Interview with director Isabella Margara

SHORT BIO OF THE DIRECTOR: Isabella Margara is a director and actress of Greek origin, trained in Filmmaking at the London Film Academy. She has also studied Music for eleven years and has a first degree in Medicine – as a result, her approach to film and theatremaking is very cross-disciplinary, with a focus on the therapeutic aspect of art. As an actress, she has been part of several feature and short films (recently finished shooting a role playing with J.D. Washington) as well as theatre plays (National Opera of Greece, Athens & Epidaurus Festival, etc). Over the last two years, she has created devised theatre projects presented at the National Theatre and Greece’s largest fringe theatre festival. 54 / The Blind Turtle and the Endless Sea is her first short film, for which she collaborated with a group of highly acclaimed Greek filmmakers and actors.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

This is my first short film, so I am not sure what my way is. However I realized I wanted to make this particular film after coming across a painting of a man and a woman standing in an elevator. She looked scared and well off, he looked calm and a bit tired. Behind them, emerged the skyscrapers of the city. The painting was called ‘Civilization’. For some reason, it never left my mind. I started making up stories on what happens after their encounter. And where on earth does this elevator take them?

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Very personal to define “success”. But I am certain that it is not essential to attend a Film school in order to make emotionally engaging films. Directing is your point of view on the world. As long as you have truly developed your own sight and you have a burning will within, then the technical rest can be found on YouTube if you want. Film schools can certainly offer experience and a support network which is important I guess at the beginning – but they do not guarantee the development of an artist. This is a painful internal process which requires a constantly open wound.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Getting started is like climbing a mountain. Keep going is like walking the desert. I have only reached my very first hilltop. In order to do that, I had to quit my day job. I’ll let you know what happens next – I can see a small lake from up here though, and turtles all around.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

The most important lesson is that you, as a creator, need to have undefeatable perseverance, even when everybody else is losing faith.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

The film started as a self-production. I spent a huge amount of time researching the people I would work with and I aimed high. Since this was my first film, I wanted everybody else to be a specialist in his/her field, so that if everything fails, then I should be the only one to blame! This tactics worked, everyone knew what they were doing and I could focus on my storyboard and the actors. There were no surprises really, because the planning of the pre-production was very thorough. Then I had the incredible luck to have Christos Giannakopoulos who was the postproduction coordinator loving the film and becoming a co-producer. Overall, I think it is really important to have a clear idea of what you want to say even when you make minor decisions – keep your eye on the bigger picture all the time. And – providing there is trust – listen carefully to the opinion of your collaborators, without losing your own judgement.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

The hardest artistic choice was by far the decision of me falling in love with this particular script.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

I was determined to cast Andreas and Konstadina as I had watched them in theater previously and they were both magnetic. I had no back-up plans regarding the actors. For the filmmaking team, I researched thoroughly everyone’s work, I watched films, I asked friends, I went online. But at the end of the day, it boiled down to the personal chemistry and trust they inspired, not only through their work but also through their composure.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

There are so many different audiences as the number of people around us. The only audience I am worried about is a viewer who watches a film for the very first time in life and a viewer who watches a film for the very last time in life.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

The Turtle loves the festivals she has been to so far. She meets interesting people, fellow animals and most of the time, she watches brilliant films. She can’t wait for this damn lockdown to end, pack her shell and very slowly, without EVER being in a hurry, heading up to Romania for the Short Film Factory screenings.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I believe a filmmaker needs to find a way to free himself/herself from any obligation towards the past or the future. The only requirement is to be playful and sincere (and to not over-simplify things).