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LFF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Evangelia Kranioti – ‘Exotica, Erotica, Etc.’

LFF 2015 Women Directors: Meet Evangelia Kranioti - 'Exotica, Erotica, Etc.'

Evangelia Kranioti is a Greek-born visual artist based in France. She is the 2015 recipient of the Special jury Prize and the Elie Saab Prize at the 30th Hyères Fashion and Photography festival, the Best Emerging International Filmmaker Award at the Toronto Hot Docs International Film Festival, Les Amis du Fresnoy Prize, the Photographic Prize of the Fondation des Treilles, the Runway fellowship (Bipolar / Fresnoy) and has been shortlisted for the Photography Award of the French Academy. Her first documentary feature “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” had its world premiere at the Forum section of the 65th Berlinale and is currently showcased in various film festivals across the world. (Press materials) 

“Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” will premiere at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival on October 11.

W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.

EK: “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” is a film about wandering and desire. Navigating centuries-old trade routes, it speaks to the universal orientation towards exploration, expression and affection. Above all, it is a love note to the forgotten and ignored women and men whose long sojourns, dangerous travels and bouts of loneliness are paradoxically essential for our societies to function.

Structurally, “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” is conceived as an ongoing dialogue between woman and man, nature and the world. The documentary’s non-linear narrative embraces the rhythm of merchant ships in perpetual motion and unfolds like an archipelago: A retired woman of the night reflects on encounters with past lovers long gone, perhaps lost at sea [and] we listen to her as she longs for one to return and fulfill the final romantic chapter of her life. The voice of an old captain coming from faraway — the solitude of the ocean or the hotel room of an unknown port — becomes an echo to her monologue. Both characters are real, and their personal narratives eventually weave a dense discussion on longing, memory and loss.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

EK: As a Greek native, the sea is what I have always considered as my vision of my motherland, creating a series of concepts strongly linked to the theme of desire. I do not hail from a family of sailors; it is my condition as a visual artist living outside of Greece that nourishes an ongoing dialogue with my origins. So in 2006, I decided to carry out an artistic and anthropologic endeavor focusing on the life, travels and intimacy of Mediterranean sailors across the world.

I instinctively drew upon Greek mythology to find parallels between the heroes of the past and today’s women and men. The life and feats of Ulysses had always fascinated me, but it was the sailor’s figure in Nikos Kavvadias’ work (1910-1975) that had the most significant impact on me. His writings — halfway between fiction and anthropology — deal with the endless human journey and give birth to the modern version of a nomadic myth. Besides him, other poets and writers were decisive for this project — Conrad, Pessoa, Baudelaire, Bouvier — and I was also very sensible to the stories of old Mediterranean sailors that I’ve been collecting for years.

The contemporary reality of merchant marining may be very different nowadays, yet ships still carry human beings. The whole world may be mapped from end to end, but intimacy remains the last “terra incognita.” In ports, sailors mingle with other people overwhelmed by a primary need to feel alive. Erotic desire is the most significant expression of this urge. For a few moments, all barriers — ideological, cultural, political, ethical or social — disappear, and a human being is standing naked in front of another human being. These brief yet intense moments drew me to the film’s story and became its backbone, the archetypal couple of prostitutes and sailors, seen as an exciting metaphor on man’s elementary relationship with the “Other.”

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

EK: Between 2011 and 2014 I embarked 12 times and traveled to 20 countries. As the only woman on board these supertankers, bulk carriers and container ships, I crossed the Mediterranean and the Black Sea several times; ventured into the Atlantic, the Magellan Strait and the Pacific; from Panama to the Baltic and all the way to Asia via the North Pole. The works I have produced over this period include a vast photographic corpus and 450 hours of total footage which led to the creation of my debut film “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.”

Traveling alone without crew or assistants somehow made the contact with my interlocutors easier, giving me privileged access to a virgin research field. There were definitely hardships on and off board, but I always welcomed complexity as an interesting perspective.

Dealing with time has been an ever-demanding aspect of this project. Going on and off board without knowing when and where I’d disembark required preparation, reactivity and uttermost flexibility. Besides my travels on board, I would spend considerable time in the ports, varying from a few days to a few months in some cases. I became fluent in the languages of the people I lived with and this allowed me to better understand their story, who they were. Once again, carrying out this work alone gave me absolute freedom which was essential for my logistic and aesthetic choices.

The most difficult moment of the project was the picture editing and the post-production part. It was crucial for me to shape a film with a linear narration out of this important audiovisual archive, rather than a multi-channel installation, which interested me only as a subsequent work. I was physically immersed in what seemed to be an infinite material, yet had very specific constraints. To register the captain’s voiceover through a series of discussions with him on Skype while editing the film’s first version was also a considerable challenge. I was drawn to difficulties until the end, but that’s what made the whole process worthwhile. And I owe a lot to my precious collaborators — the film’s picture editor, Yorgos Lamprinos, and sound editor, Jérôme Gonthier, for the tremendous work accomplished.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

EK: Feel as if an ocean has washed over them. Reconsider their ideas about fidelity/infidelity and social taboos. Come back from somewhere far.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

EK: Constantly question their desires.

W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?

EK: I can’t speak about big misconceptions, but sometimes I have been asked whether the female and male protagonists of “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” were actors and the whole script a fiction written by me. The film’s storytelling challenge lies in the blurring of the limits between fiction and documentary. Yet both Sandy and Captain Yorgos exist in real life and their words remained unchanged during the process of scriptwriting and editing. “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” is their personal story and a universal one at the same time. 

I have also noticed that people are particularly surprised when they realize that it is me who did the cinematography of the film. I have the feeling that a male cinematographer wouldn’t be confronted with the question : “… but how did you manage to do this?” very often.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

EK: “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” started out as an artwork, became an adventure and ended up as a debut film. It was a laborious project that took 9 years to come to fruition over a three-period process: the Mediterranean period (2006-2009), the Latin American period (2010-2011) and the period of my travels on board (2011-2014).

As I come from the art world, I managed to fund the biggest part of this project myself, thanks to various artistic bursaries which initially allowed me to photograph and interview different generations of seamen across the Mediterranean. Later, I received a grant from the French government and moved to Brazil. There, I started using video to explore the recurrent fantasies of Mediterranean sailors on prostitutes of the ports and, through them, the eroticization of faraway places. Finally, sailing became possible thanks to all the Greek maritime companies that allowed me to embark on board their vessels and spend time with their sailors. By the time I disembarked, I had already committed myself to filmmaking.

“Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” required a sort of physical performance on my side. Besides being the film’s director and cinematographer, I was also the project’s sole producer for a long time. Then at some point I decided to do postgraduate research at Le Fresnoy-Studio national des arts contemporains, to learn more about filmmaking and the post-production process. This is where I made the first experimental versions of my film. After my graduation I found my producer, Aurora Films. Together with the support of the Région Île-de-France, the JF Costopoulos Foundation and the Fonds de Dotation Agnès b. we completed “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” and shortly after, the film had its world premiere at the Berlinale Forum.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

EK: “Beau Travail” by Claire Denis. The first time I saw it I was in Brazil during a retrospective. It was a mind-blowing experience that helped me question my own work, as I was traveling on board at the time. By pure coincidence, Claire Denis was my referent tutor at Le Fresnoy a few years later, and thus I had the great chance to make my first steps in filmmaking and editing under her guidance, something for which I am still very grateful.

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