Pantelis Voulgaris’s new film looks back on migrant brides

Beneath the scorching sun in the port of Hania, 130 young women suffocate in heavy clothes: thick tights, woven dresses, woolen waistcoats, tightly bound headscarves. Yet, with photograph in hand, they have one purpose: a journey to America on the SS King Alexander in search of a better future. These are director Pantelis Voulgaris’s «Brides,» the filming of which, after many mishaps and delays of several years, has finally begun. Bottles of ice-cold water are quickly passed around during rehearsal breaks, to be quickly gathered up by the assistants as soon as the word «action» is heard from Voulgaris. He is a director who manages to draw out humanity in his films from the way he works with his actors – even the extras. «I can’t take it any more, I need a cigarette,» says one woman, carrying a bundle of clothes that makes her even hotter, while Voulgaris himself runs up to light one for her. The shoot itself was a moving metaphor for the story of the film. Many of the extras are also from other countries. The young women who migrated in the summer of 1922 from Smyrna (Epirotes, Samothracians, Turks, Russians) in search of a better future are today being played by Armenian and Ukrainian girls who themselves have left their homelands for a better life in Greece. Their host town of Hania is the temporary «hangout» for the filming, which will then move to Athens and Lavrion. «The city created a positive aura from the start,» says Pantelis Voulgaris, who also used it as a set for «Eleftherios Venizelos» and «Stone Years.» «The film isn’t a love story, but a gallery of faces, a trunk full of cultures, feelings and hopes which travels to the New World. One motive to make the film was the history of migration, which is not something that existed only in the past. It exists today, in an even fiercer form. I wanted to talk about the Greeks who were uprooted. I returned from England knowing full well that the junta would arrest me, but I couldn’t live there. I want to talk about the Greeks who live outside their country.» «We became excited as soon as we read the script,» says Barbara de Fina, the close associate (and ex-wife) of Martin Scorsese. «It tells a story that is important for America – it’s about where we came from – but also for the whole world. The feeling on the set is wonderful and the quality of the work is in many areas better than on American productions. We believe that this is a story which everyone will feel part of.» Though Scorsese is not financing the venture, the company he has with de Fina has assisted in casting the foreign actors and will also be responsible for production supervision and promoting «Brides» for American and foreign distribution. «We do not do co-productions but we have worked outside the US. What interests us is a challenge, the material, the story, the creative team. The world of filmmakers is one,» says de Fina, when asked about their criteria for working abroad. Ioanna Karystiani (Voulgaris’s wife) has written her first screenplay about the story of the young women who went to America to marry, having «met» their future spouses through a photograph. «It started from a story in The New York Times, I thought what a nice film that would make,» said the author. «That led to a short story, a little dream just before bedtime.» «I met you through a photograph,» Pantelis Voulgaris jumps in, «I saw you in a newspaper and fell in love with you.» The whole family is working on the film, including their children, Alexandros and Constantina, as assistant directors. As for the scale of the production, Voulgaris says: «I’ve made films with lots of money and with little money. It’s an ambitious film but not with limitless funding. The interest will lie in the characters and the small details.»

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