A filmmaker’s winning debut

Life has suddenly changed for Irini Vachlioti. Her first professional attempt at directing, «Skipper Straad,» was overwhelmingly well received at the recent Short Film Festival of Drama. Besides winning the festival’s top prize, Vachlioti’s debut effort also picked up several other prizes, including Best Balkan Film, the critics’ prize, and best film in the women’s category. The young director’s return to Athens from Drama in the country’s north, where the short-film festival has been held for close to three decades now, was met by the inevitable interest and publicity generated by her overwhelming success. Yet Vachlioti, in an interview with Kathimerini, appeared unperturbed and calm. She did not hide her joy but, at the same time, gave the impression of a person who does not get carried away. «It’s a great honor. I look at it as gratifying recognition for the theme I chose. More importantly than the award itself is the recognition of an entire course – certain values in filmmaking,» remarked Vachlioti, adding, when asked to elaborate: «Opting to be honest about what you do; faith in your topic; doing your work with as few compromises as possible.» Vachliotis’s words acquire greater meaning when put into the context of her award-winning film. It was inspired by the late sea-loving poet Nikos Kavvadias’s first novel, «Vardia.» Her short film, 35 minutes in duration, tells the story of a sailor who shares a cheap hotel room with a woman, a port local, whom he does not know. Due to the hours they keep, the co-tenants never meet. Yet, despite the lack of a face-to-face meeting, a certain bond develops as the woman seeks communication through silent, affectionate gestures. On her way out, for example, she leaves behind cigarettes for the sailor. His heart begins to melt and the burden of loneliness temporarily eases. A moving humanity runs throughout the film. «There will always be needs as long as there are people. The film reflects themes that are very relevant today – loneliness, our need to open up to others,» explained Vachlioti. The director said that she likes to draw ideas from themes or sources that appear to be closer to tradition and «connecting them to today.» Considering her background, Vachliotis’s course in artistic avenues and the world of film come as no surprise. Her father is active in theater; Deni Vachlioti, an aunt, is a renowned costume designer; and her sister, Deni Vachlioti-Stefanaki, is a set and costume designer who worked on «Skipper Straad» and won an award in the field for the movie at the festival in Drama. Vachlioti, who studied film in London, said that her next step remained unknown. «I’d like time to roll on a little. I need to detach myself from things,» she explained. A dilemma over whether to opt for a feature film or stick to the short-film format for her next venture had not yet emerged, but would be determined by the ensuing project’s subject matter, Vachlioti said. «Everything will depend on the subject. That’ll take me wherever it’ll take me,» she said. Irrespective of her next move, short, medium- and full-length films command equal respect, Vachliotis noted. «Otherwise,» she remarked, «it’s like saying that any novel has greater value than a poem because the former takes up more pages.»