Interview with director Stelios Koukouvitakis

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

Watching Hitchock’s “The man who knew too much” for the first time as a kid. It was a revelation.

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

Nowadays it’s definitely not essential to go to film school with all the material available in books, films and online. However, it definitely helps, especially in meeting like-minded people with whom you will grow together artistically and may work in the future. I would say if you can, definitely, do it but at the same time be prepared to work a lot on your own to master your craft.

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

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. So it’s a lot about patience and determination that’s needed.  

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

To have a very specific artistic vision but at the same time be open to ideas from your collaborators which will take your initial idea further.

  • 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?

Running a big part of the production myself together with directing was definitely very demanding – especially since I live in London and we shot in Athens. This, combined with working on a low budget. However, having faith in the material and after a lot of hard work from all the cast and crew, all stars aligned.

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

Going back and reshooting one key scene when we realized that it wasn’t working in the edit.

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

I was lucky to work with some of the best artists out there with whom we share the same values about cinema and films we want to make. Some of them are friends I know for years, some others were the first time working together and in this case, it was seeing their previous work or getting a recommendation which made me want to work with them.

My casting director, Makis (Gazis) is one of the greatest, having worked in films by Steven Spielberg, Sam Mendes and Pedro Amodovar. My two stars, Danai (Epithymiadi) and Lefteris (Vasilakis) are hugely talented actors who constantly work in primetime television, a-list stage plays and advertisements. Their work was so demanding as they had to perform in silence, shaping their performance through movements, glances and stares. My cinematographer Giorgos (Hrysafakis) managed to create this mysterious engaging atmosphere working with miniscule resources, which was then enhanced further by Angelos (Mantzios), our wonderful colourist. Panagiotis (Delinikolas) my editor and sound designer who I completely trust and with whom we spent endless hours discussing about characters and action, changing and fine-tuning things.  Marianna (Zachariadou), my production designer, created the amazing sets and costumes from scratch, working with the script and locations. Even my loved sister Maria (Koukouvitaki), with zero acting experience, stepped in and delivered a great performance.

Everyone trusted the script and me and jumped in for an adventure!

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

The audiences want what you give them. If it’s something meaningful they will engage with it, and we see that happening with hi-end drama on television today. If you can have steak at the same price of fast food what would you choose? As a filmmaker, you have a responsibility. People spend their money to watch our work and, even more importantly, they spend their time. So it better be worth it.

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

Film festivals are very important especially for short films since they provide curation – it’s a filter for all the works that are out there, it sets your film apart, makes it stand out. It’s also a great opportunity for people to watch your film on the big screen in a room filled with cinephiles. It’s this collective experience we share when watching a movie in a dark room. Then, film Festivals are also necessary in order to physically meet with other filmmakers and discuss – who knows what will come out of that, maybe a friendship or a future collaboration.

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

I believe in taking risks that make sense – not just for the sake of it. A lot of filmmakers just over try to be original in order to stand out and end up with making absurd films that make no sense. It’s all about the creative choices, so if it’s going to make the film better, just go for it.  The audiovisual language and the way we watch things changes all the time and as creators, we are part of this change. We need bold films which make an impact, not popcorn stuff which will be forgotten in a few days.