JUST TALKING 23/3
The discussions of the Just Talking section of the 15th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival concluded on Saturday, March 23, 2013. Panel participants in this last discussion were directors Nikos Dayandas (Little Land), Janusz Mrozowski (Βad Βoy - High Security Cell), Tinatin Gurchiani (The Machine which Makes Everything Disappear) and Christina Koutsospyrou & Aran Hughes (To the Wolf).
Directors Christina Koutsospyrou and Aran Hughes opened the discussion with an introductory statement about their film To the Wolf. “The film was shot in a secluded Greek village and focuses on the lives of two families, their relationship and how they fight to survive”, said the former, while the latter added: “In a way, our documentary includes elements of fiction. This film has been our personal venture for the past two and a half years, so I am happy that it is finally in theaters and we can see the reaction of the audience”. Commenting on his theme in Little Land, Nikos Dayandas said: “We traveled to Ikaria to focus on the fact that the islanders are one of the four communities all over the world with life expectancy of more than 90 years. It turned out that our film was not about longevity per se; longevity serves as a narrative thread, to give a different perspective on Greece”. Gurchiani’s film focuses on Georgia, the young people of the country and on life itself: “I called for people from 15 to 23 to come to the audition and tell me their stories. I selected the stories that I found to be the most interesting”, the director explained. Janusz Mrozowski explained his own choice of subject: “I have been interested in the issue of prisons for many years, and this particular film is the third part of my prison trilogy. In 1999, I read an open letter by inmates published in a French newspaper. In their letter, the prisoners chastised the “cultural desertification” taking place in French penitentiaries. I contacted the writers and started working on the films”.
Panel participants then discussed the issue of stereotypes and how they can affect a filmmaker’s approach. Mr Hughes said on the matter: “Most of us have a biblical, romantic image of bucolic life. In our film, we tried to capture the real life of shepherds without embellishing it”. Mrs. Koutsospyrou added: “These stereotypes are also reproduced by TV documentaries on rural life in Greece. They give a snapshot of this life, without getting much deeper. Our goal was to engage with the people and explore their relationships”. Nikos Dayandas turns stereotypes on their head: “My film begins with stereotypes; I believe that once you get them out in the open, you can then demolish them - this is one of the major powers of the documentary. Documentarians often realize that life itself is the best cure to stereotypes”. Gurchiani said she avoids stereotypes: “I do not take cliches into account - they bore me. If this is the type of information you are interested in, you can find it on Wikipedia. For me, what is important is to approach a country through touching human-interest stories. This is the only way”.
On the same issue, Janusz Mrozowski said: “When I met the prisoners, I felt like I was meeting tragic figures. Time stops in prison, and you can get to truly know people and learn their personal stories. For the first film of the trilogy, I spent two hours in a 15 sq.m. cell with seven prisoners, without telling the audience why they were incarcerated. I was criticized in Poland for this, but it was a conscious omission - had I stated their crimes, then the audience would only see them as criminals, instead of human beings. My goal is to build bridges connecting the inside and outside world”. He went on to add: “I shot in Poland using a camera I was given in France. In France I was never allowed to shoot inside the prison. Now I have a new moto: ‘Show me your prisons, and iI will tell you who you are’.
In the next part of the discussion, the filmmakers talked about character selection. “I knew from the start that auditioning would be part of my film. My crew did not speak Georgian, but we were all unanimous in the selection. Our characters were open, honest and original”, said Mrs. Gurchiani. Mr. Dayandas noted: “It was clear that one part of the film would focus on the islanders of Ikaria. This is why we chose Giorgos, a beekeeper, who is a very strong personality and is also determined to keep the traditional way of life alive. The other part of the film would focus on the young people coming to Ikaria from urban areas. So we chose Thodoris, who moved to the island from Athens to become a farmer”. Christina Koutsospyrou said: “We had already decided on the first family, but when we met the members of the second, we immediately decided to include them in the film as well - there was a lot of tension in the two families’ relationships. The first time we went to their house with the camera, we witnessed a dramatic incident, as the couple was fighting. We felt as if we were invisible. As if they did not care at all that we were there”. Mr. Hughes added: “It was important that our characters had never left their homelands - they were very authentic and attached to the landscape”.
Mr. Mrozowski admitted that the first time he got clearance to visit a high security prison, he did not have the stomach to make a film: “Then I thought it would be a shame to let the license go to waste. At first, I thought about narrating the stories of all the inmates, but when I met one specific prisoner, I knew I wanted to make a film only about him. He had already served 2.5 years, he had not killed or wounded anyone, and this made it easier for me to communicate with him. He was also a young person with a sense of humor”.
The directors then talked about their relationship with their characters after their films were completed: “I become emotionally attached and try to keep in touch. For one of the other films of the trilogy, I paid the expenses to allow my protagonist to come to Cannes, accompanied by a guard. In this film, I fought for months to achieve the transfer of my protagonist to a better prison. For me, the relationship does not end with the film’s credits”. Mr. Hughes noted: “We have since gone back many times to the village, to visit the two families, and we will continue to do so. The relationship does not end there. We are now friends. Even though I do not speak Greek, I can sit with them for hours”. Nikos Dayandas said: “I recently realized that what I capture on film is my relationship with those people - this is why I decided to have my own voice-over in this film. I felt I was missing from it”. Mrs. Gurchiani also said she keeps in touch with her protagonists. Indeed, this relationship does not allow her to start a new project. “This is my first film, and I do not know where to draw the line. This is also important for the characters; they need to be able to go on with their lives without the film, to distance themselves from it”.
The films are part of the 15th TDF program, which is financed by the European Union’s Regional Development Fund for Central Macedonia, 2007-2013.