Antonis Tolakis is one of the most promising young documentary directors in Greece and the proof is that his medium length doc “Sunflower Seeds” was an official selection to Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival and to many more festival venues around the world. Antonis is committed to his subjects, he follows them systematically, in order to reveal realities we have never imagined. In Sunflower Seeds the protagonist is Sayid, a young Afghani boy that tries to survive in Athens, by selling sunflower seeds. This is a gripping portrait of youth immigration in Greece and we are very happy that Antonis gives GreekTV an exclusive look through presenting in our site a scene from his documentary. Enjoy and read Antonis interview.
Interview by Adam Alexopoulos:
When did you decide to get involved with filmmaking?
I was in my first year at the Theater department at the University of Athens. Across from me, I had all the major works of the world’s dramaturgy, provoking my thought and imagination, calling me to recreate reality in exchange for the revelation of a new, undiscovered world. So moving on to cinema and directing came naturally. Because cinema is the art of revelation. Directing means filming the world, capturing its dark sides, the unseen and deep meanings. It means to reintroduce reality, showing its deeper interpretation. André Bazin used to say: “Cinema is an open window to the world, an ontological machine that records the truth.”
Because cinema is the art of revelation.
What difficulties does a Greek filmmaker facing today?
Film never ceased to be an expensive art form, demanding a lot of money. This is why the word “financing” is always on every cinematographer’s lips, who worries about the future of his work. In addition, the uncertainty that is created by the vagueness of the Greek economic crisis makes financing more prominent and complicated. Filmmakers search for alternative ways to funding-like crowdfunding-and for more practical dynamics- like opening to new cooperations and International co-producing.
What is your opinion about the independent Greek cinema?
Filmmaking in Greece is a “hand-made” art, distinguished by the zeal of creation, from the unappeased passion of the “crazy”, who insist on making films, even with the least means. This is the so-called “independent” cinema, which often shows remarkable pieces of work, but which is often betrayed by its intrinsic weakness-the weak budget of production.
However, under a wide theory, it’s a paradox talking about an independent cinema in Greece, because something like this would presuppose another “dependent” cinematography from large funding sectors-private or public-in other words a film industry that creates high standard works and which it promotes to the competitive market with success. But as we all know, this doesn’t happen in Greece. Under this logic we could say that the Greek filmmaking today is “independent” in other words “hand-made.”
Across from me I had twelve year-old boys, who were living a drama every day; their abrupt coming of age, their innocence, all lost in a critical moment in the lives.
You have already directed a fiction short film and you are in the process of editing your third documentary. All three focus on the lives of people who are dented by the crisis. Why do you continue to chose this topic?
Documentary is a film where by definition reality precedes the director. In order to capture its meaning (and apparently the theme of the film) you need to come to a clash with it, you need to recognize the real events at the time they’re unfolding, you need to take a stance and reveal the truth through these things. This can have different approaches, but the target is always the truth, which can be nothing more that the deep meaning of reality.
In «Voiceless» this interpretation of reality was set for discussion caused by the cultural and identity crisis of the immigrant. Reality had such a big effect in forming the film, that in one of the last shootings, the protagonist Arash Hamedian wondered who he really was: an immigrant or an immigrant character in the film?
In my next documentary, in “Sunflower Seeds”, the real thing was so powerful that it surpassed me, disarmed me and drove me to a more detached filming. Across from me I had twelve year-old boys, who were living a drama every day; their abrupt coming of age, their innocence, all lost in a critical moment in the lives. And I couldn’t do anything more but to keep the moral stance of a cinematographer who categorically denies taking emotional advantage of his subject.
In my third documentary “Tomorrow in battle, think on me,” reality is recorded in the harshest way, in the face of a sixty year-old “new homeless” man, George Barkouris; A man who during the crisis, who with dignity chooses to go out on the streets rather than becoming a burden on others. This way he exposes the feelings of guilt, and remorse of our whole society.
So, in all my documentaries I explore a world of humans who live in a critical moment in their life. It’s a highly human-centered view on reality, which often goes beyond us; a view which expresses nothing more that my deep inner need to understand the “disharmonic” world in which we live in.
I may not believe that cinema can save the world. I continue to believe, though, that it can change the way we think about it.
How did the film “Sunflower Seeds” begin?
“Sunflower Seeds” is a documentary that started without second thought, without any preparation or search for funding. All that was enough was a camera, a microphone and a piece of information that really shocked me: over one hundred children-political refugees from Afghanistan-lived in an awful state in an Athens park. When I met them, in their eyes I saw all the lost innocence of the world. Furthermore, I admired their pride and passion to preserve their dignity in times of complete poverty, violence and xenophobia. I remained in touch with the children on a daily basis for four months. One day, our twelve year-old protagonist, told me “ I’ve been in Greece for two years, but it feels like twenty have past.” Then I knew that the documentary was ready.
However, nothing honors its value more than the film itself staying alive in every era.
Each one of your documentaries have won a numerous of awards at international film festivals mainly abroad. What does this mean for you and how you feel about each success?
For every film, the most important thing is communication with the public; the ability to speak with them even after its completion. This is the most important thing: The life of the film in times to come. Sure, festivals are a test, an initial meeting. They contribute to the publicizing of the film, they open artistic and commercial roads. The largest festivals ( i.e. International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, where i participated last year with “Sunflower Seeds” ) can promote the film to an international market, that seals its value. However, nothing honors its value more than the film itself staying alive in every era.
Synopsis ”Sunflower Seeds:
A group of children surviving on the streets of Athens. Among them is Sayid, a twelve-year old boy, who works all day selling sunflower seeds in the city’s suburban parks. His existence borders on absolute poverty, as he prowls for food in philanthropic organizations. His daily routine in the chaotic capital of Greece is nothing but a struggle for survival. At the same time, however, he manages to find and enjoy the freedom the city streets can offer. Sayid, along with his friends who are all immigrants from Afghanistan, escape their desperation by clinging onto their hopes. With them, he plays innocent childhood games and dreams of a better future: He wants to leave for Northern Europe, to go to school, and to have a decent job when he grows up. But how fast does a child grow? Sayid is trapped in Greece, a country plagued by a financial crisis, increasing unemployment, rampant xenophobia, and racist violence. Sayid states clearly, “I’ve been here about two years, and it feels like twenty have passed.”
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR:Julia D. Speropoulos
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Antonis Tolakis.
EDITING: Pietro Radin
SOUND: Evi Stamou, Julia D. Speropoulos
SOUND DESIGN: Orestis Kaberidis
SONG: F16 by I AM NO HERO guitar: Giorgos Moulatsiotis guitar: Tasos Moulatsiotis bass: Stelios Taktikos drums: Thanassis Vassileiou
TRANSLATION: Gholam Hassanpour
PRODUCTION: Antonis Tolakis CINEWORLD.gr PRODUCTIONS