Interview with Filmmaker Katerina Giannakopoulou (PANDEMIA)

PANDEMIA was the winner of BEST PERFOMANCES at the October 2020 Dance & Music Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

First of all, I want to thank the Experimental Dance Festival and the WILDsound Festival for all the support and promotion you do for us.

Being able to have my movie shown and be a part of this amazing event at the WILDsound Festival was an unforgettable experience, especially during this pandemic which, the title of my film gives away somewhat was the motivation for this film. I just never expected it to come this far!

I wanted to send a message to the world through my interdisciplinary filmmaking about a perspective on the pandemic.

Pandemia was my first solo project as dancer, actor and director and producer.

With all performances and art projects suddenly stopped, and the current issue of the virus and all the news around it, especially humanity’s long standing very destructive relationship with nature I was inspired to personify Mother Nature in a kind of story of revenge to tell her side of COVID19 and the pain and struggle she’s been suffering since the beginning of humanity.

Castora Herz had created a piece for something I previously had sketched in my mind but didn’t use. Somehow it turned out to be just perfect for my inspiration for PANDEMIA. Castora’s music plus my inspiration to make a movie about the pandemic just flashed in my brain and it all came together, music, acting, dance choreography, location…everything just all at once became so clear. Having lost all other avenues of performing live, I thought why not take the chance to produce my own film now? So, I did.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It happened incredibly quickly as I already had the music and a very short time frame in which to complete the film. From concept to final cut it took 4 weeks. After that I passed it on to Marc Fragstein to create the sound design which really added a powerful depth and dimension by intermixing natural and unnatural sounds to further draw out the story and highlight the dance choreography. I think it was the colour grading which actually took the most time because I had to work very closely with Lukas Herbrand and Julian Prause to realize a very unconventional colour grading of the film meant to illustrate Mother Nature’s struggle between the two worlds – the one before, and the one after the pandemic until she decided how to interpret humanity’s role in this tragedy and how to react.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Mother Nature’s revenge. That’s 3 words, but I need two to tell you who is taking her revenge – Mother Nature.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

In a word – shortages. I had no funding nor budget really. Any very welcome assistance was unavailable due to COVID19 – for example make-up-artists, hair stylists, more sound and perhaps camera men because we had to socially distance. I only had Lukas Herbrand (D.O.P) and Julien Prause (D.O.P.) physically present to help me, and the three of us had to carry a Red Raven 1 kilometre through the forest after a 3 hour drive to get to our location. The time pressure also weighed very heavily on me as we only could do it in one day and then we only had 6 hrs. I was full of adrenaline to dance and act such a stressed out character herself and then I had to direct myself as well as keep touching up my own hair and make-up, and also direct Lukas and Julien. I directed myself to convert my stress to the strength and power that I gave 100% to my character, but with Lukas and Julien who were being eaten alive by mosquitos too, I had to turn 180 degrees and completely leave Mother Nature behind, and be the even-tempered, positive, calm, kind director and then turn right around again into embodying this persecuted, confused, angry literal force of nature…and back and forth like this jumping, running, dancing hard and fast, and then soft, kind and positive for our tiny team for 6 hours. I took me a week to recover!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

I felt extremely overwhelmed. To watch your film during the event with all the other amazing directors dancers and art films like Circadian Cycle from The Australian Dance Theatre and alongside directors like Garry Stewart who I admire so much is an amazing feeling. But winning the audience award for the best performance and receiving so, so many wonderful messages in the time of COVID from around the world, is a feeling that can’t be described with words. The quality of the feedback provided by the audience members with such attention to detail was something that I never experienced before and really didn’t expect from an online event. As a performer, you depend on audience feedback so much. COVID19 took that all away so suddenly and to get such generous, supportive and positive feedback in these times of isolation was something I never ever could have imagined. So thanks to the audience for taking the time to view the festival, comment so beautifully, and thank you to the festival for creating this platform!!!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:
https://youtu.be/r7BNL4ULOTM

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

In truth it was many influences and desires at once that caught fire with the spark of these dark times, oddly. I have always wanted to create something interdisciplinary in the medium of film. Having no audience nor opportunity to put on any kind of show or performance opened up an empty space into which this project could be born. I already had Castora Hertz’s music, I had become fascinated with Marc Fragstein’s work and the news around the world about COVID sparked this vision for which I already had most of the elements without planning to. It was so obvious to me that this pandemic is closely tied to how we have chosen to exist on the earth and treat mother nature, but she has a good side and a bad side. She provides us with everything we need for beautiful healthy lives, but she can also take it all away when she is angry with storms, natural disasters and disease. So, it just made sense that she was going to be the protagonist and tell us like it is.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

The most and the most influential for me has got to be Flashdance! As a child I watched that over and over again. I was fascinated by Jennifer Beals’ character and journey and in many ways it became mine. Maybe not in leg warmers with big hair…but the struggle, the passion, the dedication to dance and the performing arts that have guided my entire life’s journey since I was a child.

But I can’t choose only one! That would be misleading. Among my top choices are Edward Scissor Hands for obvious reasons – not the least of which is the creative genius of Tim Burton.

Then Pedro Almodovar – he’s unhinged, but also so deeply human in his character development and stories. My favourite of his is Tie Me Up, Tie me Down!

Death Becomes her because – black comedy!

And finally, Graham Stocker’s Dracula for atmosphere.

I have too many sides to love only one movie or one type of cinema.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s my first time ever submitting a film to festivals and I found the platform very user friendly and also a great way to make new connections and get a lot of exposure. It was helpful to make the process easy and track my performance in the festivals. I’d highly suggest it.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

On My Own, from Les Miserables – the Spanish Version because I had to sing it about 100 times a day for a month to prepare my performance for the musical in Sevilla. All my neighbours know the lyrics by now and it’s I think permanently become a running joke with my friends. Whenever they see me they start singing it to me! It’s kind of fitting now in hindsight that I won best performance for Pandemia- my first solo project.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Yes, absolutely! It’s already finished and entered into festivals. It’s called the Tragedy of Domna Visvizi. This time it’s a collaboration with Mixalis Iliaskos who is the creator of Greek National Videos and an amazing director, singer and interdisciplinary artist who I’ve had the privilege to work with before. It’s another passion project with a strong message about an amazing forgotten and forsaken Greek heroine called Domna Vizvisi. It initially started as a sketch that Mixalis and I recorded only on a cell phone. So we were very happy to add and work with Dimitris Tektonidis as D.O.P. for the finished version. Finally, last, but not least, I would like to mention Sakis Tselikis who wrote the music, Toula Karoni who wrote the lyrics and Jelena Ristic (copywriter) who managed to beautifully encapsulate the spirit of Domna’s words and Toula’s lyrics to the English subtitles.

Domna Vizvisi’s story is that she came from the upper class; her and her husband and for their love of Greece they sacrificed everything they had even though they had 5 children, to fight for Greek Independence. When her husband died, Domna didn’t give up the battle. Pregnant with her 5th child, she continued to fight in the war and ended up being left destitute, and homeless on the streets of Greece. When she applied for aid from the state as a veteran of the war, she was denied because a woman could not be recognized as a warrior at that time. She died forsaken and forgotten by the country she loved so much and she sacrificed everything to liberate. Today it would be different. At the very least she would be recognized for her efforts, so the aim of the film is to transport Domna and bring her back to life in a day and age where she can be rightfully recognized as the great Greek heroine she truly is. So many people fight hard, like our front line workers now against COVID and their struggles go unrecognized or unacknowledged. The Tragedy of Domna Visvizi is also a reminder that things like class and gender shouldn’t matter. We are all human, and it’s what we do and what we stand for that defines us most.

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