Thessaloniki USA: Greek Fest Showcases Haralambidis' Ditigal
Video "No Budget Story"
by Cleo Cacoulidis
Last week, cinephiles in New York had a rare chance to view recent films
from Greece and the Balkans at the Thessaloniki USA film festival, held
at the Cinema Village theater in Manhattan. The festival chose an
intriguing collection of works by filmmakers who are virtually unknown
outside their respective countries. In a festival market that is
becoming increasingly dominated by commercial concerns and predictable
works, it was refreshing to see films that offered an alternative view
of life and cinema. The festival was sponsored by an assortment of
organizations: the Foundation for Hellenic Culture, the Speros Basil
Vryonis Center for the Study of Hellenism, the Greek Film Center and the
Thessaloniki International Film Festival (an important showcase for new
directors and unconventional works from around the world).
Notwithstanding their individual flaws, the fourteen films attempted to
explore the vicissitudes of human emotions with an observant, and at
times lyrical, eye. One of the highlights of the festival was Renos
Haralambidis's debut feature "No Budget Story" (1997). Filmed entirely
on digital video (a practice almost unheard of for narrative features)
and then transferred to 35mm, "No Budget Story" is a wacky, hip,
unpretentious film that succeeds in poking fun at some of the sacred
cows of cinema. Shot in 25 days on a shoe-string budget using friends
and relatives for the cast and crew, Haralambidis -- who also stars in
the film -- tells the story of a young director who is desperately
trying to make his first movie. Haralambidis not only has a gift for
comedy but a keen visual style as well. His grainy black and white
imagery and mise-en-scene evokes a romanticism with the surrounding
environs of Athens, lending the film a tender dimension.
Haralambidis, an established actor in Greece, was in New York for the
festival and I interviewed him for the Hellenic Public Radio. The
following is an excerpt of that interview.
indieWIRE: Talk a bit about your background and how you came to filmmaking.
How did you make the leap from acting to directing?
Renos Haralambidis: Sometimes things happen by themselves without being planned. In
order to get some experience working in the cinema, I went to the
directing school in Athens [Stavrakou Film School] and posted
advertisements stating that I was looking for work as an actor. From
these postings, I landed roles in ten short films. I even won a few
awards at the Drama International Film Festival [a film festival in
Greece specializing in short works]. I was very interested in the
technical aspects of filmmaking, so I tried to pay close attention to
how things worked on the set. Then, I finally made up my mind and
decided it was time to do my own film.
iW: There have been many films that focus on the trials and tribulations
of filmmaking, such as "Day for Night," "Irma Vep," and "Living in
Oblivion," to name just a few. What was your inspiration for this
Haralambidis: As an actor, I had worked with a number of film directors who were
really very funny guys. It struck me that, to a large degree, their
sense of humor was their method of coping with the tremendous stress
they were under. Humor was a great release for them. I also saw many
movies where the plot revolved around the struggles of making a film.
So, I decided to create a story based on the lives of the people I had
worked with, our conversations, the ideas we exchanged, etc. That's how
I came up with the story of an elderly producer who used to make porno
films cooperating with a young director trying to make his first movie.
iW: "No Budget Story" shares many similar attributes of American
independent films: low production values, black and white imagery, a
documentary sensibility, and a narrative with a youthful, somewhat
Haralambidis: It is a strange thing, perhaps, but the aesthetic you choose is
based on what weapons you have. I had no money; I had no equipment; I
chose a style, this underground look, based on what materials were
available to me. Of course, I had also seen many movies by independent
filmmakers and that was an influence as well. But I think that
sometimes the style chooses you.
iW: You wrote, directed, and played the lead role in "No Budget Story."
Did you find it difficult to handle all these different roles,
especially in a debut film?
Haralambidis: I had prepared extensively in the preproduction phase before
shooting the film, so although it was difficult it was not impossible.
I had storyboards for all the scenes and we had rehearsed many times.
Also, because I shot No Budget in digital video, I was always checking
the monitor to make sure I got everything. I also had a very small
crew, only five people, who were friends of mine and this made things a
bit easier as well.
iW: Shooting a narrative feature on digital video and then transferring
it to 35mm is rare in the U.S. and unheard of in Greece. What was the
reaction among Greek filmmakers to your production? Do you think
younger Greek filmmakers will follow your example?
Haralambidis: All the Greek [film] technicians told me that it wouldn't work;
there were too many technical problems in transferring video to film;
the quality of the image would be poor. But I never believed them. I
had my dream and I was determined to make my movie, and that's what I
did. I am disappointed, though, because it doesn't seem that other
filmmakers are willing to go the same route. In Greece, if you don't
shoot on film then you are not considered a director. It is strange but
true. I think this technique will take many years to be accepted in
Greece, even among younger filmmakers.
iW: How much did it cost to make "No Budget Story"?
Haralambidis: My total budget was approximately $10,000. My producer had this
very expensive video camera that he was using to shoot commercials for
sex advertisements, magicians, tarot cards, etc. So I asked him to lend
me his camera so I could use it to shoot my film. He asked me if I had
a good script and I told him I thought it was good and I gave it to him
to read. He didn't read it, but he did lend me the camera. He also
gave me a light kit and access to an Avid to edit on.
iW: The film has been doing well at festivals.
Haralambidis: Yes, it won a prize at Thessaloniki International Film Festival and
it received a FPRESCI jury award at the Istanbul International Film
Festival. The film will be traveling to a number of festivals,
including ones in Barcelona, Cario, Cuba, and Taiwan. Who knows, maybe
I'll get lucky and find a distributor.
[Cleo Cacoulidis is a freelance journalist who has written for the
Cineaste, The Independent Film & Video Monthly and The Greek American.]