Getting the ball rolling uphill

THESSALONIKI – There are certain biases in the film world that often prevent aspiring filmmakers from taking the plunge. One of them is that if you come from a small, non-English-, French- or Spanish-speaking place – for example Greece or Flanders – your wings are already clipped. Another bias is that directors cannot make the leap from television or commercials to art-house cinema, while yet another is that you need barrels of money to make something even halfway decent. Well, here at the Thessaloniki International Film festival, running to Sunday, there is a young director challenging these biases: Dimitri Karakatsanis is Greek-Belgian (his father is Greek and his mother Flemish) with a career in advertising (also having shot a Vodafone commercial recently in Greece for Kino productions), who scraped together 50,000 euros to make his first feature film. Very much a family affair, «Small Gods» – which will be screened again today at 4 p.m. at the Odeon Plateia in the festival’s «Out of Competition» section – is written, directed and produced by Dimitri Karakatsanis, shot by his brother, Nicolas, and stars his wife, Steffi Peeters. It is in Flemish with English subtitles. «I had originally written a scene for a thriller,» Karakatsanis told Kathimerini English Edition in Thessaloniki. «We shot the scene and then I realized that there could be more to the story than just a horror film.» The director is in Thessaloniki following a screening of «Small Gods» at the Venice Film Festival and before setting off for festivals in Bratislava, Tallinn, France and then back home to Belgium. A graduate of St Lucas in Brussels, Karakatsanis’s surrealist short «Le Guide» won the award for Best Belgian Student Film in 2001 and was shown at numerous festivals worldwide. His brother Nicolas returned to Belgium after working as color grader in Berlin with the intention of making films. He has worked as director of photography on various award-winning shorts, commercials and music videos. Both needed a break from commercials. «We wanted to feed our minds,» says Dimitri. «People in Belgium stigmatize you when you are doing commercials, but in fact it is because of the commercials that we’ve been able to make a low-budget film that has this quality; that we managed to mobilize a crew that’s professional, that we know how to move equipment, know timing.» On the road The festival circuit held quite a few surprises for the 32-year-old director. Firstly, he was able to gauge the audience’s reaction and see the film through their eyes. «I can see the flaws in the script; many people tell me, ‘Next time write a better script.’ And I know, but it was never really meant to be shown everywhere. It was more like ‘Let’s just do it.’» A well-put together production with beautiful photography by Nicolas and a tight directing style by Dimitri, «Small Gods» has a quality that does not translate into the screenplay, possibly because it was meant to be one thing and later grew into another. The drama tells the story of a young woman who runs her car into a pile of logs in an impulsive suicide attempt. She leaves the wreck unscathed, but her young son riding in the back is not so lucky. The young woman tells her story to a lawyer: about how a kind stranger came and took her from hospital and set off with her on a road trip in a mobile home. On the way they pick up a young girl whose family has been brutally murdered by a gang. The trio support and help each other deal with their respective traumas. Whether the story is true or a figment of the heroine’s imagination is up to the audience to decide. On the reward side, Dimitri says that the circuit helped them attract a French sales agent and more recently they got a call from the US. «Not every Flemish film gets a sales agent abroad, so you realize that you are getting something done. Nothing ever really happens with Flemish movies. And suddenly you see this film in Thessaloniki, in Guttenberg and Brisbane and you see that it’s alive.» Now that the ball is rolling – «it has started,» says Karakatsanis – he is getting ready to move ahead with new projects. «I’m thinking of working on a film noir. It’s a genre known to everybody, it’s timeless and it’s a genre that appeals to a lot of people and you can have bad characters and a bad ending instead of a good one.» Thessaloniki is a location playing around in his mind after his introduction to the city. «My head is already somewhere else,» says Karakatsanis.