Art is not the deception of hopes

/Interview by Natalia Dukhovnikova/

Marios P. Papageorgiou is a director from Greece. He definitely has his own vision of the world, cinematography and art. We talked with Marios about his last cinematic short length venture «Shadows of the World», found out what deep meaning he always strives to bring in and out of the Art and how it is to be a Greek cinematographer.

Marios P. Papageorgiou

Tell us more about the idea of creating this film. How did it come to your mind and what was your inspiration? Why exactly this idea?

Shadows of the World started to shape their outline in my mind on a summer afternoon. Somewhere in a light sleep bothered by the sun’s rays. We could say that they were born in the space between “sleep-awakeness”. But this was the natural upshot of a conception as birth in biological terms. However, the gestation of the idea is the one that in essence has its deep meaning.

The outcome of my ontological approach on “Cinematography” and not on Cinema. This differentiation “Cinematography & Cinema” is not mine of course. It belongs to Robert Bresson, the first who made this nuance distinguishable. This has been the trigger. Driven by this and experiencing as a filmmaker and active viewer the negative characteristics that have upended the cinematic narration, I developed a personal need with regards to my creative orientation: …the return to the years of the pioneers and of the formers of the Seventh Art. The discovery, anew, of the substance of the images and the sounds which compose a film. Due to the fact that this may be a “sophism-trap”, what I mean is the personal penetration of each and every filmmaker into themselves, seeking for the substance of their “being” in relation with the primary desire of “making films”. As in L’Atalante (1934) directed by Jean Vigo, Jean (Jean Dasté) dives into the water of the sea yearning for his wife, Julienne (Dita Parlo) who had abandoned him seeking out a better fortune. Obviously, he will not find her at the bottom of the sea, but through his hearty feeling, his deep desire for them to be together again, he dives and by swimming his way through, she appears as a visionary figure. This is what has almost completely died off nowadays.

As far as Shadows of the World is concerned, the film – or better the idea upon which the film has been built – appeared in my mind unexpectedly. Carving the idea, the screenplay was developed, some scenes and aspects of the characters were presented so that they all came to bind the two edges: the fundamental stone of the idea with the way the film would finish. Now,  why exactly this idea, good question…. I am troubled about the end of the world, not as news or as a scattered concern, but as the narrator of the film also says in the beginning: “Remnants of death budging in absentia in the breath of air. Soulless eyes will be bearing dead desires. Death, however, is of no match to its specter. Fooling yourself is nice. When you die, how far-reaching is your death?”. And I looked for an original way for this, although almost everyone says “All has been done… there is no parthenogenesis”. Please allow me to say that there is something… And this can be called “interactive originality”.

Caption from Shadows of the World

What emotion did you want to evoke in the audience with your film?

You put it nicely. The verb “evoke” is the most appropriate. Shadows of the World is a pessimistic film. Hope is a word apparently non-existent in the narrative turn of the film. I mean, that even Fate is exterminated since anything ceases to exist. So, firstly, it depends on how anyone counts the pessimism inside them. A great Greek poet, Kostas Karyotakis, had written before he commits suicide with a gun – after his attempt to drown in the sea, where he did not make it since he knew how to swim – “I commit suicide because you do not have visions”. It is important how a reader will let this phrase permeate the inside of him/her. Namely, how we contemplate what is transfused to us by the images and sounds. How our inside is altered. How does our inner world act before Johnny’s (Timothy Bottoms) torso, who with his inner voice echoing his agony in Johnnie Got His Gun (1971)!? What will anyone do with Alain’s (Maurice Ronet) suicide in Le feu Follet (1963)or with Erwin’s (Volker Spengler) In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden (1978)?!

Now, as far as our film Shadows of the World is concerned, what I would like to evoke in the audience is… the “smoke”, a cloud of dust not thick, but of the ones that have started to dissolve and when you look at them, the imagination of the mind starts to shape the “……» that the devastation has scattered.

The film may be referring to the climate change that will bring the total natural destruction of the planet, but it is not scheduled to outline this. My choice was an avant-guarde way of cinematographic approach. A science fiction film – not so obvious – dealing with memory in the spectrum of the irrevocable end. That is the actual purpose of the photo stories of the four people finding refuge underearth in a vast eerie zone, where they appear to be the only survivors. Down there – some may liken the space to a “purgatory” – the four men’s conscience will be tested by something that in the film is depicted as a surrealistic symbolism. A surrealistic element in an expressionistic atmosphere. Nevertheless, this surrealistic element – and I would like to point this out – does not invade the film arbitrarily, it does not spring up from anywhere and by this, I mean, it does not impose itself by the screenplay or the direction. It emerges from the stressful situation the character has been circumstanced after a catastrophe of biblical dimensions. This is how it is released from the heart of darkness and this is how it penetrates reality.

The co-producer and distributor of the film, Marcel Michalaris, at some point, when he saw the film, told me that Shadows of the World is an American film with a European narration. An approach like that opens prospects for the film to be embraced by quite a lot of people.

Initially, it is a silent film. And I say silent because, although there is a narrator at the beginning of the film, the film in the rest of its duration is made in the style of silent cinema – not in an imitative way neither with the purpose the silence in the film to expand as an imposed aesthetic form of expression. Silence in Shadows of the World is emerging – let us say – from the ruthless conditions portrayed in the film. The events unfold in the time density of 19 moments and 28 seconds, with the end titles being made with special care: there are photos – rendered with the daguerreotype aesthetic – of ruined landscapes smoking. The aesthetic style of daguerreotype connects us with the far distant past and the outer future. They emit the sense of time osmosis. «It may have happened in the past…. It may happen in the future…. Or…even now…in a few minutes…» as the narrator says.

Ah, Shadows of the World also have a fighting sequence following the standards of classic swashbuckling films.

Where did you find actors for your film?

The film has suffered a lot of misfortunes. Some of them had to do with actors, but this was helped at the most by those you see on the screen. Some of them stood firmly by the vision of Shadows of the World from the beginning till the end. And some came later…either as a replacement of a poor-spirited actor either the most painful….the suicide of one of the actors (and a very close friend of mine). In the first case, the man who choreographed the duel introduced me another actor. This actor – Yannis Papaioannou – has been something more than a miracle for the film.

I have to add to this that in the photo stories because the photo stories sequences have been shot with the poor-spirited actor and could not be made again, we shot against green box the head of Yannis Papaioannou in the various body postures and the sought out feeling on the facial expressions and we replaced it with the head of the other actor. Therefore, in the photo stories, the head of Yannis Papaioannou exists on another person’s body.

As far as Yorgos Konstas is concerned, his death occurred after the photostory we had shot for his film character. His photostory could have been shot again. But my personal desire was to preserve his presence in the film. That is the reason why in the live-action we looked for an actor of similar body type and profile and with bounteous artistic sensitivity, we tried to build the figure of the departed. The very end of the film is accompanied by a relevant note. Shadows of the World is dedicated to him. He has been one of the greatest actors in Greece and one excellent stage director. I was calling him… the Greek Jack Lemmon.

Captions from Shadows of the World

How big was your team when working on this project? And how long did the film production last?

The film could not – de facto – have at its disposal the required staff which is necessary for a film – even a short film. Anyone who will watch the film will see that it is about a film of high standards. In this respect, enough people did a lot of things out of the scope of their responsibilities. The director was carrying bags full of rubble, the set designer carried out more tasks since basically she did not have an assistant, the special make-up effects & prosthetics artist was painting on the walls and many more people close to me – not related to the film business – were devoted to the film. Shadows of the World lacks a lot of professional specialties that we meet in standard productions.

However, in Greece, most movies are made in this way, since this is the main way to release the dream from your mind and see it materialized. To make …if possible…a film at your own expense. Otherwise, you have to wait for the government entities, if you are approved. Anyway, it is known that the evaluation of the films approved is not only based on purely film quality criteria. The specific film has not been approved twice. However, I rush to say that its screenplay was only descriptions since there were no dialogues: how the looks of the people are, how their clothes look, and of course the action description. But although they saw the film finished, our application for financial support was not approved either.

Anyway, I had estimated that the film could be made if I would work hard myself in order to pay it off. And this is what happened. I was saving some money to start the film and I was saving even more money in order to pay it off. The great thing is that between the members of the crew a relationship of hearty trust was built from the beginning. While I was doing two-three jobs before and after the end of the shooting, the film made it to finish in a long term. There were periods, as it is natural – and for various reasons – when the film in the stage of pos-production was “crawling”. If it were not for the help of one of the top-ranking film critics globally, Giannis Bacogiannopoulos, one of the most important directors of Cinema, Stavros Tsiolis and my companion, the film would have finished just about now.

Why and how did you decide to become a film director?

My “cinema godfather” and my father have been the sparks that lighted up the flame inside me. The first was a director of a savings bank, the other was a judge. Apparently irrelevant to the field of Arts. And yet…!

Watching films with them is remembered as sacramental ritual. Since I was 5 years old I had started to take in images and sounds of classic cinematography. It does not matter how much I understood back then, the important thing was that I felt deeply overwhelmed. The meaning of the “Myth” in the Arts has played a crucial part in my life. At an unspecified moment when I had grown up, I swallowed the bait of all those times of the past and the desire to become a filmmaker lighted up in me.

But the moment of the great realization came when I was 14 years old, and the day was Saturday. Then, I saw on TV Fort Apache (1948) directed by John Ford. Εh, and  probably at some moment of viewing Fort Apache I must have vociferated inside me “That was it…It is over, finished. By Cinema I will live, Cinema will lead me to death….”

The onset photos of shooting Shadows of the World

It’s said that you studied Film & Television in Greece and Scotland. Can you tell more about this experience and how studying changed your mind?

In general, I do not believe in academic studies, although I graduated. The first people that formed the Seventh Art did not attend lectures in some university or go to a school – with the great exception of the Film School of Moscow and VGIK after. The difference is that at those times there was anxiety for the agony of cinematographic expression – as in Italy, as well, with Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia or the Film School of Lodge in Poland or in Prague. Nowadays, it is the norm, film studies are an easy business to bait people. Nevertheless, there is always the chance to find an insightful professor. But the academic studies are based on two things: what kind of professors you have and what kind of student mates in order to have conversations and to share crucial opinions on Cinematography – also at the level of creative conflict, of course.

 When I was studying, I was seeing Dreyer, Antonioni, Cassavetes, Lang, Renoir, Lubitsch, Hawks, Malle, Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dovzhenko, Tarkovsky, Parajanov, Ozu, Mizoguchi, and many more and my student mates had hardly heard of Bergman. I remember one of them who liked films like Resident Evil. They were entering into the process of seeing some of the great filmmakers as a museological value. And of course, the lessons were – let us say – theoretical in almost every study year. Where did I learn Cinematography? Watching the prologues of the film critic Giannis Bacogiannopoulos for the TV broadcast Film Club and watching films. I am really speaking seriously…!

I would like to have been assistant to one of the Greek directors that I have loved, but either they have been dead or they were “retired” at the time. In the meantime, among all of these, I joined filmmaking without any past experience.

Captions from Shadows of the World

You have an active civil position. Why haven’t you become a politician in order to solve important social problems in Greece? Why did you choose cinematography?

In an invaluable Greek film, The Children of Cronos (1986) directed by Yorgos Korras, the central character of the film (Takis Moschos) is asked at some point if he will go to the demonstration. And he responds, ” I would rather not go…I will send it in writing. That I disagree with the regime of the military bases. If they want they will take it into account”. I don’t like either to mingle with the vague remarks of the slogans. The expression of the Ideas is drowning in the slogans. The slogans by their very nature are not empathizing. This is it as far as the general mood of my attitude is concerned. I want to say that it is not something I pursue to be present in demonstrations, Ι am flooded by a sense of dissatisfaction, a sense of frustration. In order to participate as a demonstrator there has to be a deep wound that will be caused by an event. But even then, I feel that although a lot of people stand together for a common cause, the distances that separate us are somewhat great. Politically, I prefer to express myself through my Art and my life attitude. This does not mean at all that someone takes the part of the observer.

When I recorded day by day the hunger strike of the immigrants back in 2013, that was a big wound and it still remains one. The people were deceived “from within”: the same political party that organized them to claim their rights…. Only an independent organization preserved its character towards them until the deceitful end, and also after that….

So if demonstrations in their entirety do not express me, let alone Politics. History has proved that through your Art you can always practice Politics – sometimes directly other times indirectly, you can do both and even do it excellently when you are a great filmmaker (see Eisenstein or Ken Loach). Οn the other hand,  a politician cannot practice Art οn his part. Art is not the deception of hopes. Very few political leaders managed to touch people as even only a song, a film, a novel, a play did. Exceptions have always been a dissenting track from the rule.

And then is it real to change the world/situations/minds through this art – cinematography? Have you seen the progress, being so many years in this industry?

In spite of any planning, any artist has to let life itself penetrate in his/her work of art. To be able to let the “unexpected” alter his work. Nevertheless, Art is aesthetically superior than life. And by that, I mean, the foreshadowing that offers to our life. We can see a fact of life or death in a film and this could make us feel something that either we can “meet” in some way later on in our own life either this could “overturn” our behavior towards something that we are concerned about during a specific period. It can even change the way we deal with a dispute in the frame of what we call real life.

The world surely cannot change, since we constantly seek for the “ideal” without looking beside us in order to look right directly and introspect our interpersonal relationships. How is anyone to fix the world when they push away the most fundamental thing? It is like football, where the teams pursue to play in the Champions League when they barely groan to pass the group stage in Europa League. Anyway, the only thing we can hope for sure is that few people make “little shelters of dignity” between them. Art in any form contributes to that foremost.

I would just like to mention the film case of Umberto D. (1952) directed by Vittorio De Sica and written by Cesare Zavvatini, at a time when Italy had begun slowly after the war to build its economy de novo. So the film through the portrayal of retired people’s life conditions managed to amend the pension law. And it is not a film made for denouncing this, but it was something that stalked the film’s atmosphere.

Are you working on new projects now?

There are several plans-dreams that accompany me for years. One of them has accompanied me since 2003. By my own means, I have started the preparation for a documentary on Takis Kanellopoulos. In 1961 he had been awarded in the Moscow International Film Festival for a short film documentary, called Thassos. He is one of the greatest poets of Cinematography. An enigmatic case. He made 10 films. Three of them are masterpieces of the World Cinema. His course afterward started to bring dimensions of ancient tragedy. Every film of his had already been a pace, even farther, in the lonely road he was following until his fatal exclusion from every practical cinematographic gesture. It is a documentary of an essay style, exploring the fragile relationship of man with Time, so as the personal myth of Kanellopoulos may connect with pieces and moments of our world.

If this project will be selected for financing, it is something that is awaited to be seen.

Captions from Shadows of the World

How do you deal with a creative crisis?

Having conversations with people I love and I hold great esteem, seeing films, reading, and listening to music, I try to let the knots of any creative crisis to get untied as if they are being untied by themselves. Music is the “invisible sculpture”. Every time when I am before a piece of paper or a laptop screen that has to be filled with scenes, I listen to music; music suitable for giving me inspiration over the screenplay I write. Music always drags up from inside of me the solutions I need; sublime ideas buried among others.

Yet, the problem doesn’t lie in the creative crisis but in the productive crisis. Many times, I bear in mind one moment in my life – I can recall every single detail as if it was a scrutinized film shot – when I had said aloud to myself “You have these scripts. Other written, other developed, and other with notes. They may be a few, but you don’t know if you have the opportunity to make even some of them. So I forbid, self, to think over others too. Don’t bring to your mind and heart more frustrations”. I don’t know if I will keep it up. I want to believe, although, that it reflects something….

What disadvantages do you find in your job? And then what do you like about it?

Since I was a young adolescent – as I mentioned before – I have invested my existence in Cinematography. In the country I live in, this is a disadvantage. Greece, although a cradle of civilization, does not have any connection with contemporary culture. They wait for the summer to get rich from the ancient Greeks. Most of the people who do something are lonely cases. There are also others who have put their artistic dreams in the mode of hibernation….

Furthermore, as I mentioned in the beginning, the cinematic narration has suffered negative changes, lost in the dead-end post-modernisms, films scheduled on social issues – lacking the fever of creation – and Cinematography as a tool for the relief of complexes. I am referring to these briefly, which is unfair to the range of topics itself. By simply saying “I want to talk about this” art cannot be made; the anxiety of expression that will frame the content is also needed.

Why did you decide to take part in various film festivals?

I have decided to participate in various festivals for the justification of the film and for the purpose of sharing it. For some to see it and listen in the “pulse” of the film as they please. I would like to see viewers watch Shadows of the World, with reflections of the film fall upon them lighting their reactions; but the pandemic, first of all, does not allow that. Due to the fact that the film is independent and is distributed by an unknown distributor, it is hard to find its real way. Unfortunately, the films are not judged always by their aesthetic criteria and  by how much innovative or breath-taking they are, even if this seems to be  the case according to the Festivals. A film by an unknown director, made absolutely independently, distributed by an unknown production company, does not have a lot of luck. That is why the more festivals the film is sent to, always in view of some criteria, the more the chances are for the film to retrieve some of the prestige it loses. Even this possibility does not always exist. And even when it does exist, you have again to weigh many facts and information….

The onset photos of shooting Shadows of the World

Would you like to work in big feature films as a cinematographer?

When you are reflecting on an idea for script development, you should think through the film’s length. The first cut, for example, of Shadows of the World without the end credits lasted 23 minutes. The film was becoming not exactly limp but flabby. It was missing its sharpness. Speaking purely in montage (editing) terms, the film should come to the point to take after glaring on a knife. Someone had suggested to me that the film has the dramaturgical standards to be a full-length film. Of course, my stance is that Shadows of the World do not have such standards. Thus, every story possesses its own narrative time. There are film directors – let us compare it to the literature standards – who, although their film has the plot standards for being a “short story”, give it the length of a novel. They can’t just simply master their ideas within the narrative context required by the story itself.

I have co-written screenplays, that are about to be filmed someday, I hope, and they are feature films. This doesn’t mean that if something shows up having narrative standards for being a short-length film, I won’t return to making a short film. I don’t see the “short film” as a passport for shooting feature films as it is the ordinary case in Greece and everywhere. As there is also the case of “short film” directors-filmmakers that disregard the full-length film as a possible artistic creation. And finally, there is the case of film directors who debuted with a feature film in the field of filmmaking and they consider short films as film exercises, but they indulge in reading short stories. So as the story content brings it out…

How would you describe Greek cinematography?

As I would describe International Cinematography, I would also describe Cinematography in Greece. Cinematography looks like a post-war landscape, where the true filmmakers wander around with skepticism and contemplation as the characters in the neorealistic films among the ruins. Anyway, in a country where in fact lonely cases were always dominant – what an oxymoron is this and how much of a paradox – in a small country like Greece without an essential cinematic tradition, everything is more magnified. The so-called Weird Cinema may have won the international film industry and find also imitators abroad; however, in my opinion, it does not cease to be a formalistic exercise over critical human issues, the complexity depiction of which in the screenplay process looks like a game of who will come up with the weirdest idea that will promote the story, with an hourglass beside measuring time pressingly. To not refer to the vulgarity of those films and by no means I do not mean their subject matters.

Now, about the general picture of Greek Cinematography, I would say that it seems like an (extreme) close-up shot. Specific story style without openings in their expression, pointless screenplays. One thing that has evolved is the wider artistic thoroughness of the films, but in lack of screenplay, everything else looks like a wrapper, just technical skills, but it isn’t so. These so-called technical skills become the narrative breathing of an average or unperceptive or aphasic direction. The really great films are vanishing. Such an example is the last year’s documentary Transfer directed by Elias Giannakakis about the transfer of the National Library from the historical building where it was housed to the Stavros Niarchos Institution – a documentary at the level of Chris Marker. The film has remained almost unseeable. What else to add to that!?

Would you like to go abroad and try to make films in other countries, for example, in the USA, Hollywood?

This is something that does not depend on me. It has to do with the appreciation that someone will show for my work and my relationship with Cinematography. And this can arise from any country. It is of foremost importance that the call will exude respect, it will let you the space for creation. Not only to carry out a film or to frame you into its system, envisioning the creation of a film where afterward you will not recognize yourself in it. As far as the production stages of a film are concerned, the same in a way applies to the director-creator towards anyone who is sponsoring his vision.

The onset photos of shooting Shadows of the World

Do you agree that any film always needs to be filled with serious problems and ideas?

I do not agree at all with this opinion. What does a serious problem mean? Serious problems are extended from the affairs of the heart, as in Jean Renoir’s Une Partie de Campagne (1936), go through Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running (1958) and Tarkovsky’s graduate film Ubiytsy (The killers) – (1956) and end up to Dreyer’s Ordet (1955) or Robert Bresson’s Au hazard Balthazar (1966).

Let me just say that one of my favorite film genres is for example musicals. And mainly I mean purely musicals, purebreds without a social plot. The plots of films e.g. with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers were like champagne bubbles. And what of it? These films were not made for this but for their dancing ecstasy. All the rest was a pretext. However, these films played an important social role not to the viewers’ stupefaction, but to the “escape”. Some of Fellini’s mystical aura stems from there.

In your opinion, are there enough opportunities today for young creators to put their ideas in life?

There are opportunities, I would say more than enough. This is certified by the variety of means for making a film. But the thing is the mindset behind the act of filming. It would be better for the young creators, when they say that they love Cinema, to reflect on the magnitude of their emotion towards Cinematography. To look inside them and find the deep connection that will join them with what the lips formulate. We have to be honest with our love for the Arts. Arts are as invaluable as Sciences.

Are you pleased with the feedback that you are getting from the audience about your films? And what platforms do you use for personal promotion?

As for personal promotion, I use social media. Shadows of the World has also its site (It has to be updated with the awards and the reviews so far).

Now, the feedback I get from viewers is mainly an expression à bout de souffle. This is conveyed in various ways. I wouldn’t like to descant on comments – and some of them are actually very important for me – because it would appear as conceit on my part. The issue is with the Film Festivals that have come a long way over the decades and disregard Shadows of the World. Often you have the impression that they don’t really see all the submitted films – besides it’s a well-known secret – since they continuously spring up the thousands of films they received or mention the record-breaking number of submissions they had this year. So the feedback from the viewers may fill you with joy and courage, but it fills you also with sadness because they share with you their thoughts – and you actually understand from their sensitive remarks that an “undefined something” motivated them to put themselves into the film. And, on the other hand, the film may not be even seen by a festival program team somewhere abroad or to see it through the method of skipping for reasons I mentioned before. The fact that the big (historical) festivals decline the existence of films which a plethora of festivals out there favor, this discloses something for the rationale of others.