Angelopoulos trilogy looks back

The people of Thessaloniki stare at the wooden, tightly packed houses being built on the preserved site of the former FIX factory at the port. They are not new, nor are they there to serve the port authorities. They are part of a huge film set that will soon be full of life, lights and cameras. Just a few meters from the shores of the Thermaic Gulf, these one hundred-odd, one-story wooden and stone houses and small cobbled streets are the set for Theodore Angelopoulos’s new film. The award-winning director is shooting in the northern city for the fifth time, this time focusing on the history of the city’s refugees in a trilogy composed of Weeping Field, The Third Feather and The Return. The first film is expected to cost 6 billion drachmas and Angelopoulos has received financial backing from various countries, such as France, Italy, Germany, Russia and Canada. The production has already used 400 cubic meters of wood, 300,000 sheets of metal and stone blocks that have been gathered from abandoned homes and villages throughout northern Greece, and it has been estimated that hundreds of extras will be needed to play the mass of refugees. This is the first time that this type of huge production is being set up in Greece for a Greek film and though in its early stages, it is progressing at a very rapid pace. Mega-production Similar refugee quarters will be built in two other areas of northern Greece: The first is a 100-home village on the shore of Kerkini Lake that is currently in the early stages of construction, and the second will be on the small island of Tigani in Amouliani Halkidiki. Approximately 50 shacks will form the village’s seaward extension while in the same area, the production team is preparing to construct facades for seven-story buildings as well as 1930s-style facades for a number of building throughout the sets. By the time these projects are completed, they will form two refugee quarters in which Angelopoulos will revive the aftermath of the 1922 Asia Minor disaster. A team of architects and civil engineers, as well as a builder specialized in old-style stone and wood construction, has been employed to realize the vision of set designer Costas Dimitriadis and the director. Kathimerini met with Angelopoulos on the set at the Thessaloniki port. Under the searing September sun he was planning shots and studying the construction plans that will render exact replicas of the homes that gave shelter to thousands of refugees. Though somewhat reluctant to reveal too much about the upcoming films, he did, however, discuss the huge extent of his plans. The film’s narrative is based on a love story that takes the audience through the historical events of the Asia Minor disaster, from the ousting of the Greeks from the region to the present. The first part of the trilogy deals with the years 1919-1949, and the main character is a young girl from Odessa who, sharing the same fate as thousands of other refugees, ends up in Thessaloniki. Weeping Field will open in 2002 at the Venice Film Festival. The next two parts, The Third Feather and The Return are expected to appear at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2003. Filming for the first part of the trilogy is expected to start in early December at the Kerkini site. This is the best time to start according to the needs of the screenplay, says Angelopoulos, explaining that that is when the water level is highest. More filming will take place in the area through March when the water level is high enough for a flood scene the director is envisioning. To complete the effect, the production is planning to build a dam and to create artificial rain with the help of firefighting equipment. Thus the Kerkini village, which houses the refugees from Odessa, will be lost under the waters of the flooded lake. The next part of filming will take place in Thessaloniki on the set representing the settlement of refugees from Cappadocia, Smyrna and the Asia Minor coast. The action will take place in the small homes, the local coffee shop and greengrocer’s, all flanked by the listed buildings of industrial Thessaloniki on one side and the sea on the other. This journey through the past and into the future, through desperation and hope, is, according to Angelopoulos, both a way to recount the past and predict the future.

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