Sarajevo Film Festival 2017. Short Talk with Christos Massalas

At this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, “Yellow Bread” caught up with Greek director Christos Massalas whose short film “Copa-Loca” is screening in the “Competition program – Short Film” section of the festival. We talked about his relationship to Film, “Copa-Loca”, new trends in the “Greek New Wave Cinema” and the Greek crisis, short films and what is it like to shoot a short film in Greece among other subjects.



Can you talk about your background and how you got into film?

Christos Massalas: I started thinking about Film very young. I went straight from school into film school. And, way before that, when I was around ten, I had already made up my mind that I wanted to be involved in films, somehow. I really liked Slasher films when I was ten years old, which my parents didn’t approve. But I found my accomplices. I would go to the video club with my older cousins and I would have them rent out these Halloween movies for me. So, at some point, the video club owner found out our scheme, he called my parents and said: “I think there’s something wrong with this kid.” I still haven’t fully analyzed that need that I had back then to watch this kind of films. But what I can say is that what happened was that, after I ran out of Slasher films, I found this film called “Psycho” which seemed like: “OK, it doesn’t seem very gory, but maybe there’s some excitement for me in there”. That’s how I saw “Psycho” by Hitchcock and, after that, everything basically changed. So, at that point I felt like: “OK, there’s something happening here” and I started watching all of the Hitchcock movies.

At ten years old?

C.M.: Ten, eleven something like that. I think that by the age of fifteen or sixteen I had probably seen a lot of art-house cinema too. I’m not saying that I fully understood it or that I could fully grasp it, but for some reason, I was drawn to it. So, I remember watching this Bergman retrospective in Athens at this open air cinema and I remember watching films like “Persona” and others. I was really drawn to them. I couldn’t really put my head around them, but for some reason I kept on going and watching and watching and watching. So, I think that by the time I finished school and went to film school I had already had a lot of film references, which I re-explored along the way, watched again and revisited. I was a film freak, for some reason…

What was the inspiration behind “Copa-Loca”?

C.M.:  Inspiration is a process rather than a single moment. Inspiration comes because I constantly think about potential concepts or ideas for films. It’s something that most filmmakers have – this kind of obsession… I’m not alone in this. When I see places or when I see people, and when I try to analyze situations, there’s always this idea of how this could turn into a film experience that I could then share with an audience. For “Copa-Loca” it was a combination of things: I found this abandoned waterpark – I discovered it by chance – and I was really amazed by this kind of monument it had turned into. I remember that when I was young, I really loved waterparks, the waterslides, the swimming pools – it was the best time for me. Revisiting a place like this after all this time, it was kind of an illustration of how this kind of childhood innocence had faded away. What was there now were dried banana plants and old broken water slides. There was something quite melancholic about it. That was one thing. And then, there was this young actress that I had met, and I really wanted to work with her. And, the third element was a text that I was writing at the time, a kind of pseudo-memoir of some sort. So, somehow, I superimposed these three things and ideas started forming about this place and, of course, when I did that, I started realizing what I really wanted to explore through this.

There is a new trend in the Greek New Wave Cinema to portray abandoned venues in Greece, like for instance Sofia Exarchou and her film “Park”. Would you agree with that assumption?

C.M.: I don’t know if it’s a trend – perhaps it is perceived as a trend if you see it from an outside perspective, but if you are in Greece, it’s basically a real thing. You see abandonment in various shapes and forms. It’s a very real thing. And in one way or the other, you always somehow converse with reality – even if you don’t aspire to make what is narrowly called “realist cinema”. This is probably for a Historian to elaborate on in the future. It’s true that a few years back that general attitude in Greek films was different. What those films represented was basically an overabundance of everything.  And, that was Film, and that was Life. There was no space for ellipsis.

I think that now, it’s a way to actually look at what’s the potential that is there, in the absence of this kind of prosperity. I think it’s a very real thing and people who live in Greece necessarily share these images, you know? These are everyday images. It’s not about making an absurdist kind of thing as a fictional scheme of some sort; it’s a sense of absurdity that is truly there, in reality.

How does “Copa-Loca” speak of the Greek crisis, according to you?

C.M.: It does ponder about it, I guess, in a way. It’s not trying to decipher the crisis; that’s a very complex thing. And, the short form is definitely a more poetic medium. So, you mainly look at the effect of something rather than the cause of something. And, in that sense, it’s not about the crisis in a newsreel kind of way, but it’s the idea of this kind of world that has fallen apart and that’s, I’m sure, not only a Greek thing. It’s the end of an era and definitely the beginning of an era, which we don’t know where exactly will take us. But, I guess, we’re in this kind of almost medieval moment. I think, at this moment, it’s about looking from a different perspective at what we thought we knew – distorting the perspective and looking at it from a different angle. In that sense, it’s a renewed interpretation of reality – as I experience it, living in Greece. The other point is, because I have lived abroad for a very long time – and many people of my generation have lived abroad – what you bring in your life, but also in your art, is also part of the frames of references you have acquired. What you see in “Copa-Loca” is the point of view of a person who was brought up in Greece in the 1990s and the early 2000s, who left Greece at the peak of what seemed to be this “amazing” prosperity and then returned after things had started going South and is looking at things with new eyes and imagining what could be created from these ruins. Not from scratch, but from ruins.

The Copa Loca park is a mad and chimerical microcosm, even a “non-site”. Can you comment on that?

C.M.: This is something that I liked – the fact that you don’t know exactly where it is, because it could be anywhere. And, the idea of this kind of paradise, this kind of exotic, non-specific hedonistic place, is something that I remember from watching music videos from the 1990s and early 2000s; this kind of promise of summer life, with cocktails and dives and  swimming-pools… That’s what you were prepared for as an adult. There was no preparation for the responsibility that you carry as an adult. Instead, it was all about a fun, about a hedonistic view of life. So, I think that this place could give me the best kind of illustration; this non-specific, exotic, “out of a decaying music video” kind of environment that I could get in order to bring back these failed promises.

Copa Loca has only one inhabitant. Is she a symptom of what has happened? Why was it important to make her that way?

C.M.: It’s interesting how you put it. I don’t know if she is the symptom or if she carries the symptoms of whatever’s happened to the Western dream. I think that she is this kind of girl from, again, this kind of fantasy scenario that I remember being imposed to as a teenager, watching MTV and music videos. Those fantasy scenarios are still there – somewhere in our heads. So, I think the girl in this story and the way that she has this non-stop sexual urge, also relates to the way that she’s been culturally “programmed.” What I wanted to explore in “Copa-Loca” and what comes across is that she’s constantly having sex, but in a kind of obsessive-compulsive way and she’s afraid to actually find authentic pleasure in it. She’s somehow afraid of the pleasures of intimacy. So, she treats sex more as physical game rather than an altogether sensual experience.

It’s not about penalizing it and making it seem like it’s wrong. It’s not wrong, there’s no ethical question here. But somehow, it seems like that there’s something missing; there’s something blocking her from discovering the greater picture of herself – and of pleasure itself, actually.

What is your opinion of Short Film?

C.M.: For me, it’s a genre in itself. It can really be respected in itself. It’s closer to a song or a poem, if we were to compare it to a different kind of art form. In a way, I don’t see it as having limitations, but rather as having its own kind of anatomy. And, I think you can work with this medium. It’s very difficult to work with this medium. You can make things that can have great depth and, of course, if you want to make feature films, it’s a whole different story. You learn things when you make short films; you learn how to work with the actors, you learn things about dramaturgy and concept, but still the sense of the anatomy of the form is very different. I realize it now while writing a feature script – it’s a whole new way of thinking about form and it’s a different kind of satisfaction that it can give you. But I like short films equally – watching them and making them…

What is the situation of Short Film in Greece?

C.M.: First of all, this short film was self-funded. My previous film was self-funded and the one before that. So, basically, I’ve made most of my films, really without financial support from the Greek Film Center. Now that the film is traveling, the Greek Film Center came on board and has helped with some retrospective funding. But, in terms of the production and the shooting of the film, I didn’t have funding. So, that’s actually how I’ve made my films and I’ve made this film with great people, to whom I owe the fact the film is any good, if it is. We made it with shared passion and that’s how a lot of films are being made in Greece – both feature and short films. All of us filmmakers look forward to a time when things could be easier for us, because after a point, it’s difficult to keep on working in this kind of method. But, so far, I think the need to make films is greater than the need to be comfortable. Right now, we are all very uncomfortable on many different levels, but making films seems like the best way forward.

What are your next projects?

C.M.: Now, I have a feature film that I am working on and developing. This film seems to be happening in a more professional way and that’s because of the previous short films that were made in the way that they were made and the fact that they had some kind of success. Now, things are better for me, but that takes a lot of time and long-term commitment. Until then, I might make another short film. I can’t help myself.

When you make your feature, will you ever go back to making shorts?

C.M.: Yes, of course. Definitely. I will go back to shorts.

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