A celebrated director is left out in the cold

The title «The Dust of Time» seems to be a symbolically apt one for the second part of Theodoros Angelopoulos’s trilogy which began with «The Weeping Meadow» in 2004. The celebrated Greek filmmaker has made numerous attempts to begin filming over the past two years, but the financial burden of the production appears to be a bit too heavy for the Greek state. The 1 million euros in funding promised by former culture minister Evangelos Venizelos has yet to be handed over as it has got lost somewhere between the corridors of the ministries of culture and finance. The director, nevertheless, is persevering, driven by the principle that «cinema is not a profession; it is the breath, the serum of life.» Angelopoulos has spent a lot of time traveling to Russia in search of the perfect location, to the Ural Mountains and the Siberian steppes. He scouts locations in snowstorms, wearing his hat and Montgomery coat, envisioning the scenes, images of «a big world.» A few days ago, he had a brief meeting with Jeanne Moreau in Paris. The reason for the meeting was a telephone call from Cannes Film Festival President Gilles Jacob. «He said, ‘We are celebrating 60 years of the Cannes festival and would like a small contribution from the directors we love; a three-minute film.’ ‘But Gilles,’ I said, ‘My clapperboard shot lasts three minutes!’» Angelopoulos’s idea for the flash film is based on a dialogue between two films: his own «The Beekeeper» and Michelangelo Antonioni’s «La Notte.» «It is a dialogue between two people,» explains Angelopoulos. «The present Jeanne Moreau and the late Marcello Mastroianni.» The location is an old cinema in the north of Paris and the only Greek on the crew was photography director Andreas Sinanos. The filmmaker is now in Berlin, holding talks with the German co-producers of «The Dust of Time» and two of the lead actors, Bruno Ganz and Willem Dafoe (even though he has not completely abandoned the idea of having Ethan Hawke play Dafoe’s role). The entire project is in a state of flux anyway, but there is one thing that is very steady about it, and that’s the director’s persistence to get it off the ground, any any cost. Big-scale productions At a time when digital films have become the norm, you insist on making films that are becoming almost impossible. Why do you choose to do such large and costly productions? It is another dimension of cinema itself, which is not made for television and wide public appeal. I don’t reject digital cinema, as long as the subject merits using the medium. This also needs a different approach. Of course, I will use digital technology in parts, to soften a face, for example. On the other hand, I am attracted to the idea of introducing a big world. When I was in Siberia and saw that endless white landscape… the wind blowing the snow across the street… nothingness and a railway line. This was the absolute truth I was looking for. It took a long time to find it. It was the same with the cities, the Stalinist cities, the prisons, the places of exile. Do you ever feel that you are out of time and place? I now feel as though I am making films just for myself. Remember what [poet Giorgos] Seferis said: «It is time to utter our final words before our souls set sail. As you grow old, you either have to retreat or push even harder, stretch your bow as far as it goes»… that’s what I’m doing. Even at the risk that the bow will break? Always. Danger is forever apparent. Does it bother you that after 40 years in cinema you still run into obstacles? Yes. Logically – and I know this to be true – if I had given my film another nationality I would have solved all my problems already. But I’m not going to. When I’m really disappointed, I sometimes think: «I have received a medal of honor from the French state. I could become a French citizen if I wanted to.» I would never do it though. You’ve expressed the thought before. It’s not me who says it. Others ask me why I haven’t done it yet. Why haven’t you? During the dictatorship, when others left and went abroad, I stayed here and made political films: «The Reconstruction,» «Days of 36» and «The Troupe.» It so happened that I met two very daring producers at the time, Giorgos Samiotis and Giorgos Papalios. So, I stayed. You don’t give up on something just because it’s hard or you don’t get recognition for it… I would never leave because of hardship. I don’t do what I do so that I can lose my identity, but to confirm it even more. How profoundly do you experience Greek reality? Greece is a very personal story. There is a Greece that is very unique to me and this is seen by the locations I pick. I have preserved a Greece that is idealized through places and stories. I am often disappointed by the people, but this is my family. I don’t know what sort of films I would have made if I’d stayed in Paris. The story is well-known, I’ve said it before: When I first came back to Greece, I accidentally found myself in the middle of protest and I got beaten by the police without being a part of it; for no reason whatsoever. I was stuck here ever since. It means that I accept the challenge. Is the current debate about Article 16 of the Constitution, concerning the public character of universities, of any concern to you? I don’t believe in private universities at all. I believe in public schooling. If we want to produce educated people, we should improve the public education system. Vision for education Nonetheless, you sent your own daughters to private school. Yes, and I’ll tell you why. When I went to visit the local public school for my youngest daughter, I was shocked. I didn’t say public schools are good. What I believe is that we should have a vision about public education. The state should improve public schooling rather than create a private sector. Why do we accept a situation de facto, repeating statements about the shambles of the public schooling system, without doing anything to improve it? I believe the same about cinema. Right now, Greek cinema is facing a number of challenges. There is no cinematic education. Most people go abroad. This of course means that those who can afford it do, and those who can’t don’t. I had suggested the opening of a film academy in Nea Makri at the former American army base. The space was ideal. But cinema is another subject that falls victim to the government’s indifference and here I am in complete disagreement with the former deputy culture minister, Petros Tatoulis, who said it is dependent on state funding. Everywhere else in the world, culture is not dependent on the state, it is sponsored. Saying it is dependent is derogatory. We ought to accept one thing: The more we orient ourselves to a commercial style of cinema, the more we develop a very local phenomenon. That means making films for ticket numbers. We will end up with a commercial cinema that ranks, like, eighth in the world, because commercial films are already being made in places where there is a lot more money. We must have a voice if we want to be different. We must express our own voice. This takes years. Is it even more pressing because of the times we live in? Yes, it is becoming more pressing because of the times we live in. What are you reading these days? Mostly historical books that concern the film; about Stalin and exile. I also met with several elderly people in Russia and talked to them about that period. I saw a Russia on my travels that even Russian filmmakers don’t know. My films are journeys. I’ve always said it: By traveling I get to know myself and the world better. Always back to Joyce What is the one book you never forget? I always end up coming back to James Joyce. The man was scary. He was way ahead. In «The Weeping Meadow» you spoke quite extensively about the feeling of loss that accompanies you. What feeling dominates this film? This film does not end with closure the way the previous one did. It is open… like a poem of tomorrow waiting to be read. Siberia, 1953, to Brooklyn, NY, 2007 The central character in Theodoros Angelopoulos’s trilogy – in both the first installment, «The Weeping Meadow» and the second, «The Dust of Time» – is Eleni. «Essentially it is a trilogy about Eleni,» says the filmmaker. «The third part of the trilogy will be about an absent Eleni. The second part is a precise continuation of the first film. The story begins in 1953, on the day Stalin died, and ends in the present, in 2007. Basically, it is about the relationship between past and present. The narrative is not linear as it was in the previous film; it is constructed on many different levels. The central axis of the story is a love affair. It is about a woman (played by Valeria Golino) who loved two men in her life (Harvey Keitel and Bruno Ganz) and they both loved her back until the very end. She is on a journey in search of one of them, while the other follows her wherever she goes. Ganz plays a German Jew who fled to the Soviet Union to avoid being taken to the concentration camps. There, in Tashkent, he meets Golino. They are both exiled to Siberia. They live together for several years, yet her mind is always on Harvey.» A film within a film «A child is born and grows up in Brooklyn, New York, where he becomes a film director and tells the story of his own life and that of his parents. In fact, he makes a film of the story,» explains Angelopoulos. Filming of «The Dust of Time,» however, has been canceled several times already and these delays are beginning to hurt the production. «The Greek side is not behaving at all well,» said Angelopoulos. «There is a strange silence, and I’m not at all sure what it means. I have a written commitment from the Ministry of Culture regarding funding. I have a contract with [former culture minister Evangelos] Venizelos for three films. I had asked [current Culture Minister Giorgos] Voulgarakis to honor the contract and he assured me he would, and also told me to meet with [Finance Minister Giorgos] Alogoskoufis. We met and he agreed too. This happened last May,» said Angelopoulos.