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Interview with Amanda Livanou

30 Prosinec 2012 Komentáře: 1

Lately, we have been reading more and more about New Greek Wave not only in trade magazines. Greek Cinema did it and finally has stepped out of the shadow of Theo Angelopoulos or not?

It really is not for me to say, these are things for film historians and journalists. Theo Angelopoulos was a huge figure in European cinema and we were all quite shocked by his death. When my generation started working in film, the local industry was dominated by an old-fashioned cinema by people stuck in the past, with no real relevancy or any kind of modern ideas or aesthetics. The industry was also dominated by a nomenklatura based on politics and unionism rather than art, vision, film. What my generation of filmmakers, some of which are my friends, hopefully achieved, was to bring their culture and aesthetic into a new, fresher cinema which luckily has quite easily been recognized in the international art-house scene. I hope this brings to light many more talents to come, and that it is not a passing trend. We certainly work hard to sustain it.

Development of the Greek Cinema is happening on the backdrop of quite unfavorable political and economic events. Are they somehow link or is this hypothesis preposterous?

I would think it is linked because I don’t really believe in coincidences. Perhaps what the averse situation did is unleash the creativity of people who actually were making quite a good living before – as we all were. It is more difficult to focus when easy money is all around you. Possibly when the bubble burst it became easier to take a risk, because everything was now risky.

Having said that, for years we in Greece were saying that the quality of short films produced was much higher than the features, and when would these young filmmakers get their chance? So it was not out of the blue for us. The fact that it is so popular abroad is a big pleasant surprise. I myself did not see it coming.

You have produced several films. Did state help you via some grants or you had to cover production expenses via private funding? Anyway, what´s the relationship between Greek, the state and Greece Cinema?

Cinema cannot exist without subsidies. The state system, i.e. the greek film center and occasionally the national broadcaster (ERT) were very important sources of income for the films. Sometimes they were late in recognizing that a new filmmaker should be supported and they only supported films after they were selected by a major festival, but still, it is impossible to make European films nowdays without subsidies. You can do it once, you can do it twice, you can’t do it all the time. So now that the funds are no longer available filming is a problem. You can’t keep making low budget arthouse forever, especially for filmmakers that have made their first or second features this way. Making a film is never easy but you can’t grow old doing low budget, you can’t ask for the same kind of support from people, your friends, your family, all the time.

By the same token, I do not believe films should be made with no money, I am against that in principle. Like film itself, the negative I mean (we shot L on 35mm) the experience and process should have its value and its magic. And money is value, particularly with relation to people. I have been in shoots of guerilla films made in Greece at the moment, and sometimes they lack the reverence and respect that the process itself deserves. Filming is not a party. It does not mean that we can’t have a good time doing it, but not a party. We can party afterwards at the bar. But during the actual shoot, I give, and expect, a certain level of seriousness and concentration. I am not sure the idea of “let’s all get together and make my film with no money cause I have none” is helping anyone.

We paid (mostly) everyone for L. Not a lot of money, and we of course asked and received a lot of favors, but we managed to raise some cash and we made sure everyone had a reason to be there other than being friends, that they could pay their rent while they did it. The heads of departments were the last to be paid, but even they did. We are owed some state money still. Babis has not recouped his investment, and maybe he never will, but we are very proud of the setup: everyone was paid a minimum for being there.

But again, I cannot stress enough that the State has a constitutional responsibility to produce and support art, among other, basic things, like health and education. At the moment it’s not doing much of anything, but it’s important to remember that our constitution says that.

Isn´t it weird that Greek films are being recognized as weird?

Yes. It’s not a term I particularly like. I think it’s easier for the industry to generalize things in this way but I am not sure it is actually good for the films themselves, or for the “niche” they represent. Of course many of these films are made by people who have been friends for years, who work in each other’s films, who have obviously discussed film in some depth.

Personally I prefer the term absurd. Someone told us about L that it is set in “Absurdistan”, which we quite liked. This is something closer to my sensibilities and my understanding of the world in general, of Greece in particular, and even more for filmmaking as an occupation in life.

Amanda Livanou

You late collaboration is with new filmmaking talent, Babis Makridis. Could you give us some insight into the production process on the film L?

Babis and I really didn’t know each other that well when we started working together, the project was in fact initially attached to another producer when Babis asked me to get on board. We trusted each other quite easily, and with regard to me, I never doubted that he knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it. Of course I never imagined the film would be so successful, but I knew from the beginning that it would not be mediocre.

When I got involved the project had been languishing for a while, as it was the beginning of the dry financial period and pledged state funds were not available. Babis and Efthimis Filippou (co-writer) re-wrote the script so we could shoot it in Athens on a low budget, as the original script was much more complicated production-wise. Of course they kept on writing until the shooting, re-writing scenes just before they were shot, because they had a lot of espressos after each day’s wrap, the two of them. But we had already decided to have a very small crew made up of friends for the most part, people that we have been working together (in advertising) for years, so we were flexible and no one complained. And Babis is much loved in the industry so that helped.

When we had a couple of scenes we presented them at the Karlovy Vary works in progress section, and everything picked up from there. But it has been a work in progress all along.

Why so astonishing/weird/beautiful/ridiculous idea/film?

You probably have to ask Babis. Or maybe see his short The Last Fakir, which is also about a man trying to escape what he is, in a sense. I think the idea came from Babis’ childhood friend Yorgos, actually a lawyer (and musician) who thought of the “man living in his car” concept.

Personally I think it is highly original, and also cinematic, the idea of someone unable to get out of a car really. And then Babis worked with the concept that it is a film with men in cars and bikes but there is actually no movement in the camera, in the film. I think that was beautiful and touching. And of course the idea that we are all alone, we mingle and try to fit in, but we are alone, is not new.

Alongside Alps, Attenberg, Homeland, Boy Eating Bird´s Food, has L become one of the signature films of New Greek Wave. Maybe one of the prototypes. How come? Why do you think L is so appealing in your opinion?

I don’t think L is that appealing! I think it does not make it easy for the audience to get into it. But, as with many things, if you actually invest the time to watch it with an open heart, it opens a beautiful world for you to enter. I think it is a funny and heartbreaking film. Brutally honest and very personal. But it is not evident in the first ten minutes, at least not for everyone, in my experience. We are becoming very spoilt viewers in the 21st century, and we do not have the time, mentally, to give our attention to something that is so removed from the mainstream. So removed from our pace of life, really.

I am very flattered by your characterisation, and there have been some really touching reactions in these ten months that the film is screened in festivals all around the world, but it is not a universal acceptance. Although I am hoping for posterity!

I would also like to add that, for me, the new wave, or the new greek films coming out, are much more diverse than that, and that you have not mentioned films like Strella, Unfair World, or the films of Yannis Economides. I think they are also a part of all the gestation and they bring a fuller picture to greek film production of late.

You have stated on the website of Beben Films that L is first, but not the last collaboration between you and Babis Makridis. What are the plans? Could you give us some insight into future of the tandem Livanou-Makridis?

Babis is working on something new at the moment, it is actually now taking shape and form. We are looking into development funding, European, of course, as this is not available in Greece. Hopefully it will not be too long before we can say we’re moving in production. I hope we can do many films together in the future. I am very happy working with Babis, and I think he is too (but please ask him!).

L has pretty successful run on the festival circuit this year. Will we have the chance to see the film on DVD soon?

Actually the film just came out on rental DVD in Greece. It will be available for retail in the next couple of months. We are also checking out VOD possibilities, so I hope it can be made available on an international VOD platform soon.

What about other projects? Will you continue in producing films similar to L? Or have you quite different plans for the future?

I hope to be able to do this for a while. I just finished a documentary that I hope will be in one of the major festivals in the winter called They Glow in the Dark, by Panagiotis Evangelidis. We are also developing a new project with first time director Sofia Exarchou, PARK with the Guanaco film co (The Boy Eating the Bird’s Food), which we just presented at the Thessaloniki Crossroads co-production forum and we actually won two development prizes, so I am a happy girl. I am also working in distribution in Greece, with Feelgood Entertainment, our co-producer, distributor, and partner in L. Filmmaking is not a breadwinning occupation in Greece. Yet.

What would be your dream job in the terms of film production?

What a difficult question! In terms of how we make the films, it would be great to have full funding for once, and to know that everyone, including yourself, can be paid properly for what you are doing. Or not even properly but paid, period.

I have line produced a few foreign productions that were shot in Greece and that is a tiring but often great experience because their circumstances are so much different than ours – there are trailers and proper catering and drivers and the general atmosphere of a big enterprise, which is not bad from time to time. And it’s a great way to make a living, so that you can keep producing films.

In terms of filmmakers around, Wong Kar Wai, Steve McQueen, Andrea Arnold, Thomas Vinterberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, Leos Carax, I would pretty much do anything to work for them. Our good friend and co-producer in L Dennis Iliadis (Hardcore in Greece, The Last House on the Left and now Plus One in the US) is someone I would love to work with. And Woody Allen, if he ever came to Greece to shoot, as he seems to go everywhere in Europe these days!

What is the weirdest film you have ever seen?

I think Triumph of the Will, by Leni Riefenstahl would be a strong contender for that title.

Martin Kudláč

One Comment »

  • Swathi said:

    The movie actually boeterhd me by seeming to give too much credit to the white characters on the civil rights issue. In that respect it was very hard for me to watch, I believe the storyline didn’t need a white heroine and let’s face it there were few white heroes in that time and place. I wanted to love the movie but I couldn’t get past reality.

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