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Drama Film Festival: A cinematic renaissance in shorts

By Maria Katsounaki

Three shorts -- Neritan Zintziria’s “Chamomile,” Alexandros Hatzis’s “Chelsea-Barcelona” and Oliver Krimpas’s “Ghost in the Machine” -- crossed paths and bagged awards at 18th International Short Film Festival in Drama, which took place last month.

While Zintziria and Hatzis met at the awards ceremony in the northern Greek city on September 22, Krimpas, who lives and works in London, was unable to make the trip, but Kathimerini managed to catch up with all three directors for some insights on the winning films.

Torment and tragedy

Following the festival, where his film picked up four awards (the Golden Dionysus Prize for Best Fiction Film, Best South and Eastern Europe Film, an Honorary Distinction for the Best Sound Design for Leandros Ntounis and the Panhellenic Union of Film Critics Award), 23-year-old Zintziria admits he has been the focus of attention, mostly regarding his origins.

Born in Tirana, Albania, in 1989, he has been living permanently in Greece since 1990. Every year he is obliged to renew his residence permit, which, when finally issued, has already expired. He has to pass through Albania every time he travels abroad, each time risking being kept there in order to do his military service. Needless to say, he doesn’t really like talking about that kind of stuff.

Since 1998, he has been in living in Aghios Panteleimonas, central Athens, an area he describes as a “gorgeous, vibrant neighborhood.” He discovered cinema through his sister, when she worked at the downtown Trianon cinema. He took it all in: movies by Japan’s Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse, as well as Russian and Iranian films. He considers Albanian director Bujar Alimani both a mentor and a father figure.

In “Chamomile,” viewers see an elderly, black-clad woman (interpreted by non-professional actress Iota Hadzioannou) walking on a snowy mountainside. She is dragging her husband’s corpse, which she has washed and shrouded with chamomile. Guided by a sense of duty, when her mule gives up on her, she carries on alone. As the camera zooms out and a car passes by, she becomes a black spot on an all-white landscape.

“I tried to keep the link with ancient Greek tragedy,” said the director. “A sense of exterior immobility and inner movement. I’m tormented by the world of ancient tragedy, its simplicity, abstraction and austerity. The works’ structure and the ontological depth.”

Zintziria’s Greek is rich and educated. He speaks little Albanian, but he still pays tribute to his country of birth and refers to his roots as the “idea of the defeated and the pursued, of someone who is in constant movement and redefining himself.”

Comedy can wait

Born in Agrinio in 1985, Alexandros Hatzis studied informatics and telecommunications at the University of Athens. He learnt about filmmaking while working on location alongside director Syllas Tzoumerkas, who encouraged him to continue in the field. The idea for “Chelsea-Barcelona” (Silver Dionysus Award for Fiction Film, Honorary Distinction for Best Screenplay and Honorary Distinction for an Actor in a Leading Role for Makis Papadimitriou) started with a personal experience.

“It had to do partly with something that happened to me when I was watching a soccer match. I wanted Chelsea to win and I got really annoyed at one point and started throwing things around. Later on I talked about it with my friends and reached the conclusion that my reaction was a result of the great pressure I was under at the time. I was falling behind at university, I was in the middle of breaking up with someone, and my parents were supporting me financially. I was very attached to Chelsea. I don’t know how I would have reacted had I been on the football pitch. That’s how I started thinking about how people react at soccer games.”

In the film, a young bank employee (Apostolos Totsikas) goes to a colleague’s (Papadimitriou) house to watch a soccer match. The host is under tremendous pressure as he is suffering serious money problems. Unable to get a loan, he is swamped in bills and obligations. As tensions rise on the field, he takes a beer bottle and, in a moment of anger, smashes it on his friend’s head. The latter’s bloodied and stunned face graces the film’s final frame.

Despite the awards and the film’s reception at Drama, the young director is under no illusions. “The competition is huge out there. One film doesn’t equal a career,” he said. What kind of aftertaste did this year’s festival leave? “Lots of films, very few foreigners,” he responded. “There were various technical problems at the screenings. Creativity is determined by what’s going on in real life. I think it will be a while before we see comedies again.”

Looking at the bubble

Forty-three-year-old Oliver Krimpas is the most experienced of the three. Born in London to an English mother and a Greek father, Krimpas lived in Greece from the ages of 8 to 17. He considers English his mother tongue, even though his Greek is impressive.

Greece “drives him a little crazy, like many Greeks who live abroad.” Nevertheless he loves this country, which he considers his homeland, and feels a certain kind of depression with regard to all that is going on these days. “It’s as if a member of your family is sick and you don’t know when they will recover. For years I had been observing how Greece operated as a system and as a society and I was expecting it would lose its footing in a nasty way at one point. Inevitably. Right now, however, it is being punished not only for its own but also for other people’s sins too.”

Krimpas learnt of the awards bestowed on “Ghost in the Machine” (Special Socratis Dimitriadis Award in the Greeks of the World category and Honorary Distinction for an Actress in a Leading Role for Jessica Gunning) through an e-mail from a friend.

“I wanted to make a very cinematic movie, whatever that means,” he said. He succeeded, given that “Ghost in the Machine” is a top-quality production. It may have cost “less that it would seem,” yet the handling of the short’s subject matter (an oppressed, overweight young woman living on a farm who flirts with her only friend, a 60-year-old rusty tractor, which she undertakes to save from her father) betrays the director’s influences and professional credentials. Through humor, rhythm and a penetrating gaze, Krimpas dissects both the female psyche and the nature of solitude.
The initial script was penned by his friend Chris Coppice, while the film’s director of photography is noted Irishman Robbie Ryan.

Our early morning chat was limited in time. While the voices of his two children could be heard in the background, Krimpas was in a hurry to leave.

Next step for all three directors is a feature-length film. 
 

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