19 September, Bitola – Last night’s screening for Honeyland, as part of the festival program at “Manaki Brothers”, was overcrowded. The Big Hall of the Center for Culture was overflowing and there was almost no space for all the locals from Bitola who came to see the Macedonian candidate for the Oscar. The producer Atanas Georgiev and the cinematogrpaphers Fejmi Daut and Samir Ljuma were greeted with a loud applause, and then they answered the questions from the audience.
Almost at the same time, the second recipient of the Golden Camera 300 for Lifetime Achievement, Yorgos Arvanitis, arrived in Bitola, and today he held a masterclass: “When you are young and enthusiastic, you take risks”, the master of European cinematography stated.
The Greek cinematographer with cult status in Europe and the world, and with about 150 titles in his career, he enjoys special status of a founder, in a way, of art film in Greece and Europe.
Arvanitis was born in a Greek village in 1941, in the dark days of World War II. After the destructions in the war, his family moved in with some relatives who had a dairy farm, so Yorgos as a five-year-old was distributing milk, and was going to school in the afternoon. He continued his education as an electrician, and went to a cinema at 15 for the first time.
The first contact with professional film was when there was a film shooting in his neighborhood, so Yorgos asked the cinema operator from the local cinema to help him do something on the set. He was most fascinated by the camera, and he says that cameramen were real gods to the children of those days.
-I found a black-and-white film strip, and with the help of two lights I shot my first film. I screened the film in the cinema and I got an offer to be a camera assistant. The next five years, I was a camera assistant, Arvanitis remembers his youth fascination with film.
At a young age he had shot his first film as a cameraman, and although he didn’t go to film school, he respected the advice of the older cameraman to see and remember everything at the shoots, because that is the only way to achieve greater knowledge.
A turning point in his life was meeting the few-years-younger Theo Angelopoulos, who in the beginning of the 60s had come back from France. The moderator Lechi noted that the connection between Angelopoulos, a Marxist-inclined film critic, and the self-taught cinematographer Arvanitis, who had learned all about the camera through shooting films, is an unusual one.
-We had shot some short films together with friends, helping each other. One day, Angelopoulos came with his script. I read it and I realized that there is a film in it. Thirty-three days later and with 4 actors, only one of which was a professional, we finished the film, Arvanitis talked.
Arvanitis pointed out that he was a great enthusiast and he took risks in the pioneering days of his career. Lechi noted that even in the first works of Arvanitis and Angelopoulos one can see landscapes of Greece, which will be dominant in the whole opus of Angelopoulos.
-I had a problem with Angelopoulos because he would always pick the same location for his films – Florina, Arvanitis says.
A turning point in the internationalization of their careers is the film Landscape in the Mist from 1980, and their last common film is Eternity and a Day form 1998. That film had won the Palme d’Or in Cannes.
Their second film done as a tandem, Days of ’36, is shot in color. At that period, Arvanitis had been employed in a film studio, and every day in the afternoon and the evening he worked with Angelopoulos. They shot their second film with Angelopoulos from the filters which had been “left out” because of the inadequate color in the process of shooting of films in the studio. When he was supposed to shoot a comedy, Arvanitis quit the job and he continued his career as a freelancer. The rest is the better part of the history of Greek and European film from the 60s until nowadays.
A war junta was raging at that period in Greece, so Arvanitis talked about the anecdotes of how they avoided censorship of the left-wing art films they were shooting with Angelopoulos.
Talking about his professor experience at the La Femis film academy in Paris, Arvanitis pointed out that one can make a great scene with little light and with a lot of organization.
That is also his belief. Arvanitis reminded of the meaning of the word photography, of photos – light, and graphos-writing, coming together as ‘writing with light’.
Dominique Welinski, distributer-producer from France and a member of this year’s jury for the main competition at ICFF “Manaki Brothers” and the Macedonian director Eleonora Veninova shared the experiences form the making of the project SEE Factory, which was screened yesterday as part of the European Cinema Perspectives program.
-It is a film omnibus called SEE Factory, which was screened at the Sarajevo Film Festival under the name Sarajevo, Mon Amour and we continued to use that title. These were 5 films from 10 directors, each film made in a tandem consisting of one director from Southeastern Europe and one director from other countries in Europe, Slagjan Penev, selector of the European Cinema Perspectives program, explained.
Dominique Welinski, in terms of the concept, said that she “got the idea 8 years ago, because as a producer she had a feeling for some time that most people don’t see films from these countries”.
-The opportunity came up at the festival in Cannes, when a larger promotion of Ireland was asked for. I used that opportunity as an idea, I pointed out that if they want to introduce the country that has talent, that is welcoming etc., we should make films together. At Cannes, the project was approved and became an idea for uncovering new voices, new director ideas and the first year the project was introduced in Taipei, followed by Finland, Denmark, Chile, Tunisia, Lebanon, and now Southeastern Europe. The idea was to change the country every year, to go to a different country and to make it visible in Cannes, because it is not just about the directors here, but also about the country, Welinski said.
SEE Factory linked the film centers in the region: Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia, and in Croatia there was no possibility to participate, because the manager of the film center was being changed at that time.
-We worked as a couple, like a marriage and we had good communication with my director, because we agreed at the very start that we would talk openly about each conflict. We have a very similar sense of things, everything went easy on set, we consulted each other on every decision, Veninova said, also adding that they had a great collaboration with the famous actress Seka Sabljic.
The selector of the Makpoint program, Ana Vasilevska, announced the winners of the audience awards for best film they’ve seen at the “Manaki Brothers” in this category.
-The largest part of the votes from the audience was received by the film Skopje 2020 by Radovan Petrovic, the second place was won by the film The Comrade by Dimitar Orovchanec, and the third place was shared by the films A Champion Brought Me the Letter, the documentary film by the authors Aleksandar Manasiev and Mirko Trajanovski, and I Am not Igor by Sergej Georgiev. The film Skopje 2020, besides being greatly done with authorial stamp, is also very significant at the moment because there is engagement in it and it loudly speaks about pollution – the problem which not only faced by our country, but also the world. The awareness and the individual and the collective, should be raised, it speaks about how much we all forget of the elementary human needs. I have to point out that the film Ashes by Geogre Lazov also speaks on this subject, but in a completely different way and with a different aesthetic, Vasilevska pointed out.
According to Aleksandar Manasiev, “this year there is a more quality program at Makpoint, but that is a push for the professionals to aim a little higher”, and Samir Ljuma spoke about the film The Comrade, being in the role of a producer, and he expressed the pleasure the film is part of the Makpoint program because “it is the debut film of Orovchanec, Petar Arsovski has a role to remember, and Vladimir Samoilovski has done a great job on the camerawork”.
Mirko Trajanovski, director and scriptwriter of the film A Champion Brought Me the Letter, said that the primary idea was to tell the story for the mailman from Veles who is the state record-holder in Macedonia in ultramarathon, but also about the dying out of sending letters by mail as a mean of communication.
The members of the American Film Academy are also asking for the honey…
The screening of the Macedonian Oscar candidate, Honeyland, caused huge interest with the audience, but also with the press today. The cinematographers Fejmi Saut and Samir Ljuma, as well as the producer and editor, Atanas Georgiev, revealed interesting moments from the shooting of the film.
-We all communicated with no problem, even though there were two directors and two cinematographers. Even now, at the screenings, when I look at the film, I can’t recognize which shots were done by me, and which ones were done by Fejmi. That compatibility of two cinematographers who are completely different points to the fact that we succeeded in making the film look like it was shot my one person, Ljuma said, explaining that the reason for which two cinematographers and two directors were working is, in fact, a video which was supposed to be shot in three months, financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, it was actually a project for protection of the environment and because of the speed it needed in the making, such team was made, but the making of the video turned into this result that we have today.
In the film, the mother of Hatidze dies and they talked about those days of the shooting today:
-Hatidze’s mom really died during the shooting. She was in a difficult condition for a certain period of time and when they told us she died, we organized ourselves to get there and, since we thought that is really an intimate moment, we literally went in there for 15 minutes. But that is the explosive moment in documentary filmmaking. We hesitated about it, but we figured out that those moments give a bigger weight to the documentary filmmaking and we decided to shoot them, death, birth – when the cow gives birth and the bees closing the circle, the cinematographer Fejmi Daut said.
In the opinion of the producer and editor Atanas Georgiev, if someone was missing from that exact team of the film, it would not have been what it has become, and in terms of the campaign for its presentation, he said that they have to be creative.
-There is no money in documentaries. The most of the money came in when the film was almost finished, and we still spent all the money on the film. The larger part of the film, 80% is financed from abroad, from the San Francisco Film Fund and the Turkish Television, the North Macedonian Film Agency. The American company that represents us in the USA supported us with one million. We don’t have an expensive campaign and we have to be creative to be able to stand next to the other candidates. From an American viewpoint, we have a campaign with an extremely low budget and we will try to be creative. The honey jars are part of the creative piece of the campaign, which are actually sold door-to-door and everyone pays as much as they think they should for the honey jar, and the money goes to the community. The jars are limited, we only have about 100kg of honey, and also the members of the Academy that awards the Oscar are starting to ask for the honey, so it becomes interesting, Georgiev explained.
Fejmi Daut talked about the experience when he was stung by the bees while shooting.
-We had no protection while shooting. Seeing Hatidze, we gained trust that there would be no danger, but I was the only one that got stung by a bee during the shooting, but it all ended well. I was attacked by the bees on the high rocks where Hatidze goes to collect the honey, I was shooting shirtless in the middle of the summer and when the bees attacked, I hopped up to the top like a mountain goat to run away and I am still not aware of how I managed to climb up there, Daut said.
Hatidze was present at a few festivals by her wish, but the team thinks that she should remain a beekeeper and go back to normal life, which is anyway already turned upside down since the shooting of Honeyland.
-She chose to travel to Turkey and the USA, but she has never traveled with a plane before, she was never in a hotel, she has never seen a film in a cinema, and we have the opportunity to see how all that rolled her life over. She is actually a born star who just hasn’t had the opportunity to show it so far. She is very good in front of the camera and the microphone, goes on stage, composes songs etc. From the budget we had, we got a small house for her where she has relative and where she wanted to move. We also help the children form the other family because we want for them to be on the right path. According to me, I would rather one of the older children to be educated in film and travel with us on festivals, than Hatidze, Georgiev said.
He pointed out that even besides the showcasing of the scarce living conditions, the goal is to transfer the message for the environment, and not the beauty or poverty.
-All the scenes are just a façade for the story we wanted to tell, Georgiev pointed out.
Giorgos Karvelas, cinematographer of the film The Waiter, which was screened in the European Cinema Perspectives program, shared the experience from the work on this urban drama which takes place in Athens.
-It was really my pleasure to be the first guest at the Open Air Cinema program at the Museum. The film is a debut film of the director, inspired by an actual story which he had experienced a few years ago in New York, about a girl who disappears, with whom they were meeting almost each day before. We were preparing for about two months, we were shooting for 4 weeks, and the editing lasted about 2 weeks, Karvelas said, admitting that his work has been influenced by works of Caravaggio, films of David Lynch etc.
From this year, the “Manaki Brothers” got one more festival space, the courtyard, or as the locals in Bitola call it – patio, of the Museum of Bitola, where part of the festival programs are screened in an open air cinema. The program of the Cinematheque, the traditional partner of the festival, is running in the Magaza.