Greek directors emerge into view

Greek directors did not go unnoticed at the International Competition of the 42nd Thessaloniki Film Festival last week. Five new directors stood out this year, undersigning feature films which produced surprise, debate and differences of opinion. They were not, however, simply judged good and then relegated to the archive. All five are members of the 30-something generation and this is where the comparison ends and the differences begin. What do the grunge film of Yiannis Fagras (Still Looking for Morphine) and the polished, costly production by Christos Dimas (The Cistern) have in common? Or the lonely, trapped life depicted in Stratos Tzitzis’s Anna (Rescue Me) with the opportunistic couple Loukas and Phoebe in Nicosia (Under the Stars)? The only commonality is to be found in the five directors’ heroes. In a way, they are all on a spiritual journey, from Fagras’s wild, undisciplined adolescent, Tzitzis’s young woman and Dimas’s little boys while the characters of the two Cypriot directors, Christos Georgiou (Under the Stars) and Aliki Danezi-Knutsen (Bar) are literally on the road. What, however, is the view of the directors themselves? Yiannis Fagras At first an outsider at this year’s festival, Fagras became a leading player with a film that cost only 13 million drachmas and was completely handmade (with no funding from the Greek Film Center) in black-and-white. Still Looking for Morphine is based on the story of a tomboy drug user who lives out, not without personal cost, her own choices and freedom. Morphine is her cat. This is a film about people on the margins of society, with narrative strength and clear statements, no pseudo-experimentalism or moralizing messages – a solid production which has won praise from both critics and the public. It was a surprise for me too, that my film was so discussed, said Fagras, who studied cinema in New York and has worked in American independent film – an experience reflected in his first feature-length film. The lack of financial means did not discourage him. We didn’t say, ‘We don’t have enough money for the perfect photography, so let’s not make a film.’ We did what we could with what we had and chose to give the image a ‘dirty’ feel. Did he believe in the generational factor? In terms of age, yes. We are all quite different, but something has definitely started. Stratos Tzitzis Tzitzis was this year’s second surprise as he moved sharply away from his previous film, Love is an Elephant, a film best described as a sexual farce. His latest work, Rescue Me, is a tender, bitter-sweet comedy about a lonely young woman in contemporary Athens, with a wiry script, with humor, sensitivity and balance. We follow Anna’s (played by Maria Zorba) furious efforts not to collapse under life’s continuous misfortunes and adversities. I received fierce criticism from the media over ‘Love is an Elephant.’ I felt crushed. The reception of ‘Rescue Me’ surprised me, but it is also a hopeful lesson for all those young directors who are disappointed during their first steps. Does he see himself as a member of a new, rising generation? If we can talk in terms of ‘hope of the nation,’ I would be happy to be included in that, along with Fagras. Christos Georgiou One of the two Greek directors to represent Greece in the International Competition, Christos Georgiou’s reputation preceded the formal screening of Under the Stars since it won the Best New Director award at the Montreal Film Festival last September. Born in London in 1966, Georgiou grew up on Cyprus, studied literature and cinema in Britain and completed his studies at the renowned National School of Cinema in Poland. He previously worked in short-length films. Every generation starts with shorts. We are a bunch of short-film makers, some of whom managed to finish our feature films. I believe that all of us have great directing skills and choose subjects which are important to us. We have some common characteristics: a bitter-sweet humor, a positive outlook on life, films about a person which combine simplicity with perceptiveness. In Under the Stars, Loukas and Phoebe (Akis Sakellariou and Myrto Alikaki), go on a journey from Nicosia across the Green Line to Loukas’s village in the Turkish-occupied north, in a quest for his past. The journey, however, compels them to re-examine their lives through memory and history. Christos Dimas Dimas, a star of shorts, with studies in Holland and Finland and training in America, is another Greek International Competition participant. The Cistern, his first full- length feature packed the movie theater on its first official screening, but reactions were mixed. Dimas, an artist frequently attracted to subjects about social exclusion, has a sensitive outlook and a brave approach. In The Cistern, he has turned to magical realism and relates the dangerous growing-up games of a gang of 11-year-olds in 1974 in Elefsina. The boys are surrounded by the world of their neighborhood, by miracles and magic. My short films were a touch heretical, says Dimas. People expected something similar this time, but I didn’t want to make a film about social exclusion. Perhaps I had issues I had to deal with from childhood, its innocence, he added. The 32-year-old director believes that more significant things are to be expected next year from the directors who emerged through the Short Film Festival of Drama in the 1990s. Something is happening; there is a new perspective. There are films and artists with a personal view, but the question is if they can survive ticket sales and awards. I think that at the moment we are undergoing a difficult, transitional phase. Aliki Danezi-Knutsen The 28-year-old with the double-barreled name was born in Lyon, France, and raised in Nicosia, Cyprus. She studied film directing and scriptwriting in California and New York and Bar is her second feature film (a Greek, Cypriot and Uruguayan coproduction). The film was in the International Competition but the Ministry of Culture did not deem it Greek enough to represent Greece. It is set in Uruguay and Nicosia and the protagonist is a young woman who for 12 years has been searching for her missing brother. In a bar in Montevideo, she sees a photograph of him next to an old tango singer. This is a road movie with a unique cinematographic narrative which found both supporters and critics at the festival. The question of Greekness remains open for Danezi-Knutsen. Most of the film might be in English, but the director herself feels that Bar has a Greek identity. It is the experience of the country and of the culture which is contained in the film, she argues. As for the advent of a new generation in Greek cinema, she believes it is unavoidable as the number of productions is constantly increasing, although we are directors with different approaches and perspectives, she notes.

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