Vasilis Kekatos • Showrunner and director of Milky Way
“We wanted to tell our own version of the New Testament”
- The Short Film Palme d'Or winner is poised to shake up the Greek series industry with the first Hellenic show to be selected at Series Mania
Call it a Trojan Horse! Milky Way follows the story of Maria, a teenager eager to leave her provincial life behind, but whose plans are upended by an unwanted pregnancy. At the helm, film director Vasilis Kekatos admits he still can't believe that broadcaster Mega Channel gave him carte blanche for the show, allowing him to incorporate bold aesthetics, queer narratives and progressive criticism in a mainstream format. We caught up with Kekatos at the Series Mania Festival.
Cineuropa: What was the starting point for Milky Way?
Vasilis Kekatos: My teenage years. I grew up on a Greek island called Kefalonia. It’s a very remote place, especially during the winter. People have that picturesque impression, which actually has nothing to do with the low seasons. Anyway, growing up, there was always one girl at school who would get pregnant. This would happen every single school year, and then we'd never see her again. Ever. And having an abortion wasn't an option. It happened to a close friend of mine, with whom I shared a school desk for a whole year. I couldn't help but imagine all the possibilities dancing around her, then suddenly flying away. So I wanted to write a story about those girls.
Is this still going on?
It is! That's why we made the series. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I wanted to make a series. But I realised I could choose this topic that nobody in Greece wants to talk about because of strong religious beliefs or deeply conservative thoughts. You know, we had a military dictatorship until about 40 years ago. Our parents were there. So things still feel pretty old sometimes in Greece. And we wanted this series to shake it all up, see where it could go.
How does your experience making films compare to the series industry?
I'm a bit ignorant about this side of the business. I don't know how TV channels work. I'm used to making short films with much more freedom, but I feel like I took that strength with me. I was very clear from the start that I needed complete artistic freedom to be on board. I remember meeting with the producers from Mega Channel, which is the boldest such company in the country, by the way. They were telling me we were moving forward with the show, and I just had to ask them: “Have you actually read the script?” I knew their enthusiasm to work with us came from us winning the Short Film Palme d'Or at Cannes. But I even started wondering if they had seen that short film [The Distance Between Us and the Sky]. I mean, it's nothing crazy, but it's still pretty graphic! But they had seen it, and they were absolutely committed to giving us free rein.
The show even uses religious symbols and subverts them. To what end?
Our main characters are called Maria and Joseph, so that's pretty evocative. We wanted to create our own version of the New Testament. It felt revolutionary centuries ago, so if it were to be written today, I think this is the story we might get. I can't say too much about this, because it’s the backbone of our script, and I don't want to spoil the story. What I can tell you is the last episode of the show will air on Christmas Day in Greece.
This is the first Greek show to be shown at Series Mania. Is that a surprise to you?
In a way, we still feel like we're making cinema, rather than TV. Television in Greece is still very, very, very old! Basically, it's all about soap operas. We've had good shows before, don't get me wrong, but the idea of a Greek TV channel betting on young talent is definitely unheard of. And with total freedom, too – I still can't believe it has all happened. And I'm over the moon that the show has made it to the Series Mania Festival. It's recognition for our work and for the huge risk the producers took. We feel lucky. I mean, our government recently downgraded the diplomas from acting schools from a bachelor level to a high-school one! And then we, of all people, received the biggest budget ever for a Greek limited series. It's a strange country, that's for sure!
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