Filmmaking

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

How To Shoot a £1m Car Commercial On a Zero Budget

Crewed entirely by award-winning women and with everyone volunteering their time,  this is not your usual car commercial!

The Feminist Car Commercial, three interconnecting short films made to look like genuine car commercials, aims to highlight female film-making talent in the UK and to show advertisers how their marketing communications could be devised for women.

The film will get its premiere at the BFI Southbank in September 2013 before being available online. Below is an interview with the producer, Paul Atherton, taken at BFI on the 8th of August 2013.

Feminist Car Commercial Still

Dana: What sparked the idea for a feminist car commercial?

Paul: There has been a proliferation of adverts that have treated women appallingly in the past 12 month, Audi’s Proms KissBMW’s Greek Billboard AdRenault’s Dancing Girls.  But it was the Broken Heel advert by Audi that really incensed me.  Audi hadn’t used a woman in their commercials for twenty years and when they finally did they leave her lying on the street in the rain with her clothes torn and handbag broken as the car being advertised drives away and leaves her there.  This is something that wouldn’t have been acceptable a few decades ago. Mumsnet’s reaction was universal: don’t buy Audis!

Dana: Was this a commissioned project or your own initiative?

Paul:  This was completely my own initiative.  Writer/Director Amanda Baker had originally come up with an idea to pitch a commercial for women to car companies, but when we did the research we saw a much bigger problem so I thought it would make far more sense to make a campaigning film. As a campaigning film it would have been difficult to find funds, especially quickly, we went from idea to finished film in under three months, far quicker than most funders take to make a decision. And who would commission a film that challenges the very industry that fuels it?

Dana: How does one pull off a “sting” of these proportions: shooting three sophisticated car commercials on a zero-budget, something that advertising companies spend ludicrous sums of money on?

Paul: Film is always about collaboration and this was no different.  Give people a great idea, surround them with talent and give them a message they can get behind and believe in, then you’ll find anything is possible. There are some amazingly generous people in our industry: Barry Basset at VMI, who supplied us over £1/2 Million worth of camera equipment, has been supportive of me since I entered the industry; Barnaby Laws at Panalux had worked with our amazing DP Gabi Norland before and wanted to support her, as well as the campaign; Paul Merchant at make-up supplier Charles Fox has been our award winning make-up artist and Sara Menitra‘s supplier for years; and Daniel Pagan at post house Lipsync has been a fantastic support to me since our first introduction. The key, as always, is relationships. It’s the people you’ve helped and supported that come back and help and support you.

Dana: How many people got involved in this project?

Paul: We managed to persuade just under 100 people to volunteer their time and expertise. As well as a number of industry sponsors who supplied all our kit and services.The thing that made this so special is that we created an A-list of award winners and established experience to approach and we got nearly everyone on it.But as always, we were keen to support new talent too.  So my entire production crew was made up from recent graduates and in addition we offered 11 runners their first job experience.

Fem car Com duplicateDana: I understand you also had some very prominent public figures supporting the project and that with a few exceptions it was an all female cast & crew.

Paul: The project first came to life for me when Carly Simon agreed to let us have her Oscar-Winning iconic eighties feminist anthem from the film Working Girl entitled Let The River Run free of charge. This was the equivalent of giving us between £50,000 to £100,000. Then BAFTA-nominated Natalie Holt agreed to do the original score. Sara Menitra, NY IMATS Makeup Winner 2012, Sara Chatterton, Celebrity Hairdresser,  Editor Prano Bailey-Bond & Director of Photography Gabi Norland who were both previous Underwire winners came next. The rest of our crew had worked on features from Harry Potter to the Iron Lady. Steve Moore, former Chief Executive of The Big Society Network, had just launched Britain’s Personal Best and we were one of the first projects to pledge.

The idea of an all female cast & crew came from the notion that if we were going to make something for women it should have that perspective in every department.  There had always been an absence of women in a variety of departments and the filmindustry as a whole.  Organisations such as Birds Eye View, Women in Film & Television have made great inroads to redressing that.  But I saw this as a way for us to highlight the British female film-making talent available, whilst making a point about one of the reasons it’s so hard to break in, namely how the media perceive women.

The men we had on the production crew, Frank Hellebrand – Grip, Greg Macfarlane King – Gaffer, Daniel Deighton – 2nd AC and Matthew Cresswell – DIT, very generously came on board at the last minute to fill in for roles that we couldn’t find replacement women for.  A classic example was our grip, Grace Donaldson, who had to drop out for a paid job. And as she is, if I’m not wrong, the only female grip in the world, we had no other way of replacing her.  But this clearly made our point that there are far too few women in the industry.

Dana: How long did the project take from start to finish?

Paul: The idea was sparked in May of this year (2013), I had scripts by the end of June and we’ll have it all finished by the end of August for the screening in the BFI Southbank on 3rd September 2013.

Dana: What were the challenges?

Paul: The biggest challenge was persuading our production crew to work for free for four days.  If this had been a student project, or people looking for experience it would have been simple.  But we were asking established talent, who had no need to add to their showreels (the main reason most people work for free). But once they understood the values of the project and the talent attached etc. they all generously bought in. Our props-maker Jo Shears who created the most jaw-dropping special effect of fingernails blowing away in the wind proved it doesn’t matter what the challenge is, as long as you’ve picked the right talent it can be overcome.And we had the right talent in every department.

Dana: Have you experienced any of those moments when you wished you hadn’t bothered?

Paul: Lots.  It’s undoubtedly been the hardest production I’ve ever worked on. And the catalogue of let-downs got to biblical proportions. For example, the idea was originally based around comparing ourselves to the recent Jaguar RSA “Desire” Film.  I was informed that we had access to two new F-Type Jaguars and a celebrity (which sadly never materialised), three months of negotiations with Jaguar fell at the last hurdle (three days before the shoot), on the basis they didn’t want to be seen leading a campaign for “Equal Pay” for women.  Our locations manager who was eight months pregnant when she came to us left to have her baby and we were suddenly left without locations two weeks before the shoot. We had three major crew dropouts on the day before the shoot and even the location that we thought had been secured turned out not to have been with just hours to spare. But with a great team, amazing vision and people pulling in every favour they had, we got it in the can. Our “thank you” list is likely to be the longest in cinematic history! And we agreed we’d only complete the third mock commercial in the trilogy if we get our named talent, which is what I’m on a quest to do now.

Dana: To care deeply about something – does that provide all the motivation and drive you need to succeed?

Paul: No. Caring deeply about something is the starting point.  And you’ll always remind yourself that this is what it’s all about.  It’s why you do what you do. All my previous productions are around things that are important to me. Domestic violence, racism, prison reform etc.  I would hate to make something that didn’t have an underlying cause. But the drive, that comes from other people for me. People you can turn to when things get hard, the people who can see the silver-lining in the cloud when all you can see is the cloud. The people who will rally to your defence and stand by you no matter what. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of friends in and outside the industry that fill those roles and without them none of this would be possible.

Dana: If you had a budget for this project, what would you spend it on?

Paul: If we had a budget for this, it would in essence have just been a commercial.  We wouldn’t be making an important point and we wouldn’t have got the commitment required to make it.

Dana: Where is feminism at these days? Do you think we are witnessing a backlash? The fact that people don’t seem to be as sensitive about the issue as in the past (only one woman complained about the Renault ad if I’m not wrong?) can be interpreted as a good thing, in the sense that women got what they wanted, there is no need for feminism anymore, OR as a very bad thing, that women simply gave up the fight or don’t care anymore. What are your insights on this subject?

Paul: I think the term feminism has many poor connotations.  Usually associated with women who seemingly hate men.  I see feminism as being pro-women and not anti-men. I don’t think there is a backlash against feminism. I just think audiences, marketeers and advertsiser have just got lazy and apathetic.  We live in a society that is all concerned about spending.  People always talk about doing jobs to pay the bills.  That thinking leads to fear and to inertia. So when BMW put a poster up in Greece, containing a sultry 14-year old looking girl attached to the tagline “You know you’re not the first” to advertise their second-hand car dealerships, you know that the hundreds of decision-makers involved in that process either didn’t care or didn’t have the courage to say “that’s nuts.. noooo!”

Dana: What are you hoping to achieve with these films?

Paul: The whole point of the project is two-fold.  First to highlight what amazing female film talent there is in the UK and that we need far more. And secondly to remind marketeers that women are customers, a large customer base in fact, and not objects.  This is our version of what car advertisements should look like: creative, funny, quirky and making important points. The films are of course just the catalyst for the debate and fortuitously we have Olivia Read at DDA PR to ensure our message gets out there far and wide. We all realise without the press there can be no change in public perception and we appreciate all the support we can get in that regard , so thank you.

Dana: You’re welcome!;)…Do you intend to develop the idea into a larger project?

Paul: We have a feature script written by Rhianna Pratchett entitled Vigilia, which looks at the rise of a female movement in the UK kickstarted by a rape. So the ideas behind this project tap directly into that.  That of course will require funding, approximately £2 million, and we have some financiers lined up who I’m sure will appreciate the production values contained in this short.

Dana: I understand you suffer from chronic fatigue,  how did you manage to keep working?

Paul: Chronic fatigue is a disabling condition that often leads sufferers to be bed- or wheelchair-ridden for years.  I was diagnosed in 1992 and I was wheelchair-bound for nearly a year in 2010.  But since then, I’ve managed to survive just through what are known as “crashes”. The worst has lasted a couple of months. You’re unable to move and sometimes even to talk. It used to be terrifying but I’m used to it now. It’s ironic because all the doctors tell you to avoid stress and lead a very dull life.  But I’d rather shine for a few months and then crash for months to produce something.  Not making something would mean I’m not alive and it would be impossible to keep struggling on without that aspect of my life.

Dana:  Is it true that you are homeless?

Paul: Yes. It’s a sad reflection of Britain’s current state, that our lives are no longer our own.  In 2009 an error on my credit file which had nothing to do with me resulted in me not being able to renew my tenancy. The resultant stress caused a CFS crash and I ended up in hospital for three months and discharged to a homeless hostel in Brixton.  I was claiming benefits but there were many screw-ups and I was evicted to the streets from there in my wheelchair.  As you can imagine, friends were incredibly supportive and offered accommodation and care but it’s not their job.  I’d paid my taxes and should have had the systems there to protect me.  I therefore decided to live in my car on the Southbank, which I did for two years until the police confiscated it by mistake at the beginning of this year 2013, another bureaucratic cock-up involving a wrongly apportioned conviction at the DVLA.  I now live in a hostel in Vauxhall but as of Monday they’re trying to kick me out – on the grounds, and you’ll love this, that I have nowhere to live!