Yellow Bread interviewed the Greek up-and-coming director, Jacqueline Lentzou, about her new short, “Fox”, that screened in Competition at both this year’s Locarno and Sarajevo Film Festivals, but also about cinema, shorts and the short film in Greece.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Jacqueline Lentzou: I was born in Athens, in June 1989. I moved with my mother to Thessaloniki in 1995. I grew up with my mother and grandmother in the house my mom grew up in. Gradually, some dogs would add up to our family. First, Clara then Phoebe. I asked for a camera when I was 8. My dad bought me a Sony HI-8. I was going with my grandmother to a very dirty shop with electric appliances to get the baby tapes. In the summers, I would shoot all of the time, as I was rather bored and alone. Every aspect of domestic life was recorded. I wanted to be a writer, yet I was told that this is not a proper job, since “anyone can write a book”. Some general thoughts about me being a lawyer or a journalist also flew around, but nothing pressing at all. I really enjoyed school. And, basketball and cinema. I would go with my mom and mom’s boyfriend every weekend, or with my dad when he would visit. I would eat at Mc Donald’s with both parties, prior to every film. I decided to be a director when I was 15, and worked towards this goal accordingly.
“Fox” is your fifth short film. Is that right? Can you talk about it and what prompted you to make it?
J.L.: “Fox” is my third film, including my graduation film. Before “Thirteen Blue”, I had shot two exercises at school, which I do not consider part of my filmography. The only good part in them is the 16mm film stock. So, yeah, “Fox” is number 3. I don’t know what prompted me to make it really, as the question implies decision-making. There was no decision-making… There is never decision-making. I just write, and some of the things that I write, I feel, and they can be transformed into films. So, that’s the case with this one. I wrote it on a train ride from Thessaloniki to Athens, a couple of days after I had lost my favorite person. However, when I think about that specific train ride, I remember that I had two elements in mind: a video that my mom had sent me while I was in London, with Phoebe, our dog who was expiring, unable to walk, and the shovel in the funeral I had just attended. Another thing that interests me in life is guilt, and more particularly child guilt. So around these things, “Fox” was written.
You wrote in the director’s statement on the film’s webpage that it was the result of your attending the first funeral of your life. Was this the start of your coming of age? Or a deferred one? Was it a kind of therapy?
J.L.: My coming-of-age started in 1995 and has never been completed. I do not consider coming-of-age as an automated procedure or change. I feel it is an ongoing process and in many cases it never even starts, so it’s ‘no going’.
I am against – and occasionally angry at – these over-simplified causal relationships that modern psychology suggests: death of someone near-equals adulthood. No. I find them superficial and I observe that they contribute to the overall superficial way the world works. In the same spirit, I do not believe that the film was in any way a kind of therapy, since in order to discuss therapy, one has to discuss healing, and healing is something I do not really believe in either. Plus, let’s not forget that making a film is rather stressful, hard and at times harsh, so you are probably in need of therapy after its completion.
Point taken! But, it presents an interesting way of dealing with the loss and death of someone dear. You have perfectly managed to (re)create the ominous moment before it happens. Can you talk about that?
J.L.: I do not believe that it presents a way of dealing with the loss. The film finishes when the kids eventually know, a day after they have buried their dog. If I were interested in portraying the aftermath, the film would commence with the acknowledgement of the accident. I do not know personally how to deal with the loss of someone dear, so I can’t write about something I do not have a grasp of. When I find out how one deals with loss, I will definitely make a film.
Here, I wanted to play with the idea of knowing, without knowing what, without even knowing about knowing. The kids are organically restless. The desire to dance is born out of the uneasiness that the unanswered phone creates. Stephanos’ sister tells him “you killed her”, seconds after he smashes a fly, the very same time their mother has a car crash. The younger brother has a windy, esoteric moment, we never know what’s on his head, but the next thing he does is check up on their dog that has passed away.
Life is strange, absurd, surreal. Part of it, according to my experiences, has to do with exactly this: you don’t know, but when you finally know, it feels as if you knew. It has to do with intuition, with how open one is to the surroundings. Children, my favorite people, are very open and feel more, therefore are more in tune with their intuition, while they do not even know that such a notion exists.
Can you talk about the shooting process?
J.L.: The shooting process was the best working experience I’ve had until now, and this is owed to my crew alone. Everyone sees a film with kids and animals and they are scared to death. Yet, there were no problems at all. I remember myself at some point thinking if it is a problem that there is no problem. Imagine!
I had an amazingly experienced assistant director, Evdokia Kalamitsi, who ran the set with great ease and calmness, like the way I like sets to be. I had a top-notch production team, Fenia Cossovitsa, Anna Zografou and Kostas Baliotis, who in no time would provide us with anything we needed. I remember the shooting process as a gift, especially comparing to the pre-production period, which was hellish. Even hell!
Nikos Zegkinoglou and Katerina Zisoudi clicked with the kids in the first hours. In the same way, the kids were really fun, because they were actually having fun. It was not a hard task to get them in the mood for dancing, eating pizza and playing in the garden. However, what was interesting, for me as a director, was the last scene where I had to explain to the young brother what’s going on. We had very long discussions about death and we shared our experiences. He was only six, but seriously, the things he said and the way he approached the whole thing was fascinating. He was not acting in the last scene, he was really depressed.
There was really a loving energy during the shoot. Everyone was new to me, apart from my cinematographer, Konstantinos Koukoulios and my set/costume designer, Eva Goulakou. However, we all worked as if we had worked together before. I will never forget that week of September.
It was pitched at the Short Film Station of 2015 Berlinale Talents. How has the station helped you develop and make it?
J.L.: Prior to the Berlinale experience, I had been disapproving of such initiatives, in the sense that I could not see how someone external to the idea could help me say what I know I want to say. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised. I had a great mentor, Pavel Jech, who questioned some things that I had taken for granted. My main issue with writing is that I can’t get detached. Pavel helped me distance from Stephanos’ character. I was very protective of him. I wanted everyone to like him, understand him, love him. I eventually let go, and I am quite cool when some viewers develop negative emotions about him. Maybe, that’s more interesting at the end of the day.
What is your opinion on short films? Are they merely a showcase of talent for the future feature film?
J.L.: I see short films as a showcase of intention, rather than talent, in a way. A short film may not be flawless, but allows you to see what the creator wants to share, even the reason he/she makes cinema. I see short films and I see meaningless ambition. I see other films, I see meaningful ambition. In some, no future. In others, a world. I think it’s a very flexible form, and probably, purer than the feature, considering the money factor. It’s a more closed system, and I like closed systems.
How do you see the short film scene in Greece?
J.L.: The short film scene in Greece is really hot. There are many up-and-coming filmmakers, and at the same time, lately, there are more chances for funding, than let’s say in 2012 when I came back from London and all there was, was the Greek Film Center. So, there is activity. And competitiveness. I am not so sure if there are new ideas though.
This is a very long discussion of course, on what’s new and what new means in 2016, yet what I am trying to say is that I feel that there is a need for a break from ‘tradition’. How many Greek short films are there with people walking aimlessly against a magnificent landscape of a picturesque village, reminiscent of civil war times? How many Greek short films are there with people not having money to pay the rent in the light of the crisis, passing pseudo-political messages?
My next bet now, is how many films will focus on the refugee crisis. If all the people who have the chance to shoot a film, shot something from their own personal universe, I feel we would really have a treasure here.
What is cinema to you?
J.L.: Cinema to me is an unlimited playground. I bring whoever I like and trust, and set up different games. Equal to how playing is the best way of learning and exploring the world when you are a kid, cinema is the best way of learning and exploring when you are not a kid anymore – at least according to your ID. It’s great fun, “fun” in the richest meaning possible. I do not want to use the word entertainment – it’s very cold. And, cinema to me it’s very warm. Like a proper hug.
What are your next projects? I understand you are developing your first feature, “Selini66″…
J.L.: I am developing my first feature and I can’t put in words how excited I am about it. It’s another coming-of-age story, yet not of a person, but of a relationship. I am writing, thinking, researching, walking, listening to music, rewriting. It’s burning inside somehow. I am aware that it is going to be a long journey and since I can’t stay still, I aim to shoot one more short film before “Selini66”. I had the idea about it on a boat to the island of Hydra.
Are you going to stop making shorts once you make the jump to features or will you go back to them once in a while?
J.L.: I really don’t know. Let me jump first, and I will tell you afterwards.