For its 5th Edition, the Hellas Filmbox in Berlin presented a new program of feature films, documentaries and shorts from Greece with International and German premiers, supporting events and Q&A’s. The films were a chance to get an overview in a short time on how the Greek film industry is placed in an international context, both on a budgetary and artistic level. The Emerging Greeks competition section consisted of six films. All film showings took place at the three screens of the Babylon Mitte in Berlin, most with English subtitles.
The opening event of this year’s festival was the screening of Winona, by director-composer Alexandros Voulgaris (aka ‘The Boy’). Set on the Greek island of Andros, four young women take an excursion to the beach and it progressively becomes clear that something dark is emerging below the surface of their seemingly innocent day out. Winona is also noteworthy for being shot on Kodak 16mm, a welcome return in the digital age. Before the film there was a live performance of selections from the Winona soundtrack by The Boy and Miss Trichromi, and a director Q&A afterwards where he unraveled the enigmas.
The first full day featured a special screening of Smuggling Hendrix by Marios Piperidis, but documentaries dominated the program, with screenings of four of the five feature documentaries in the festival. Across Her Body followed Mrs. Irene and the rest of the ‘Fifteeners’ as they prepare the old convent for the holiday season. The convent lies at the southern edge of the volcanic island of Therasia, the famous sister island of Santorini. At the end of July every year a two week prayer dedicated to the Assumption of Mary takes place for the eternal rest of the Blessed Sacrament.
Here we witness candid conversations and reminisces, compelling off-screen dialogue, and enlightening stories. The interview topics range from relationships to lamenting a once fertile land that is now ravaged. Omnipresent here is God and mortality, faith, the spiritual and physical world, female bodies irrevocably going through the ageing process. The cinematography of long static shots reflects the peaceful serenity and contemplation of the convent: A mass of white and blue, church, sea and sky; inimitably Mediterranean, inimitably Greece.
The other documentaries screening at Hellas Filmbox this year were: Vorzeit – Eloge auf Griechenland (Ancient times – Eloge on Greece) by Harald Bergmann, in its world premiere and with the director present for a Q&A afterwards; Sugartown – For a Fistful of Votes by Kimon Tsakiris; As Far as The Sea by Marco Gastine; and Irving Park by Panagiotis Evangelidis. Also screening was the first feature in the New Vision program, The Great Eastern by Lakis and Aris Ionas (aka ‘The Callas’).
The first shorts program on Thursday consists of five films: Flexible Choices by Thodoris Vournas, Patison Avenue by Thanasis Neofotistos, Flickering Souls Set Alight by Iakovos Panagopoulos, Sad Girl Weekend by Lida Vartzioti (with Q&A), and Ivan by Panagiotis Kountouras. Ivan satirizes human nature through eating. Is this pathological desire a will to possess rather than a will to live? Humans’ symbiotic relationship with food for survival is reassessed as an empty ritual. Ivan contains plenty of conscious framing, short film symbolisms and almost no dialogue. Ivan is the owner’s dog. The owner also eats with his mouth.
One of the feature highlights of Friday was The Waiter, also the first to play in competition. Based on true events in New York in the late eighties but moved to today’s Athens, it is a shifting character study. Renos lives alone and quietly in his apartment. He works as a waiter in an upmarket Patisserie, sometimes socializing with his colleague, and his mundane life is foregrounded. He also randomly speaks philosophically in a monotone voice. Across from his apartment he has a neighbor called Milan who suddenly disappears. Another neighbor gradually befriends him and introduces him to his girlfriend.
The Waiter is a film about identity; self-identification and identifying others. It is comparable to Attenburg (2010) with characters going about their daily mundane lives but, the longer we get to know them, the more we align to their eccentricities. Its slow and humorous pace gradually builds towards a tense climax then wanders into existential territory, à la Theo Angelopoulos. Director Steve Krikris was also present for a Q & A following the screening.
The accompanying short film to The Waiter was Nimic by Yorgos Lanthimos, a departure from his Academy Award-nominated feature films Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015) and The Favourite (2018). Travelling by subway a professional cellist has a chance encounter with a seeming stranger that affects subsequent events and enforces questions of identity, relationships and circularity. Matt Dillon plays the protagonist and in an interview with Indiewire he talked of working on the film with Lanthimos; The structure is a bit of a puzzle so you’re never quite sure what’s really going on. I had my own ideas and would ask Yorgos but he would just smile and say nothing. I think he prefers to let the film do the talking.,
On Friday, the festival hosted a two-hour open discussion on Gender Matters with a panel made up of Maria ‘Cyber’ Katsikadakou, activist, director and Director of the LGBTQI film festival Outview in Athens; Natalie MacMahon, curator, actress/director Founder of the Female Filmmakers Film Festival Berlin, along with her co-founder Lara Celenza, also a director and screenwriter. The moderator on the discussion was the journalist Faey Karaviti. Most of the films in the program allude to issues of gender and the discussion reflected on film as a platform to equal rights in the media and society.
Friday’s program also included the second and third program of short films, a special screening of The Miracle of the Saragasso Sea by Syllas Tzoumerkas, and the international premiere of Persephone, which was also in competition and was followed by a Q&A with director Costas Athousakis.