Forget The Naked Chef, Babis Makridis
is the naked director. Stripped bare with the release of L
- his first feature film, screening at MIFF as part of the TeleScope program
- Makridis is embracing the exposure and freedom born of letting his baby out into the world. But just as parents worry about powerful influences on malleable innocents, Makridis has found L
caught up in a swirl of film-journalism and commentary labelling him amongst the 'Greek New Wave' and positioning his film as absurdist comedy.
Well, there’s no dodging the fact that L
, a story about a man who lives in his car and spends his days delivering honey before joining a brutal bike gang, exercises some very (very) off-beat and wry humour. But Makridis contests the idea of the 'Greek New Wave', arguing that the burst of high quality cinematic activity from the troubled nation is, puzzlingly, the result of having no money but many resources. Makridis sat down to talk about the process of filmmaking in tumultuous Greece, keeping a day-job, and the personal nature of that first feature film. It sounds like Greek filmmaking is one big love-in.
Why did you decide to start making features now?
It comes subconsciously; we don’t make a program. I’m 42 years old, I work as a commercial director for years and I say, “Okay maybe this thing needs to stop and do something else for your health!” I do it for my health, that’s why, I think.
So you wont be making commercials?
No, I’m still working on commercials, it’s the only way to make a living. There’s no other way in cinema, in Greece we don’t get money – you take the money from your won pocket. Commercials in Greece is a good way of making a living - you keep in touch with the procedures and people, and we have fun, but it’s a business, it’s a job, nothing more. I’m a freelancer.
How do you feel about being put into the category of ‘New Greek Cinema’?
I think the only way that you can group this new cinema is that we do the films by ourselves now. All the things starts with Dogtooth (2009) – Giorgos Lanthimos went to Cannes and won Prix Un Certain Regard, he went to the Oscars. And after that Giorgos gives us all a push and says “Come on guys we can make it, don’t be afraid. We can help each other and we can make it.” But I don’t believe in labels – I think film is film and every director has his own personal view of the world. It’s in fashion a little bit now: “Oh the Greeks have problems, let’s watch them.” We’re a little bit in fashion because of the situation. And that’s why they put labels on us.
But there is a push to make films now. We have no funding, so now we don’t wait to get the money because there is no money. So we open the drawers and get out the ideas and we start working without thinking about money. If there is a movement it is this kind of movement – love, passion and help to each other with a low budget. The movement is low budget filmmaking.
But the film doesn’t look low-budget to me at all.
The strange thing is that I work in commercials a lot and have friends in production companies as well. So when I say I’m going to make a movie, everyone wants to help. It doesn’t look like a low budget because we have everything we want on set – great camera, great technicians, lights, everything we want. But the only thing that we pay while making the film is for the film, the labs, and all the crew takes the same money – everyone. And after we finish some money came to the film because it’s going well, and we give back some money too. But I believe that when you don’t have money, make the low budget your aesthetic. Embrace it.
How is all this burst of activity in Greek cinema received in Greece?
Not so well. The people in Greece don’t go to the cinema now because they don’t have the money; that’s the first thing. The journalists are a bit strange about our films, they don’t say good words sometimes. There is only one distribution company that takes our film and delivers it to the people. But my film goes only one week in Greece with no tickets at all. It works better with the foreigners, I don’t know why!
Were you excited to work with screenwriter Efthymis Filippou?
Yes, Efthymis is a friend of mine, I’ve known him for years. We were writing fast, and Efthymis’ way of writing is very eccentric. He has a humour that can put you in the hospital, you know? There are many meanings behind the lines that you read. It was an organic process, it was very elastic. I believe the film is organic and when you finish, when you go to the viewers it’s still organic - everyone can say whatever they want about the meaning of the film and what they get out of it. But I like it a lot, because I don’t want to be precise or say “this is what I want to tell you about”. Fix it with your mind. I think movies give your brain food to think, to fix the stories by yourself, from your personal filter.
How has the experience of travelling the film been?
It was very strange to see your film in front of people and see their reaction – some were bad, some were good. It was very stressful. But the thing that you understand for myself, I tell myself “Babis, you have nothing to hide, you’re on the screen. You must be true. Your friends know you but maybe now they know you a little better.” Because with relationships with friends you’re not always a true guy, sometimes you have secrets. But when you do the film your friends and other people look at you
. “Now Babis everyone knows who you are, so be free and be yourself.” This is a good thing that I get from the film. I don’t know what happens with the second or their films, maybe I’m completely naked!
You have such a strong style with really fixed shots. Do you go into shooting with a goal to make the film
look this way, or is that just the way that you find yourself shooting?
Seven years ago I made a short film, and it was the same thing, it was a long steady shot. Also, my commercials are the same. I like this distance of the camera, so the viewer is watching the thing, and they don’t get so emotionally involved. But it depends, I think, on the story. Maybe on the new story we will need to change the style. But I don’t believe in movements of camera, or the actors playing very dramatically - I like the minimal way of acting, of camera, of editing, of everything. If I have the money to have cranes and do travelling shots and everything, I’m not going to do it. It’s my own personal way of seeing how the story must go in cinema.
screens on Tuesday 7 August at MIFF. Check out miff.com.au
for the full festival program.