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2015, 73m, experimental, film-noir, thriller
In a not-so-far-away future, Alpha, a conforming bourgeois woman, refuses to provide shelter to a mysterious Fugitive, for fear of putting her controlled life in danger. The Fugitive is captured and Alpha is arrested and taken to the Forest, where the authorities throw the castaways and the condemned. She is put in a chair under the hanged body of the Fugitive until the authorities decide she has been punished enough.
10 questions with Alpha director, Stathis Athanasiou at the half-way mark.
Wednesday, February 17th, 2016
1This movie is an experimental, sci-fi treat. What was the initial seed that made you want to make Alpha? It was a short story by a famous Greek author set during the Nazi occupation. It had a very strong image of a young woman waiting beneath the hanged body of her brother, which the Nazi's had hanged in public view in order to discourage any revolutionary actions and whom they wouldn't permit to be buried. I couldn't get over this contemporary image that was yelling “Antigone”, I wanted to see what it meant for us today to face a similar situation. It was very difficult to find the proper angle because first I had to realise and accept the fact that nowadays Antigone is present by being absent, meaning I am not Antigone, you are not Antigone, no one is Antigone, everyone is conforming regardless of what we might say we do.
2Your cinematographer (Michael Kloukinas) and production designer (Michael Samiotis) did an incredible job. How do the three of you work together? We are working together in a very horizontal manner. I bring what I've written, they bring imagery they find relevant, we mix everything together and then throw everything away so we can improvise without any fixed ideas about were we are heading to. This of course is describing the creative process that lasts until the storyboard phase, where everything is put in order and organised so we can actually shoot what we imagined. I love working with them because writing the screenplay, finding the mood, the style, the light, the pace, is a fluid process that is so interdependent among us, it is practically impossible to say in the end who said what and who brought what to the final composition.
3A lot of work went into the music for this film. What was it like working with your composer (Stavros Gasparatos) and how did you establish the kind of music you wanted? I knew before shooting that the film would be composed of long slow tracking shots and I communicated this to the composer. I also knew we would design every single sound from scratch in order to give the film an out-of-this-world ambience, so both the composer, the sound designer and me, were working on finding a way to move fluidly from image to sound to music in order to create an emergent element, a fusion between image and sound. I edited the film without using any image or music, the composer wrote the music without having any sound on the cut and the sound designer worked tabula rasa. Then everything came together and happily clashed.
4I've never seen Crowdfunding Team in the credits to a movie before. How much of your funding came through crowdfunding and how much were you able to raise? The film and the whole project (which also includes a live Cinematic Performance) was funded only through crowdfunding. It was practically the first project to be crowdfunded in Greece, so if in the U.S. you take for granted that you will crowdfund, or that people will understand what you are saying when you ask them to support you, we had to first go out and educate them about what crowdfunding is, why it is important, what are its benefits and then ask for money for our project. This was an enormous undertaking, since we were actually touring the country giving lectures, throwing parties, organising meetings, giving millions of interviews and doing whatever we could in order to achieve this. The result is that we gathered around $90,000 in one month, which was quite a feat taking also into consideration that our country is bankrupt and in the middle of a social and economic turmoil, worst than that of the great depression (not my estimate, it's what the statistics say). Summarising, the crowdfunding team had to be on the credits after the main crowdfunders and before everyone else. I think you'll agree.
5The special effects makeup on the brother was insanely good. Who did that work and how long did it take? The special effects were done by Prokopis Vlaseros, a crazy person who has a studio in an apartment in downtown Athens and whose landlord would probably die of a heart attack if he saw what's in it. He was working for quite some time, creating a dummy head and body from the actual actor who was playing the brother and was working on it until the very last moment. We had to threaten him that he'd be fired and the script would be changed to exclude his dead friend if he didn't bring the damn thing on set right the f*ck now! I think he will be very happy to read that there are people in the U.S. who think he did a great job. Thumbs up for Prokopis.
6What's the first film you saw that made you want to become a filmmaker? Interestingly I never watched films or had any interest in cinema until I started doing it. It was almost by accident that I got my hands on an editing program and edited some silly vacation videos on music, that made me want to make a 107-minute road movie with friends, that made me do a short movie with friends, that got into festivals and got me a job as director and from there on I never looked back. I still don't watch a lot of movies, but when I do they are mostly old films. Or Scandinavian.
7Which films were you telling your crew to watch as references for your film and why? I wasn't telling the crew anything of this sort, but I was binge watching Tarkovsky and Angelopoulos with my photographer and production designer. We also watched all of Gregory Crewdson's work and wore our eyes out in black and white imagery.
8The children with those masks were so scary in black and white. How did you come up with that imagery? I'm not really sure. As I told you before it is quite difficult to remember how and by whom a particular element appeared in the film. What I'm sure though is that I always found masked children horrifyingly scary. I remember watching little children in the U.S. wearing superhero masks and acting out as them, which to me is really sick and twisted, so we kind of transposed it to the little children trying to imitate their role models, the masked guards of the film. But who knows what actually happened? ;)
9What was the most difficult scene to shoot and how did you solve it? The most difficult scenes were the ones with the Guards because we had 20 guys in old Russian gas masks who couldn't see nor hear anything, sweating their *ss off beneath the mask and the costume and they all had to sync up as perfectly trained soldiers, hit their marks for the cranes and the drones and the steadicams and violently beat up the protagonists without actually killing them, nor letting their dobermans eat them. The solution was to ask Apostolia Papadamaki, a choreographer friend of mine, to come and train them so this blind and deaf and mute group would act as a perfectly timed Swiss watch and no one would get hurt (or eaten).
10What's next? I want to make a sci-fi action thriller game series, whatever that means. If you could hook me up with any experimental art-lovin' transmedia billionaire it would be great! Seriously.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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