CULTURE

Alexis Bistikas: A bold, provocative filmmaker

On Saturday, the Thessaloniki Film Festival presented the first part of a tribute to director Alexis Bistikas, who died 10 years ago. Saturday’s showing included three of his seven short films: «The Marbles,» «The Tie» and «The Clearing.» Four speakers were on hand to comment upon Bistikas’s work: directors Eva Stephani and Lefteris Haritos, the latter his assistant in «The Clearing,» film critic Ilias Kanellis and Yiannis Kontaxopoulos, who had organized a retrospective of Bistikas’s films in Paris. The 14-minute «The Marbles» was Bistikas’s first short film (1988) and shared the Best Feature Film prize at the 1989 Drama Short Film Festival. It is ostensibly about the so-called Elgin Marbles, the part of the Parthenon frieze acquired by the seventh Earl of Elgin from the Turks and shipped to London in the early 19th century. In reality, it is an elegy for Melina Mercouri, the late actress and former Minister of Culture who campaigned tirelessly about the return of the Marbles. In his obituary on Derek Jarman, a far more famous film director who, like Bistikas, died of AIDS, Don Boyd wrote in The Independent that «He loved to share his passionate enthusiasm about life and art, and although he had a rigorous critical mind he was never malicious.» The description could also fit Bistikas: he could be sharply critical of people and situations, and had an eye for irony, but he could also be unreservedly enthusiastic about people and things he loved. Mercouri, whom he knew quite well personally, was one of his loves. Bistikas had the occasion to work with Jarman, one of his major influences, in «The Clearing,» his final short film, produced in 1993. The film is one long, seven-minute shot of Jarman at Hampstead Heath. This was Jarman’s final appearance in a film, although not quite the last project he was involved in; he went on to direct «Blue» and «The Glitterbug» before he died on February 19, 1994. An unpublished piece of music by Manos Hadjidakis, another of Bistikas’s cultural references, served as an inspiration for the movie. Bistikas’s love of all types of performance art, as well as music, did not confine itself to highbrow forms. This element, as well as his sense of the absurd, helped him avoid the traps of the «cinema d’auteur.» His shorts were bold, both thematically and visually, but neither overly experimental nor sensationalist. They were only confrontational only for those offended by the director’s overt acknowledgement of his sexuality. On Sunday, the tribute to Bistikas will conclude with four more shorts -» Naked Stare,» «Potson-Potson,» «The Breast» and «The Kiss» – plus another two films from his student days in London, at Goldsmiths College and the Royal College of Art. These seven, plus two shorts, form the essential body of Bistikas’s work. He did direct a feature film, «To Harama» («Dawn»), which premiered in January 1995, but by then the progress of his illness prevented him from having full directorial control. Years before, Bistikas had envisaged his first feature as an Almodovar-style parody. What emerged, however, was far more conventional, pleasing even to rather staid audiences. It is true, though, that his final illness had smoothed out his rough edges. Alexis Bistikas died on September 29, 1995, at 31, too early to have had the time to match his emotional richness and intellectual curiosity with a corresponding mastery of the medium. What he left behind was still quite promising.