Makis is a fish farm worker. On his way to work one morning, he is informed that he has died the day before. After failed attempts to prove that he is alive, he accepts his fate with indifference and he spends his last day before the funeral trying to secure shelter and caretakers for his beloved canaries. This is the plot of Vasilis Kekatos’ short film “The Silence of the Dying Fish”, the Greek participation in this years’ Sundance Film Festival.
Born in the island of Kefalonia, Greece, in 1991, Vasilis Kekatos studied film at Brunel University’s School of Arts, in London. In 2016, he won the Sundance Ignite “What’s Next?” Short Film Challenge and received a mentorship from Sundance Institute, with his short “Zero Star Hotel (2016). The “Silence of the Dying Fish” had its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival 2018, in the international Competition section Pardi di Domani, and will have its North American premiere at the Sundance Film Festival 2019. It has also been selected at many international film festivals, such as ZINEBI and Aix-En-Provence, and it has been awarded in several, including Festcourt Villeurbanne, where it won Best Film, and the Drama ISFF where it won Best Southeastern European Film, while it continues its tour in the festival circuit. Kekatos is currently working on his upcoming short and his first feature. Kekatos is also the artistic director of SeaNema Open Air Film Festival in Kefalonia. He lives and works in Athens.
Unlike his silent, dying fish, Kekatos shares his thoughts with Greek News Agenda* stating that he is compassionate towards his characters, even though he kills them sometimes. Commenting on the Greek Weird Wave, he notes that both he and the Wave are inspired by absurdism, but that he is more interested in feelings than in the mind. Asked about the reception of Greek Films in international Film Festivals, Kekatos says that European audiences approach Greek cinema as a political allegory. Kekatos concludes that taking into consideration the success and international impact of Greek cinema in the last ten years, it should receive more support from the Ministry of Culture.
Andreas Konstantinou, “The Silence of the Dying Fish” (2018)
I feel that there are influences in your film from weird cinema. How do you feel about the Greek weird wave?
I would dare say that I haven't been influenced, at least consciously, from Weird Wave. However, I couldn't deny the fact that I and the filmmakers of the Wave both draw inspiration from absurdism, as it has been expressed mainly through literature. The greatest source of inspiration, for me, has been the works of Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, Kafka and Camus, writers that have talked about the meaninglessness of life and existence, the lack of communication between people and societal indifference. Of course, this is expressed humorously in my films, as well as in the films that are cornerstones of the Greek Weird Wave. The main difference between me and them is that I care more about emotions. I am not so cynical and cruel with the characters I create; even though I kill them sometimes, I feel sorry for them. I think I am more of a romantic in some weird way. Greek Weird Wave is a wave of intellect. I prefer heart to brain.
“The Silence of the Dying Fish” has screened in important Festivals. How are Greek filmmakers viewed?
I had the pleasure to accompany the film at the Locarno Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. I did not have the opportunity to travel anywhere else with it, although I am planing to do so soon in France for the Aix En Provence Film Festival and in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. Therefore I can only talk about Switzerland, even though I don't think there are significant differences between Locarno and other European film festivals. Europeans read everything we do as a political allegory; I’m not saying that it's not the case, but that is the only tool they use to interpret our art. International audiences and critics look for answers about the crisis in new Greek cinema. And truth is I don't know if we have them. I think we may have even more questions.
“The Silence of the Dying Fish” (2018)
Death is a recurring theme in your films. Why is it so?
Death is the most absurd and irrational thing in people's lives, while on the other hand it is the only thing that makes perfect sense. I think death is an interesting way to talk about life.
Why doesn’t your protagonist try harder to change his destiny?
Makis is a lonely man; a man who was as alive before, as he is after he has ostensibly died. He faced his whole life with indifference and even at the moment he is announced his death he continues to remain in deep apathy and inaction. He has never been close enough to people and people have never been close enough to him. This is why no one really wants to help him.
It’s not easy changing your destiny if you stand on your own.
Alexandra K., “The Silence of the Dying Fish” (2018)
Is “The Silence of the Dying Fish” a comment on the isolation of the individual?
The Silence of the Dying Fish is the documentation of one man’s journey from unawareness to ambivalence and from there to the acceptance of a situation beyond his control. The story could be viewed as a commentary on people’s fears, their loneliness or isolation; however, it is mostly a portrayal of societal indifference; Society’s indifference towards death, therefore towards life, and finally the almost fatalistic acceptance of any absurdity inflicted on society as a norm.
“The Silence of the Dying Fish” (2018) shooting still
What are the difficulties a young filmmaker faces in finding funds?
I truly believe that the difficulties in finding funds in this country are the same for both young and veteran filmmakers. Things should change. The state should care much more for cinema, since, at least for the last ten years, in the "After-Dogtooth" era, cinema is maybe the most valuable cultural product Greece can export. Films are screened in important international festivals, they often receive awards and sometimes they even get distribution abroad.
Until the ministry of culture realises this, we either have to look for co-productions with other countries, or carry on making low or even no-budget films with the noble help of our friends.
SeaNema Open Air Film Festival
You also are the artistic director of SeaNema Open Air Film Festival. Would you like to tell us a few things about it?
SeaNema Open Air Film Festival is the only film festival in Greece, and one of the few worldwide, where screenings are not held in cinemas but on beaches and especially formed areas by the sea. The Festival aims at becoming an important meeting point for acclaimed and new filmmakers alike from around the world, who will have the opportunity to promote their work and enjoy themselves, along with large audiences, in a dreamy place. I am doing this festival with friends; friends from Athens and of course my childhood friends, on the island most of us grew up in: Kefalonia.
"The Distance Between Us and the Sky" shooting still
What are your future plans?
I have just finished shooting a short film called "The Distance Between Us and the Sky". It's a very simple romantic story about two guys meeting for the first time at a gas station. I made the film with my regular crew. My Producer, Eleni Kossyfidou, my cinematographer, Giorgos Valsamis, and some new colleagues, starring Nikolakis Zeginoglou and Yoko Ioannis Kotidis, two amazing young actors. I am also now submitting the script of my upcoming short for funding and I’ve already begun working on my feature script. Fingers crossed!
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Read also from our Filming Greece series: “Give a little loving to Greek Cinema … aka the need for a single cinematic policy”