Sundance Film Festival 2023. Short Talk with Thanasis Neofotistos

Thanasis Neofotistosis a film director, writer and architect from Greece. He is a member of the European Film Academy (EFA), a Berlinale and Sarajevo Talents alumnus and Head Programmer of the Student International Competition at the Drama International Short Film Festival. His short film,Patision Avenue(2018), premiered at the 75th Venice Film Festival, won three awards at the 2019 Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival and was a 2019 festival hit with more than one hundred film festival selections.Route-3 (2019), his next short film, had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and then screened at the 2020 Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival.Greek School Prayer(2014) was his successful thesis film that was voted Best Greek Short Film of 2014 and screened at over fifty film festivals. “Sparkling Candles(2019) is his LGBTQI+ queer short film that premiered at the legendary 43rd Frameline International Film Festival.

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Tara Karajica talks to Thanasis Neofotistos about the short form, his latest short film, “Airhostess-737,” that premiered in the Pardi di Domani program of the 2022 Locarno Film Festival before becoming a total hit on the festival circuit, and what he is up to next.

What made you want to become a filmmaker?

Thanasis Neofotistos: It is a difficult and complex question! I think it is that cinema was my first shelter when I was a teenager and had difficulties in the world I lived in and, at the same time, my irresistible need to communicate with other people and maybe offer a similar shelter to someone!

Airhostess-737 was conceived in your dream and is part of your trilogy of short films about a road, a journey, a route. Can you talk more about the genesis of the film?

T.N.: I saw the main plot of the story in a dream, and then I saw it once more when we decided to use the braces as the gimmick that would cover the grief. During that period, I was negotiating my relationship with my own mother. With my co-writer, Grigoris Skarakis, who is also a psychiatrist-psychotherapist, we polished the script, especially the dialogues, and talked a lot about what we believe this film wants to talk about and convey. It is part of a trilogy, not because I planned it, but more because I, retrospectively, understood that these shorts are stories of people on a road, a journey, a route, facing what seems to be their greater stressor! I like pushing my characters to the edge!

There is a lot going on in the film, but not much at the same time. Can you comment on that choice?

T.N.: I think that this is the result of the fact that we decided that up to more than the middle of the film, we would only hear about the “lot, but not much” that is going on and little sound to explain this woman’s angst and let the audience sense the “more” that lies beneath this surface. And then, when the reveal of the mother’s body comes, we hope it connects the dots and everything makes sense and we empathize with our distressed Vanina. 

You explore grief, letting go and closure in an unconventional yet cathartic manner. Can you elaborate on that?

T.N.: Yes, we wanted to explore the procedure of grief and more specific to a woman who has used a denial mechanism to regulate her feelings and a sudden and emotionally impactful incident makes her confront them. I feel that the cathartic effect is due to the fact that only Vanina lets go, but I strongly feel that she reconciliates with her past and her mother through this narration to the other airhostess and the threat she faces. The camera work and the editing, through the work of Yannis Fotou and Panos Angelopoulos, where we stay so focused on her face and that creates this passing of time, contributed the most to the feeling we wanted to convey. The last part, I believe, played an important role and that was the music Lefteris Sampson wrote – sarcastic at times and deeply emotional, underlining perfectly our story.  

Can you tell us more about Vanina?

T.N.: I love her and I feel her so much, I believe she exists somewhere! She is a woman who has felt unloved at a certain point in her life, but had the love of her grandmother to counter-balance that in a way. She did the best she could with what she was given, but in order to move on, she has to face her trauma. I feel she leaves the film stronger and I am very happy for her. And, don’t get me started on this amazing actress called Lena Papaligoura, who became Vanina! Whenever I see her, I want to call her Vanina and ask her how she is doing!

Can you talk about the making of the production design, as well as the shooting process?

T.N.: It was really an improvisation task! We had a limited budget, so renting a real airplane soon was out of the question – one day would cost us almost our whole budget! So, we constructed this airplane. It was a lot of hard work, tons of creativity and gallons of faith that we could make it happen. And we did!!! I am so proud of the final result and I want to thank all my partners and especially Eva Gaitanidou, my art director. We were an amazing duo when constructing it and we had the full support of the world’s best producers, Ioanna Bolomyti and Dimitris Tsakaleas!

What do you think of the short form today? How is it in Greece?

T.N.: I really love the short form! If it had any buying power, I might even not consider feature films. It can be a potent, strong way of storytelling and I feel it can work for me to express what I want to say. I am now starting to explore the possibilities of storytelling through a feature film. In Greece, things are better than in the past, funding-wise, but it is far from ideal. What has happened is that there has been an explosion of notable filmmakers making amazing films and cinema has regained respect in the country, but has also achieved a remarkable extroversion.

What are your next projects?

T.N.: My next project is my debut feature film, The Boy with the Light-Blue Eyes, a Greek coming-of-age tragedy, as I refer to it, about a boy with blue eyes living in a secluded, mountainous Greek village with extremely superstitious inhabitants, who consider blue eyes to be the greatest threat! We are shooting this summer-fall and keeping our fingers crossed!

Photo credits: Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.

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