It is hard to think of Greek cinema without immediately being transported to the sick and perverted world of the Greek New Wave, which in the last 10 years or so has turned Greece into a hotspot for film buffs from around the planet. But not all Greek film adventures are as insane and wild as the visions of filmmakers such as Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Tsangari. One such exception is newcomer Dimitris Argyriou who more recently has become a recognizable figure in the festival circuit, with his short films finding wide audiences in events all across the world. This December we take a deeper look into his world as Dimitris Argyriou is our December Filmmaker of the Month
Letting a loved one go is never an easy task, especially when much of your relationships are built on a logic of property. That is the basis for Dimitris Argyriou’s debut short film “the Dinner”, which was in competition at FEST back in 2014, and immediately made us aware that this new voice on the scene had something special to tell the world. Inspiration came from an unlikely source: “I wrote The Dinner during my military service (which is still mandatory in Greece). I was trying to keep my mind busy with my film stuff and to use all this wasted time in order to produce something useful”.
Without many resources made available to him, he managed to unleash his first venture into the world of film after much effort. The bet paid off in the end, having also worked as a great learning experience. “I sent the screenplay to a couple of friends, who agreed to help me and we started the preproduction. It was very big honor, and also a bit of luck, to have the chance to work with two famous actors who liked my script (and me) and agreed to be part of my vision. That was the first film that I collaborated with well-known actors and this helped me to understand better how it is to work with professional actors, what I had to be like, what to care about and also what to avoid”.
The effort turn out to be a lot tougher than initially expected, as the young Greek artist quickly learnt that one must keep both eyes opened when working in an industry that has its fair share of charlatans: “A guy from my hometown came to me and got involved in the pre-production process as a producer. He was supposed to be good in marketing and management and his task was to find funding for this project, from various different sources. We also had bigger plans for the future. It eventually turned out that this man, who I knew quite well, was a fraud! One or two weeks before the shooting he disappeared completely! The expenses were running and he had not found any money of course. I had to decide if I should cancel the project or not. As everything was ready I decided to cover all expenses myself, using my savings. As that was not enough my father backed me up. I was completely broke afterwards, left without a single cent in my bank account. Nevertheless, I never regretted it and I would do it again. Without risk, you win nothing”.
The success of "The Dinner" was inspiring, with an impressive festival run, gathering accolades in the process, including at FEST – New Directors. More recently he has returned to the circuit with a radically different approach. “Monica” is the visually abstract tale of a young eastern European girl forced into prostitution, a project that shines a much needed light into the world of human traffic. “I met the real Monica some years ago. She told me her story and it stayed in my mind and in my heart. I had to take it out of my chest. I felt a real need to make this film.
Before everything, I embarked on a huge research about the subject and I came in contact with some organizations. I wrote a full screenplay and then I decided that I had to find a more direct way to tell her story. I tortured myself and then I came up with the current form”.
“The production came quite naturally and it was easy in comparison with my previous films. I was lucky because when I was ready to make the film I was selected to participate as a director in the Sarajevo Talents event. I decided that if I found the right person for the role and partners there, I would try to shoot it on the spot. I already knew that I need only a day for the shooting and had a very visual concept in mind. I arrived there, I met the rest of the participants and after some coffees, food and drinks I pitched my idea to two of them and they agreed to help me... I think that same evening I proposed to Ivana Pavlakovic to play the part, which she accepted and we gathered the rest of the crew. So, the whole pre-production process, location scouting and everything else took 3 days, all during the Sarajevo Film Festival, in between seminars, screenings and parties.We shot the film in the last day of the festival and it took us 4-5 hours! I am very thankful that I found such nice, bold and crazy collaborators, who made it happen in less than a week. I made the post-production back in Berlin. I did the editing and I was blessed to have the precious help of some very talented professionals (and friends) for the voice over, music and sound design”.
One experience that has certainly help Dimitris Argyriou process is his work as a film programmer and distributor, having not only collaborated with organization such as Shortcutz, Interfilm and Patmos Film festivals, but also started his own distribution company: New Born Short Film Agency. “It is great opportunity and a good school to be able to watch so many films per year. I watched more than 3.500 films this year alone. I am learning with the mistakes of the other. Now I understand better how some films work and what the audience is looking for. I also understand better where I am standing as a filmmaker and the value of my films, which is a really important point”.
“When I started submitting my films to festivals I was looking for an expert to help me with applications and getting my work selected at events. Unfortunately, I found no one.
So, learning by doing, I became an expert on this subject and as many filmmaking colleagues were asking me for advice and help, when I moved back in Berlin, I thought that this could be a nice service for upcoming and “veteran” filmmakers, who don’t have time or/and don’t want to mess with festival strategy, applications and distribution. So I started the New Born Short Film Agency. It is going great and I am very happy to collaborate with so many talented filmmakers. The sky is the limit!”
Alongside all of this work, Argyriou is currently working on his debut feature film, “Death in Corfu”, a project that has been building up for some time now. “It is a psychological thriller. The first public presentation of the project was done during the FEST Pitching Forum this year”.
Despite his young age and his varied sorts of experiences within the film sector, there is a clear filmmaking style that is a sort of signature of this Greek director. “I like to work very close with actors and to keep the camera very close to them. To breathe with their characters, sort of speak. Also, I like to create claustrophobic environments and put my characters in uneasy situations and see how they can deal with them. I am avoiding the use of music in general, or i use it in a very limited format, because I want the audience to form their own feelings and not push them in a certain direction. I see myself more as a European director (in comparison with a Greek one). I have more influences from Danish cinema, which I love. Then I combine bits from different national movements in search of my own visual language”.
It is difficult not to expect much from Dimitris Argyriou, who has become somewhat of an expert within the industry. Having followed his progress in the last few years we at FEST have little doubts that in the near future his name will be widely referenced, so do keep your eyes open of his future work.