My engagement with documentary films started as a result of my work for “Paraskinio”.
Until then (the fall of 2000) I was entirely oriented towards fiction, as a result of being a long-time film buff and also because of my plans and aspirations for a future as a filmmaker.
Clearly, fiction films are still my main priority.
I believe in the slow and gradual development of things. Therefore, I believe that in due course, the two fiction films, I have already made, will be followed by more and better ones.
However, my work would not be the same, if not for my involvement with documentaries. I feel that, from the start, my documentaries have had a flavor of fiction. At the same time, my last fiction film, “Joy”, would be entirely different without my previous work in documentaries.
I think that both genres are inextricably connected. This is a general observation, which applies to my own work as well.
It is good thing that,especially in recent years, the two genres have saturated one another in a very interesting way.
It is the result of the extensive use of digital video by professionals, as well as its even broader use by the general pubic throughout the world.
When everybody can capture anything on their cellphone, they automatically come to serious terms with reality and become transmitters and receivers at the same time.
Thus, they are trained to be more responsive to anything that includes both fiction and reality.
It is reality, that filmmakers have always tried to capture, either through fiction or through documentary film.
Through ‘films with “documentary-like” elements’ as they used to be described (from the first Neorealist films up to the “Battle of Algiers”, by Gillo Pontecorvo), through docudrama, (pioneered by the famous Peter Watkins) and until the Dardenne films, fiction tends to get rid of the superfluous burdens of pomposity, the so called “atmosphere” and theatricality, to come closer to something authentic, that resembles ‘real life’.
Equally, documentary has taken decisive steps away from the academic style, rhetoric and pseudo-lyricism and through works, such as Frederick Wiseman’s
or the Maysles brothers’ (dating from the 60s onwards) right up to the cinema of Loznitsa (both documentary and fiction), it has achieved to capture a pure form of reality; all objections as to what defines reality, accepted.
When it comes to my own documentaries, which are about 150, I notice that I have gradually moved from the rather descriptive and academic style of my first documentary film on the ultra-marathon runner Yannis Kouros, to a mixed style, which combines elements from observational documentary and direct cinema. In certain cases, like in my documentary on Lycabettus (from the Docville series), I managed to achieve a truly genuine observational documentary. In “Makronisos”, with the prolonged filming, the style is mixed. It includes elements of direct cinema, observational cinema, as well as more traditional techniques of an almost television-like approach to the historical documentary. This way, with time I was able to merge seemingly diverse elements, such as documentary research, TV-style organized interviews, a voice over, the use of archival film for descriptive purposes, with observational cinema, the absence of music, an emphasis on sound editing, off camera action as well as a direct cinema approach.
All these elements were combined, sometimes more and others less effectively, in a mixed style according to context; cultural, historical or athletic. These three, anyway, have been the genres, in which I was involved or even specialized in through my work.
In films like the ones about Nikos Karathanos’ productions, such as “Golfo at Epidaurus” (for the Athens Festival) and “The Cherry Orchard, Micky Mouse and Nikos Karathanos” (for the Onassis Cultural Center) an extremely interesting hybrid was formed, of a cultural observational documentary, which quite interestingly included the fundamental characteristics of both approaches.
I have loved every single one of my documentaries, admittedly some of them more passionately, but I have an emotional connection to all of them.
This I believe is a great success.
Right from the start I possessed some diverse qualities and knowledge which were further cultivated along the way. These, combined with my persistent, or sometimes obsessive interest in almost every topic I tackle have given me the opportunity to develop a know-how, which combined with my accumulated experience, yielded very good results.
I feel sad about the documentaries I did not get to make, in spite of my efforts. Sometimes for reasons beyond my control and other times because I did not have the necessary nerve or the impertinence a documentarian has to have. This is how I never got round to making the documentary on Patrick Leigh Fermor, even though I had taken all the necessary steps and I was really close to making it. He resisted the idea, because he had grown old and was rather a narcissist. When he told me on the phone, to wait for”...about a year...” until he had finished his book, I thought of grabbing the camera and driving straight to Mani, to his marvellous house, and to knock on his door. Whenever I had done that, it seemed to have worked. However, in his case I got cold feet and the film never came to be, even though it had been my firm desire for some time.
This was also the case with the documentary on the famous Greek-Turk football player Lefter Küçükandonyadis. We had gotten very close, but I did not persist.
Given my great productivity, I believe that had I lived in an organized country, I could have had the chance to delve deeper into these three documentary subgenres (arts-related, historical and sports documentaries) and at the same time be financially independent.
But neither of these is the case.
Documentary films have always had trouble finding support, in a country like Greece, nevertheless the genre has flourished in the last 20 years. However, it is a genre with a very limited audience. There are, of course those who like watching documentaries and they are pleased whenever they happen to come across them on TV, but they would not go to a theatre to watch one.
Additionally, there are no government or independent entities to systematically finance documentaries.
Everything happens according to circumstances and haphazardly. There is no system.
Near the end of 2016 as I am writing these lines, I feel like a cycle has closed.
On one hand there is...reality. The Greek crisis, apart from the financial hardship, has brought to surface a kind of cannibalism and hideous factionalism. Only very little money is put into new productions and everything works according to the motto “mors tua, vita mea” (your death is my life). For ten, twelve or fourteen years, I was able to make a decent living through hard, almost non-stop work. Today, things are drastically different, we speak either of ERT, for which I have made more than 80 films, or other state organizations, private stations, foundations, independent producers, cable networks or any other entities.
The mere mention of the word ‘crisis’ is enough for budgets to take a dive and reach derisory low levels. So low that the production of documentaries has been made almost impossible.
The worst part is a result of prevalent nihilism that affects everything. It is as though nobody is interested in documentary films and they are considered a luxury.
And worst of all, as I have already mentioned, are factionalism, misanthropy and cronyism, which rear their ugly heads in periods such as this.
On a personal note, I would expect that my work so far would offer me, if not a passport, at least a safe passage, so that I would not have to feel like a neophyte, every time I submitted a project for approval. I am, definitely, not the one to blame for this. After so many years of acknowledged work, because of my character and my mentality I do not have any circle or backers. I do not have friends in the press to write about my work and advertise my future plans. I do not have buddies among film critics to praise every film I make, because they count on my big name and influence. I have none of those. And I do not have the support of the well-known mediators, who decide which pictures are sent to international festivals.
Any of my films that happened to be screened abroad achieved that on their own merit and without anybody's intervention. not even the support of people I know very well.
Furthermore, I am not even a member of a “golden” generation or a “wave”, in order to have the allegiance of my peers. That is the reason, no producer or distributor would ever support my work, whether it is fiction or a documentary film. In recent years, particularly, all my proposals for documentaries or documentary series have been given the cold shoulder. This is not because they are not good. It is simply because, especially during the crisis, there is no way forward, unless one has special connections, as I have mentioned already.
That leaves me on a solitary path without any help from anywhere.
On the other hand, it seems that this situation has coincided with the end of a cycle. I may have to look elsewhere, something my incessant work has not left me time to do.
Admittedly, some things in work change regardless of the circumstances.
We, certainly, change and our desires change as well.
Surely, I am at a turning point. In the years to come, if I continue to be in good health, I would like to put emphasis on making fiction films and through them to reach another level, which I feel I can conquer. At the same time I would like to attempt documentaries, that would explore the territory of pure observation and on the other hand I would like to get involved in extended thematic series, which within proper and well-organized productions will allow me to delve even deeper into these three subgenres; the arts-related, historical and sports documentary, but in different terms and circumstances.
Only time will show if I make it.