CULTURE

Greek immigration on screen

Filmmakers Theodoros Angelopoulos and Pantelis Voulgaris marked the beginning of contemporary Greek cinema in the early 1970s, with Angelopoulos’s film «Anaparastasi» (Reconstruction) and Voulgaris’s «To Proxenio tis Annas» (The Matchmaking of Anna). At first they were inseparable but then their careers followed different paths: Angelopoulos went international, while Voulgaris remained within Greek boundaries. They have, pretty much, common experiences: They were both inspired by the tragedy of the Left and marked by its morality. In the beginning, they also shared the same goal of changing Greek cinema, in which they succeeded. They have influenced young film directors more than anyone else. Angelopoulos has, by now, received international recognition with numerous awards and distinctions. Many tributes and studies have been carried out on his work. His latest film, «To Livadi pou Dakryzei» (The Weeping Meadow), will be shown at the international competition section of the Berlin Festival on February 12. Voulgaris has meticulously observed Greece’s ever-changing society. «Brides,» his 10th film and a Martin Scorsese production, scheduled to be screened at the Cannes Festival, will put him on the international stage. The film is about Greek immigration as seen through the journey of 700 girls to America. Angelopoulos writes history by talking about mental isolation, while Voulgaris deals with loneliness, lost hopes and suppressed desires. Both directors will monopolizing the film industry in 2004 with this year’s biggest and most expensive Greek co-productions. Angelopoulos The director of the Berlin Film Festival and a few French film critics were the first people to see Angelopoulos’s «Weeping Meadow» when it was recently screened in Paris. It has so far received much praise, yet the director felt the need to add another scene, which, in the beginning, he had not considered necessary. During the Christmas holidays, he destroyed the entire village he had built on the port of Thessaloniki for the needs of the film. «It was done with hesitation and sadness. We destroyed about 200 houses in which we lived for two years. It was not a nice ending,» he said. It seems the short life of this village haunted Angelopoulos’s Christmas holidays. «We went through all the stress of construction only to destroy everything in the end.» In the scene, the leading character is released from prison in 1940 and returns home only to find it destroyed. The film is the first part of a trilogy about the story of a family and a strong love affair. «It resembles a Greek tragedy, with references to the Theban Cycle, but set in early 20th century Greek history through the end of the Civil War in 1949.» The family moves from Odessa to Greece in 1919. Angelopoulos said he has once more dealt with the expulsion of the Greeks, but quickly added that this «expulsion» is mostly internal. «That was the reason for the film and is also its main theme. It is the recurring motif in my films, like an obsession.» The film will open at the Berlin Festival on February 12, and is scheduled to hit Greek cinemas on the same day. There is also an ambitious project to simultaneously transmit the film’s official presentation by Angelopoulos at the Berlin screening with the help of national television. The director is currently worried as to whether he was able to devote to his film all that he wanted to, in terms of time and attention. «I think I did,» he said. «I try to defend my films when they are released. Then, they acquire a life of their own.» Asked whether it was likely that he would compete with Voulgaris in the National Film Awards, he replied that he didn’t even know if he would attend the ceremony. «Do I have the right to deprive my colleagues of the awards? I believe this institution is mostly for young people, as I have said before. There is no competition between Pantelis (Voulgaris) and me. After all, we are old. Each of us submits what he has; we are measured against ourselves and against time.» Voulgaris Voulgaris is too embarrassed to mention the compliments Martin Scorsese made after seeing the first material from the filming of «Brides.» Scorsese’s ex-wife, producer Barbara De Fina, who was present during all of the filming, seems enthusiastic with the result. She has already signed a contract with Tony Manne, the former president of TriStar, for the film’s distribution to other countries, except the US, where she and Scorsese retain the rights. They have already contacted companies like Miramax, New Line and Sony Classic and are waiting for replies until the end of January. Voulgaris has reached an important point in his career: an international opening. «I don’t know what doors the film will open, but there are things of which I feel deprived and that I would like to experience,» he said. «What moves me in Scorsese is that he doesn’t just express his opinion, but is genuinely interested in the film. Lately, we have been discussing digital intervention. He advised me against using too much digital technology, he said he tried it in ‘Gangs of New York’ and that it proved too expensive and time-consuming. He was in favor of seeking other solutions.» The digital parts (the reconstruction of a port in Asia Minor in 1922 and the atmosphere of a New York quay of the same period) are already in Scorsese’s hands so that the process can continue at the Lucas studios. The film is already in the third cut and there are two more to go. «The film has kept me busy for five years. I wondered why I insisted on it and now I know it is because Ioanna Karystiani’s script moved me so much. The trouble I had with this film has already faded. I think it is one of the best films I have made,» he said. Seven hundred brides embark on a journey of hope, marriage and escape in 1922, only a few months before the destruction of Smyrna. They go to the US in order to get married, holding only a photograph in their hands. «In this film, I see Greeks being uprooted. I am transmitting the feeling I got after meeting Greeks of the diaspora, as well as my own weakness to live and work elsewhere. I cannot imagine myself not being in Greece.» «Brides» will possibly be screened next October. The National Film Awards are a procedure Voulgaris would rather avoid. «I don’t want to go into that, because I have grown older. I am old. They should be reserved for young people.» He is still close to Angelopoulos because of endless discussions and their early collaboration. «We are both eager to find answers concerning history and life in modern Greece, each of us in his own way. Theodoros set high standards and forced the rest to follow him.»