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Katerina Patroni • Director of The Fourth Character

“You never know how people experience loss”


- We talked to Katerina Patroni, the director of The Fourth Character, about the art of opening up

Katerina Patroni  • Director of The Fourth Character

World-premiering in the Feature Length International Competition of the 2020 Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, where it won the WIFT (Women in Film & Television) Award (see the news), Katerina Patroni’s The Fourth Character [+see also:
film review
interview: Katerina Patroni
film profile
shows, or rather listens to, three people wandering through a city, reminiscing about difficult experiences that have marked them forever.

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Cineuropa: Your film brings to mind “city novels”, such as Joyce’s Ulysses, with people walking around, commemorating their lives.
Katerina Patroni: It’s such a wonderful book! I was actually thinking about my own experience as a person living in the city. Day by day, we fill it with our feelings and secrets. I was looking for people whose stories would resonate with me somehow. I was moved and fascinated by Pavlos [Kofidis], Tina [Bolovi] and Pavlos [Tripodakis], and then I decided to put them in this public space. I wanted to bring all of these stories to life, as this way they could just go on forever, with viewers hopefully taking them with them, “translating” it according to their own experience.

We hear their monologues, but we don’t see them talk and you don’t recreate these events either. Why?
I didn’t want to dramatise what they went through, especially because the way they talked about it was already so strong – it didn’t need anything else. Each one of them spoke directly from the heart. These weren’t interviews; they were real confessions. We talked in this makeshift studio, as I wanted to put them in a brand-new space, something completely different to what they already knew. The way they were talking was very moving, of course, but I decided to follow my instinct and just focus on the voices this time, instead of going back and forth.

They mention pain, regret and even a failed sports career. Some of these details are almost uncomfortably intimate.
It was different for each one of them. With Tina, at first, I went to her house and we just talked about everything. It was a year and a half after her brother’s death – not a long time for something that traumatic. Doing this went very much against her whole character, but every time she would open up more and more, deciding to just go for it and not holding anything back any more. The whole thing ended up being quite therapeutic for her. The older man, Pavlos, didn’t want to talk. When he came to the studio, I didn’t know what he was going to do. We sat there for three hours, and then he called me the next day, in the morning, saying: “I feel bad because I haven’t told you everything. I need to come back.” And he did, sharing all the things he felt so guilty about. With young Pavlos, it was quite hard at the beginning, too – each one of these wonderful people needed something else. I just tried to be respectful, and of course, I was so very grateful.

At the end, you dedicate the film to the memory of your grandmother. Did the whole concept originate from your own experience of loss?
I think the way I filmed the city is already very personal. As I said, I was looking for people who had had similar experiences and who would be able to speak for me, somehow. In the film, young Pavlos is often shown saying a prayer while collecting rubbish on the street, a prayer my grandmother would also say when I was small. Every time I hear it, it’s very moving for me. With each one of them, there was something specific that would correspond to my own memories. Of course, I don’t identify completely with what they endured, but there are moments when they are talking for me. And maybe for other people as well – who knows?

Is this something that you are generally interested in? Establishing such deep connections when making a film?
The whole experience was very revealing to me and very, very difficult. It put me in a position of great responsibility. I knew that everything they were telling me was so important to them. Pavlos told me things that his own family didn’t even know! They will find out only after watching this film. I told him at one point: “Do you know that what you are telling me will become public knowledge?” He said: “Yes. It will be better for everyone to hear it this way because I just can’t say it.” Also, what Tina told me about her brother... You never know how people experience loss. Sometimes, it touches them in a much more profound way than you could ever imagine. I wanted to acknowledge the importance of what they shared, and it was moving to hear their responses after they saw the film. They told me they felt good about taking part in it. I didn’t betray their trust.

I am always amazed that people decide to reveal themselves like this in documentaries. Sometimes, I wonder why they are doing that. I don’t think I would have done it myself; I wouldn’t have had the courage, or maybe I wouldn’t have felt the need. But every time it happens, it feels like I am standing in front of a miracle.

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