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Ektoras Lygizoz • Director

'It's hard to devote to your art when you don't have good professional conditions'

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- Boy Eating Bird’s Food: ‘Austerity cinema’ made in Greece and totally recommendable (unlike the country’s policies)

Ektoras Lygizoz • Director

Ektoras Lygizoz’s Boy Eating Bird’s Food [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
is pure ‘austerity cinema’ made in Greece and, unlike the austerity policies devastating the country, it is totally recommendable. Filmed on a very low budget (around €20,000), with a small cast and crew, the film is an intimate portrait of a social catastrophe, which drops a socially committed documentary tone in favour of a more visceral yet mystical approach. After being shown in Karlovy Vary (review) and Toronto last year, and following a controversial opening in Greece last May, the film can be seen this week in competition at the 11th Brussels Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: This is your first feature, but you also have a background in theatre. I wonder how your stage experience influenced you as a film-maker, particularly on the way you direct the choreographic performance of your lead actor, Yannis Papadopouos?
Ektoras Lygizoz:
I did physical theatre; I have tried to find a kind of routine of gestures, creating actions in a chain of movements. That was also the way I started to improvise with Yannis Papadopouos. We choreographed the film together – I was the one holding the camera during the rehearsals and during the shoot.

I felt that the frame was like a stage in which the actor should make all those movements. Obviously the cinematic experience is more challenging than the stage because it must be more realistic – you have a frame, which really limits your work.

Was the use of hand-held camera essential to get that choreographic feeling?
It came out naturally during the rehearsals. I tend to like a more neutral style, but during that researching process I felt that I needed to be very close to him to capture his reactions in detail, his eyes, his month, his skin…

How was the scriptwriting process? It is a very free adaptation of Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun’s Hunger.
It is not really and adaptation; it is freely inspired. Many parts of the script were written in detail and many ideas emerged from discussions with the actors. Then, as we were shooting, several things changed, as we had to find a visual way to capture all the details I wanted to capture. We have cut many things from the script – the original version included more dialogue and more encounters with other characters than the ones we see on-screen.

Is your lead character a metaphor for Greece in these times of austerity?
In a way, although I did not necessarily conceive the character as such. He is a singer who is willing to share his art and he can’t get a job; he can’t even afford food, he is in despair!
In Greece, we are strongly supported by our families; even when you are 35 you can go back to your parents, but what happens when this socio-economic collapse also strikes your elder relatives? You feel that your safety net is no longer there. That’s what happens to him. But he also has a sort of dignity and pride, which is disturbing. It is probably related to the way we educate children in Greece: when you are sick you are not supposed to show you are sick. When you have economic issues, you are told not to show it...

Do you personally feel underestimated as an artist as well?
Last year, it was hard to make a living by just directing and working in theatre. It’s hard and it affects your self-esteem, just like it happens in the film. In Greece, people see art as a hobby, and it’s actually hard to devote to your art when you don’t benefit from good professional conditions; when you cannot pay your actors, when can’t pay your collaborators, when you can’t pay yourself either... You end up losing faith in what you are doing!

In parallel to the harshness that you portray, the film also has a mystical tone. There is that beautiful singing sequence in the church and, in another scene, when the character carries a ladder in the street, one cannot help thinking of Christ carrying his cross…
You are right! And by doing so, I have moved a certain distance away from a naturalistic or realistic style. For me, the film is also about a person gradually becoming a saint – but not in the Christian sense of the term, what I mean is that he is a character fighting to remain pure in a very difficult situation. 

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