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Whistler Film Festival ’10 Interview – “Attenberg” director Athina Rachel Tsangari

Attenberg - At Whistler Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

“Marina, 23, is growing up with her architect father in a prototype factory town by the sea. Finding the human species strange and repellent, she keeps her distance. Instead she chooses to observe it through the songs of “Suicide”, the mammal documentaries of Sir David Attenborough, and the sexual-education lessons she receives from her only friend, Bella. A stranger comes to town and challenges her to a foosball duel, on her own table. Her father meanwhile ritualistically prepares for his exit from the 20th century, which he considers to be "overrated." Caught between the two men and her collaborator, Bella, Marina investigates the wondrous mystery of the human fauna.” Director Athina Rachel Tsangari on the film “Attenberg” which screens at the 10th Anniversary of the Whistler Film Festival.

Is this your first film in the Whistler Film Festival? (Or the first film you have) Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the Whistler for the screening?

This is my first time in Whistler, and I will be there. "Attenberg" premiered in Venice competition this past September. So far it has played at festivals in Toronto, Reykjavik, London BFI and Vienna.

Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

Born in Greece, I studied film in the US at the University of Texas at Austin. There I also ran a short film festival called Cinematexas. My very first involvement in cinema was a tiny part in Richard Linklater's Slacker. First feature "The Slow Business of Going" started as my thesis film in Austin. It's a lo-fi-sci-fi road movie, shot in several cities across the world. We did it super cheap working with a crew and cast of close friends. I came back to Greece in 2004, invited to direct the videos of the Athens Olympics Opening Ceremony. I've been designing large scale, site-specific projections as my day job. Along with Matt Johnson, my long time collaborator, we founded Haos Film, a small production company in Athens. "Attenberg" is my first Greek film.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …”

…an airplane pilot. I found out that my eyes are too near-sighted for the job.

How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement.

I felt ready after a long time to write and direct a film, but unfortunately my readiness coincided with the Greek financial collapse. All hell broke loose while we were in production.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

Casting. It's a character-driven film. It took me months to find the right people for the four main parts. Except for Vangelis Mourikis who plays the father, the rest are not professional screen actors. The lead actress Ariane Labed (Marina) is a French performer who had never acted in a film before. Evangelia Randou (Bella) is a prominent Greek dancer and choreographer. Yorgos Lanthimos (Engineer) is a film director (“Kinetta” and the recent “Dogtooth”).

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

We shot it on Super 16mm and then did a digital intermediate to 35mm. We couldn't afford to shoot on 35mm and I didn't want to shoot digital. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis works very fast, almost exclusively with available light. When he lights a night scene, he lights with table lamps and china balls. We shot in February at a seaside town, so we didn't have to deal with the harsh Greek light. The misty softness of winter daylight fit the mood of the film.

Talk a bit about the festival experiences, if any, that you have had with this particular film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?

Although we were a small outsider in Venice competition, Ariane Labed left with the Copa Volpi for Best Actress. We got really drunk at the awards party afterwards.
The question I get a lot in festival Q&As is "If you were an animal, what would you be?"

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

Howard Hawks. JL Godard. Sir David Attenborough.

Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

Robert Downey Jr.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

It can make or break a film, as we say... But, I also think that word of mouth amongst movie goers is just as decisive.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

An underground film club in Tehran, Iran.

What would you say or do to someone who talks or uses their cell phone during a movie?

Why are you here?

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Keep working on the script until it becomes as solid it can get before rehearsals. Then allow it to change in rehearsals in collaboration with the cast. Work with small and flexible crews.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

This changes drastically and quite often.

”Attenberg” plays at 4pm, Saturday December 4th, Village 8 Cinemas

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Whistler Film Festival. For show information, tickets and for other general information on films and events, point your browser to the official website HERE

Be sure to follow instant happenings of Whistler Film Festival on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #whisfilmfest or @whisfilmfest are the official hashtags.

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 12/05/10 03:17:42
last updated: 03/10/11 11:06:07
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