New crop of filmmakers go out on a limb

The Greek filmmakers showing their work at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival this year show signs of a bolder approach to cinema. They appear to be taking a step forward, putting themselves in a vulnerable position by shedding the mundane and conservative. They want to make an impression, not by design, but by conviction. Of the 24 films that represent the country’s film production for the year, 14 are the first or second films of directors who are – mostly – young. Of these 14, five present unconventional, original subjects which – irrespective of the final result – are worth a look. The attraction of a different take on reality is not something we come across every day in Greek cinema, an industry that normally bends under the weight of dry or obvious approaches to themes. A few years ago it would have been quite hard to imagine a filmmaker saying, «We just said, ‘Hey, let’s do a thriller.’» The next step these young people took was to empty the city of Athens and for bloodthirsty zombies to take over the streets. Whether «Evil» is a splatter flick, or whether 29-year-old Giorgos Nousias can expect his first feature film to be a success or a flop is not the point. The point is that his entry represents a glimmer of the interesting things to come from a new generation of filmmakers whose resumes include studies abroad and minds open to experimention, playing with the lens, and making fun or a drama out of the situations surrounding them. Some of these young artists will survive the fray and others will simply disappear from the scene; a common occurrence compounded by financial restraints, a hostile working environment for filmmakers and other such causes. The future for the country’s directors also looks rather bleak, especially since of the 24 films competing for the State Film Prizes (which carry a cash award) in the Greek section this year at Thessaloniki, none are production-funded from the onset by the Greek Film Center (the body that is officially responsible for industry output). Rather, they were were funded through private means. The age group of the newcomers is also noteworthy, since in a list of 30-somethings there are also artists who are well past their 50s, such as visual artist Kyriakos Katzourakis, who is appearing with his second full-length feature «Sweet Memory,» and Yiannis Diamantopoulos, a seasoned director of television and theater who at 56 is presenting his first film, «Blue Dress.» Latest productions’ themes range from homosexuality to immigration «Blue Dress» is a film that examines Greece from the 1950s to the present. It starts with a widow raising her children, and who harbors special affection for the only boy of the three. The boy’s «differences» become apparent early on. His passion for dance takes him to Paris but his return to Greece is a flop – this tries his relationship with his mother. In the ’90s, happiness still eludes him and his end is tragically liberating. Director Kyriakos Katzourakis revolves around immigration and memory; a theme he has revisited after his first feature «The Road to the West.» His new film, «Sweet Memory,» tells the story of a Russian woman (played by Katia Gerou) who returns to Greece after 20 years in search of her brother. Her journey around the country is also an internal journey into the past. «Sweet Memory» was recently screened at the Montreal Film Festival. Apart from Giorgos Nousias and his film «Evil,» another young filmmaker, Giorgos Lanthimos (hailed as a rising star), made a film this year without any state funding, but with sponsorships from the advertising companies with which he collaborates. «Kineta» was the most pleasant surprise of the summer as it was selected, out of the blue, for screening at the Toronto International Film festival. Shot in a natural location, with natural light and no makeup or other effects, Lanthimos describes his film as purely «homemade.» The young director said, «Everything is entirely realistic, but the result is not realistic at all.» Angelos Frantzis, known for his first film, «Polaroid,» is entering the fray with «The Dog’s Dream,» which was shown at mainstream theaters last spring. The story is fantastical and contains a good deal of charm, but the narrative is somewhat disjointed. The film’s strongest allure is the director’s depiction of Athens by night; a dark and mysterious ghost town. The other films by first- or second-time directors in the competition do not, at least at a first glance, appear as provocative: «Icarus’ Dream» by Costas Natsis (a resident of France) and «Even If I Go… I’ll Be Back» by Dora Masklavanou. The first of the two looks at the passion a young boy from Epirus has for the music of his homeland and the rocky road he has to travel to realize his dream, obstacles to which include clashes with family members who do not understand his love of music. Masklavanou, on the other hand, draws inspiration from Alexandros Papadiamantis’s «The Woman who Missed Home» (the short story was recently made into a film of the same title by Eleni Alexandraki). In Masklavanou’s version, a woman living the life of a hermit in a distant village and surviving by making and selling coal meets a small-time crook and together they try to turn their lives around. Comedian Antonis Kafetzopoulos’s second feature film (currently on at theaters), «Woman Is…,» contains plenty of humor and paradox, while in «Haritonas’s Choir,» first-time director Grigoris Karantinakis has made a surreal movie centered on the principal of a provincial high school and his choir group.