole Giaever

After his success with Out of Nature, the Norwegian filmmaker returns with a thematic film essay in which the protagonist observes the world from his own balcony. A film of inaction, or rather, mental action?

5         Discreet – USA
By Travis Mathews

A man approaching middle age gets caught up in the darker depths of his past.

Also:  Berlin Syndromeby Australian director Cate Shortland. This film, alongside Fluidø and The Misandrists, pays tribute to the vision of Berlin as a place of happiness and promise which is drawing increasingly large numbers of young cosmopolitans to it.

 

FORUM

1        Golden Exits by Alex Ross Perry, USA

“This movie was made for the sense of trying something new with a bunch of people I like working with,” says the filmmaker in this Indiewire interview. What better reason to make a film anyway?  With Emily Browning , Adam Horovitz, Jason Schwartzman, Chloë Sevigny, Mary-Louise Parker, Golden Exits tells the story of a young Australian woman who comes to New York for a few months and unwittingly throws the lives of two couples into disarray.

2      Casa Roshell by Chilean director Camila José Donoso

A portrait of a most unusual institution in the Mexican capital, a place where men learn to be women during the day, before the parties get going at night. Blurring boundaries between gay, straight and bi, male and female, past and present, reality and fiction.

3      Casting, by Nicolas Wackerbarth

A film dedicated to the process of filmmaking: director Vera is unwilling to compromise when it comes to finding the right lead actress for a Fassbinder remake for television.

4        Menashe,  by Joshua Z Weinstein (feature debut)

Set in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the film sees the titular Menashe fighting to keep custody of his son following the death of his wife. Yet the Hasidic community demands he lead a more ordered life and find a new spouse, neither of which come easy to this kind, but awkward loner.

5        Adiós entusiasmo (So Long Enthusiasm), by Vladimir Durán (debut feature)

Ten-year-old Axel lives with his mother and three sisters in a flat in Buenos Aires. They’d be a perfectly normal family if only the mother weren’t imprisoned in one of the rooms.

TBC