From Iceland — The Golden Greek

The Golden Greek

Published September 12, 2008

The Golden Greek

The Reykjavík International Film Festival, RIFF, begins September 25 and this year it should be bigger than ever. The Greek director and Oscar award winner Costa-Gavras will visit Icelanders and Grapevine was given to opportunity to converse with him before his arrival.

Costa-Gavras is one of the biggest names in modern cinema and is responsible for many of the most flabbergasting and controversial masterpieces of the last century. He was born in Greece and experienced repressive situations as his father fought with the left wing branch of the Greek resistance during World War II. When he reached the age of 18, his adventure began when he immigrated to his future home ground in Paris.

So tell me, you began studying literature but not cinema once you arrived in France, was that for some idealistic reasons?

I began studying literature at Sorbonne in Paris, but I soon discovered the charm surrounding motion pictures and subsequently that they actually had an institution providing education fit for film producing. After that great revelation I immediately ceased my literature studies and emphasized completely on my film career. It had formerly been my aim to eventually become a writer and impact people in those manners but I don’t know; I probably reckoned I had a better shot at effecting people through the screen. But of course all of it was for idealistic reasons.
When you emigrated from Greece it is said that your father’s background set back your opportunity to immigrate to the USA. Why did you want to move to America in particular?
It is right that my father’s past prohibited me from moving to the USA, but he fought against the Germans on the Left Wing, with the Anti-Royalists. That turned out to have a negative effect on both him and his children later on. The reason for my desire to move over to the USA was because I had several relatives over there and would have had a genuine family, but it was impossible for me to go there. And as it turned out I am glad that I ended up in Paris in the beginning of the New-Age commotion.
And how was it making flicks in Paris during the 60s? Could you describe the prevailing atmosphere?
To me it was quite easy getting into the scene there. Everyone was welcome at the time so it was considerably painless for young idealists to produce their cinema debut. The old heroes realised the setting was constantly growing so they were giving advice to youngsters as candy and the actors were into new and different projects so they found it merely exciting starring in a film made by an unknown enthusiast. The great advantage of making films in France at the time was that the state supported the industry quite a lot, which must have opened a few doors. Paris was full of life and you could find passionate artists at every single café, enthralled with their own visions, trying to mesmerize every by-passer with their, alleged, genius.
Most of your films can undoubtedly be categorized as political, so do you have a certain message you’d like present to the world or do these controversial affairs presented in your movies solely fascinate you?
I keep saying that everything that goes on in one’s mind is political, all men’s relations and feelings have a political connection. A lot of my movies take on happenings that really took place in the world and most of these affairs are extremely controversial, so my movies maybe are more political than most but in my opinion every single film is political. When screenwriters, producers and directors address thousands, and sometimes-even millions, I look at it as they have great political responsibility. The power of film is staggering.
As you say you have adapted real life scenarios into movies quite a lot, have you ever deliberated going all the way: simply making a documentary?

With the bulk of my movies it would have been tricky making a documentary for the events usually happened many years before I made them into a movie, but I’ve never been particularly fond of the documentary method. The elements of those kinds of movies aren’t that exciting. I think when you fictionalize a real scenario you can make it much more powerful and you can make the message maybe more as a metaphorical approach to the dysfunctions of our society rather than simply stating what went wrong at the isolated incidents presented in the movie.
Your works often have a dark look and you could even say they are rather bleak. Is it your aim to make them more enlightening than entertaining to the viewer?

Yes, why not? In my opinion entertainment isn’t all about laughs and smiles but more about feeling something real. It can also be entertaining witnessing a tragedy as well as watching Americans reciting lousy jokes. I mean, what is ‘entertaining?’ When you go see a film you sit in the theatre for two hours and are maybe completely taken by a story, and it’s much more important that you believe what’s on the screen rather than you’re laughing the whole time. I make movies about war, beliefs; well, basically what it is being human.
When you had established a reputation in the film industry you moved over to Hollywood and started making movies in English. What caused this transition?

No, no, no! I didn’t move over to Hollywood, that is only a common misunderstanding. I had over the years been offered to direct a lot of studio movies over in LA but I always refused, I didn’t feel comfortable doing it. But then there was “Missing;” a story which really fascinated me about affairs that I was familiar with in Chile and I did all the shooting over there and later all the post-production was done in France. And it’s the same with all my movies. I think it’s quite dangerous for Europeans to go to Hollywood; they could get persuaded by the rotten industry. But it can’t be denied that Universal produced Missing so it was non-Hollywood made but it was produced with Hollywood money.
Did you feel more noticed when you were doing Universal films since you received an Oscar for example?
Well, when they asked me to make a movie for them I said they would have to let me do it as I wanted to, if they wanted to do it the American way they should get an American to direct it. The relationship was very clear from the beginning. So I didn’t experience any notable difference at least during shooting because I had my regular crew, but it was maybe more accessible than my previous works because of the English spoken in it.
Have you ever wanted to work back on your native ground in Greece?
I have for some time tried to find a Greek story that I’d want to film, but I haven’t found it yet. But you could say I had worked there quite a lot, but for example I shot for my last film in three or four weeks in Greece. It wasn’t supposed to be in Greece though; the setting was just rather ideal. But believe me, one day I will make a movie over there.
What would you say were the highlights of your career, and are you satisfied with it in whole?
Satisfied? Well, I don’t know. My only regret is that I haven’t done more movies already. It takes too much time to make a movie! But when I look over all my works I must say that I am proud of them all, they are like my babies and I am not ashamed of any of them. It is difficult to point out a favourite but you tend to like the ones that are a success the best. But you know, like the movie “Hanna K” which received the worst feedback of them all, I’m still proud of it.
Now that you’re coming to Iceland it must be appropriate to ask whether you have seen or heard anything about the Icelandic film scene?
Very, very little. But before I come over I plan to browse through some of the Icelandic films that have been produced. I’m actually very enthusiastic about coming over and you have a cinema and all, right? Well, at least I’m excited about getting to know Iceland, but I’ve never been there before. Hopefully I will have the chance to travel around the whole country.

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