ZafirisThe cinematic universe of filmmaker Yannis Zafiris is full of ghosts, that is, the memories of departed loved ones, while those who are left behind try to bring them back through their own rituals, as is the case in his short films Rhizome (2015), Visit (2017) and Springtime Rest (2018). However, there is also Felicita (a word with no accent), where the lover is about to become a ghost.

Born in 1986, in Athens, Yannis Zafeiris has studied Photography at Middlesex University of London. He has worked as a DoP and assistant director in short films and has directed the above mentioned short films that have been awarded at Greek and international Film Festivals. His most recent film is experimental “Plastic Flowers” (2019). Zafiris has also worked as a second assistant director to Vassilis Mazomenos in the feature film “Lines” (2016). His next short film script has been approved for funding by the Greek Film Centre. Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* Zafiris talks about the perils of film making in Greece. He also explains why he chooses to talk about grief in his films and why closure can be close to happiness.

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"Visit", dir. Yanis Zafiris (2017)

Most of your films revolve around the grief over the loss of a loved one. Why is that?

While analyzing the themes of my films over the years, I’ve come to two conclusions. On the one hand, a possible explanation is that through these stories I’m trying to talk about things that concern me, such as loss, fear of death, the loneliness that comes with old age, the absence we all experience either since childhood or as adults in everyday life. On the other hand, my stories are based, to a great extent, on real-life experiences of mine or those of my loved ones.

What makes me choose to tell these stories rather than more “optimistic” ones is something that I can’t really explain. When I am writing a story, I do it instinctively, and even though I’ve already figured out the plot in my mind, I may often add actions based on that instinct.

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"Springtime Rest", dir. Yanis Zafiris (2018)

Do you feel that human beings are unable to find happiness?

I think no one can really answer that. Talking about the heroes of my films, each one of them, by making decisions based on what we see them experiencing in the film - as well as what we don’t see but is there - ends up finding an answer. This answer, as well as giving them an instant feeling of satisfaction or joy, which I personally call happiness, it also gives them closure in relation to the situation they are experiencing, which leads to personal development, something that I also consider to be really close to the concept of personal happiness.

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"Felicita", dir. Yanis Zafiris (2016)

Although sadness and loneliness are dominant in your work, there is nonetheless an empowering feeling that life goes on, especially in Felicita. Is that right?

Of course, life goes on… As I’ve already mentioned, personal development is achieved by the situations we experience in our daily lives and by overcoming the bad and difficult times of the past. In "Felicita", my heroine, although experiencing loneliness, sadness, and frustration, makes an important decision and that is to renounce her role as a lover and as a wife and dedicate herself to her role as a mother...

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"Rhizome", dir. Yanis Zafiris (2015)

You prefer to tell your stories in an elliptic manner, calling on the viewer to create the meaning, whilst often leaving an open ending. Would you like to elaborate?

First of all, I think that the endings aren’t left that open. I always try to end the story either through the look in the hero’s eyes or by depicting that look, as each story begins and ends with that. Their look captures clearly either what they have experienced in the story or what is yet to come. As I do believe that there are cycles of events and situations in our lives that we either have to bring to a closure ourselves or expect them somehow to end on their own.

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"Plastic Flowers", dir. Yanis Zafiris (2019)

What about your latest film which is in experimental form?

"Plastic flowers" is an experimental approach on topics that concern me and that I want to work on and get creative. My goal for this short film was to speak allegorically using a folk myth about the contaminated water of a place, which eventually results in it being depopulated. All of these happen through the narration of an old man who comes back to his land after many years to find it exactly as it was when he left; bleak. He's looking for a pure water fountain but in vain... All he can see is bleakness and plastic flowers. Experimentation, from the director’s point of view, has to do mainly with the movement of the camera and sound design behind the story, as well as the narration of the hero, which was the primary experimentation for me.

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"Visit", dir. Yanis Zafiris (2017)

By which filmmakers have you been influenced?

Well, I think that’s my favorite question. I won't mention many names as there are quite a lot of directors/creators that I've been influenced by. I'll say a few things about three creators that I ‘met" either from adolescence to early adulthood or that I’m getting to "know" now. I would say that the first movie I was really influenced by, around the age of 13 – 14, was Emir Kusturica's "Time of the Gypsies". Growing up, I watched his entire work and the themes of his films subconsciously guide me even now. Another creator whose directorial poetic gaze influences me is Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The way he films and sets up his frames in a symbolic way, combined with the very humane stories, captivates me both as a spectator and as a director, as I always keep in mind the way he chooses to tell these stories. Finally, Abbas Kiarostami with his philosophical approach has opened new windows for me and helped me evolve my personality over the years that I’ve been studying his work.

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"Springtime Rest", dir. Yanis Zafiris (2018)

What are the challenges young filmmakers face as regards funding?

I wouldn’t like to talk about the difficulties that a young filmmaker is facing while looking for funding in our country. I have nothing new to say. It is a well-known fact that there’s a big problem there, as well as lack of planning when it comes to developing and promoting Greek cinematography. I think that there’s a great deal of talent and thirst for creation in this milieu. I’d like to talk about my own experience when creating a project.

I’ve had so far, and I hope that I will have in the future too, the chance to work with people that are really close to me, creating together a climate and a state of solidarity, which is one of the things I’ll always defend. We create with very little means but with much love and dedication to each other's work. In my humble opinion, solidarity, coupled with a plan of support by the State, can open new avenues for Greek cinematography.

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"Felicita", dir. Yanis Zafiris (2016)

What are your next plans?

This is the most complicated question of all! My partner, and very good friend of mine, George Bisdikis, Georgia Panopoulou and I have founded a production company (Αfrican Astronaut PH) and we are currently trying to run many interesting projects and collaborations. Personally, I'm concluding the script and production of my next short film and the script of my first feature film. As I’m trying to arm myself with patience in order to find funding, I’m taking the time to delve deeper into the themes of any short or feature film to come and the stories I’d like to tell.

* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi.

Online premiere: Watch "Springtime Rest" here:

 

Springtime Rest, a short film by Yannis Zafiris (2018) from Yannis Zafiris on Vimeo.

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