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SEEfest at 15: Whose is this song?

Warning: singing can be a dangerous business! Ever since we took the road trip with Bulgarian filmmaker Adela Peeva in 2006 with her iconic film, it has been a non-stop movie travel through competing histories, similar yet antagonistic cultures, always peppered with characteristic black humor and idiosyncratic music. The Balkan Sound entertained our audiences through many more music and ethnomusic documentaries throughout SEEfest’s decade and a half.

Whose is this song? was our first opening film in 2006

And it all began with Whose is this song? in 2006, at the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, our original home where SEEfest was welcomed and nurtured by programmer Margit Kleinman and media manager Stefan Kloo. 

 

 

Nicholas Wood wrote about the film in the International Herald Tribune and mentioned some interesting details.

“The film does not attempt to define where the song originally came from, although Peeva said she was given numerous differing explanations, including the possibility that it had been introduced by soldiers from Scotland who were based in Turkey during the Crimean War.

In Greece it is known as “Apo Xeno Eopo,” or “From a foreign land,” and in Turkey it is called “Uskudar,” after the region of Istanbul. 

The Turkish version was the subject of a film, “Katip” (The Clerk), directed by Ulku Erakalin in the 1960s, and the singer and actress Eartha Kitt recorded a version of the song, also called “Uskudar,” in the 1970s.”

Whose is this song? is available in the U.S. thanks to DER, Documentary Educational Resources collection in Watertown, Massachusetts. Check it out! It’s well worth it, and still very much relevant.

Whose is this song?
70 min, 2003
in Bulgarian, Turkish, Greek, Albanian, and Bosnian
with English subtitles

About the South East European Film Festival (SEEfest)

SEEfest presents cinematic and cultural diversity of South East Europe to American audiences and creates cultural connections through films, literary and art talks, retrospectives, and community events. The 15th festival will take place from April 29 to May 6, 2020. 

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Interview with producer Dorothea Paschalidou (Worlds Apart)

By Anna Spyrou – 

Dorothea Paschalidou, producer of Worlds Apart, written/directed by Christopher Papakaliatis, and starring J.K. Simmons, spoke to SEEfest about the movie and her producing career in Los Angeles.

SEEfest: Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in the film industry?

Dorothea: I was born in Athens, Greece. I was raised in an artistic environment as my mom is an art dealer, and my dad is a landscaper. I have an eye for art and I like to support artists and their vision. So, that’s how I got involved in the world of cinema.

SEEfest: What brought you to Los Angeles?

Dorothea: I always wanted to come here; it’s the mecca of the film industry. I studied Media Arts at the Royal Holloway University of London, and then I took my masters degree at the University of Southern California, specifically at the Peter Stark Producing Program. During that time, I worked as an intern for Alexander Payne’s production company. I was doing development work for them and I fell in love with development. Afterwards, I moved to 20th Century Fox Studios as the executive assistant to the Chairman & CEO of the studio.

SEEfest: When do you know a script is ready to produce?

Dorothea: Well I don’t, (is my) straightforward answer (she laughs). When the story is there then it’s ready to go out. Story is the king. A script is not producible when it’s not contained.

SEEfest: What is your process of getting the script produced?

Dorothea: The starting point and most important element is the team. Entering the production process is like entering a marriage, but instead of one person, there are a lot of people you need to “get in bed with”. You should set your boundaries, balance and trust your team. So the process is getting your project together and then you take it from there, the journey begins.

SEEfest: What first attracted you while reading the script for Worlds Apart?

Dorothea: I loved it immediately. I love how the three different stories/worlds, seemingly unrelated, weaved together and intertwined to connect in the end, creating this great narrative about love, politics, and everything human.

SEEfest: How did you get in touch with J.K. Simmons?

Dorothea: I had attached the senior producer Chris Papavasiliou based in New York to Worlds Apart. He knew J.K.’s manager, Stephen Hirsch, and he sent him the script. J.K. has just completed Whiplash (big hit at Sundance). He read the script and loved it. “That’s the role I was looking for, a romantic character who appeals to an older demographic” he said. So he was in, just like that.

SEEfest: What was his stand as American towards the social economic turmoil in Southeast Europe?

Dorothea: From his interviews and what we’ve talked about, I know J. K. is a very sensitive person. He is concerned about the situation and how it creeps up and affects his country and other countries around the world.

SEEfest: Was it easy to release the film in the United States?

Dorothea: It was a challenge at first. Of course, J.K.’s role was vital. That made things easier, but nonetheless it is a foreign language film in a foreign country. The journey is never easy for such movies, but we were very lucky and found a distributor here, Cinema Libre. Cinema Libre brought it over from Europe, what we called ‘Platform Release’. We went from city to city – from New York, where the film was very well received and played for multiple weeks, to Hollywood, then to Chicago, and the journey continues. We do it city-by-city, country-by-country, step-by-step.

SEEfest: How was the American audience’s reaction at Arclight Hollywood screening?

Dorothea: Actually, they were ecstatic about it. I was very impressed and proud to see how in Q&A’s they were asking questions, and they were saying how much they loved it, and how they fell in love with the characters. As a matter of fact, we had this really funny lady who raised the hand during the Q&A and she said: “ You know what, I brought my first time date here and we kissed during the movie. Thank you for that”. That was very touching and exactly the effect you want to have as a storyteller.

SEEfest: We get noticed because of our successes, but we create them on the back of our failures. What failures (of your own) have you been able to learn from? How did they change you and your process?

Dorothea: The only “failure” career-wise that I can think of was my time in a production company when I worked under a very unhealthy environment, but I don’t want to consider it a failure. I learned a lot of things such as how to stand up for myself and when it is time to walk away. Right after, I found my first Creative Executive job at Hyperion Media, which was a great experience, and after that I went back on set to work as the Talent Supervisor for a show with Peter Stormare and Keanu Reeves called Swedish Dicks. So, I’d say it was a failure turned to success.

SEEfest: Are you on social media and do you use it in your work? Why or why not?

Dorothea: Social media is very important nowadays, but I’m not obsessed with it. My life is not revolving around it. However, I do recognize how important it is to promoting your work, getting things out to the world. People use it every three seconds, if not more often. It’s the best and cheapest way to get yourself out (there) or your work or whatever it is you do.

SEEfest: What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary?

Dorothea: I have not been very well acquainted with the film festivals. I have submitted short films and obviously our feature Worlds Apart to multiple festivals around the world. They are very important especially for younger filmmakers to get their work out there, to get noticed, to network, and get introduced to key people who can help them with their career. A lot of careers have been made through film festivals. They are definitely an important vehicle. I’m happy to attend as many as I can because I can see works of people that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to.

SEEfest: What do audiences want nowadays?

Dorothea: This is the one million dollar question, isn’t it? I don’t know what exactly they want at all times. I know they want a good story. They want to relate to the characters, to follow their journey, to fall in love, to escape, to get heartbroken the same way the characters do on screen.

SEEfest: If there is one or more things you think would make the film industry better, what would it be?

Dorothea: It definitely needs more diverse stories and voices. People want to know about unique stories.

SEEfest: We are all here presumably because we love cinema. How did your love for movies get sparked and what can we, as a Southeast European community, do to help others discover a similar pleasure?

Dorothea: My love for movies started when I was a little girl. I always loved spectacle. Everything was related to cinema. I knew I didn’t have a natural talent for directing, and I was never interested in it either. But I believe I am good enough to detect talent and good story, and help the person who has a vision to bring it to fruition. My role is completely supportive and completely accommodating.

The role of SEEfest is very important because it bridges the gap between Southeast Europe and here, an ocean apart. I think as European filmmakers we are sitting in a goldmine of ideas. We can educate with our history, as well entertain with our personal stories from our cultural background.

SEEfest: Do you have a project in the works right now? Would you share some details about it?

Dorothea: As a producer, I always have projects in the works. I read a massive amount of screenplays, stories, decks, and presentations. So, 50% of these are projects that interest me. I do have a few projects but they are still in very early stages. In a couple of months, I’ll be able to talk more about them.

SEEfest: What words of wisdom would you share with a filmmaker just starting out?

Dorothea: The only thing that I have to tell them is: listen, be aware, write your own story, and make it as unique as possible. Make it yours.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Anna Spyrou is an award winning writer-director passionate about storytelling and living in Los Angeles. She has been involved with SEEfest social media team since 2016.

Interview with Greek-American Evan Spiliotopoulos, writer of the 2017 remake of the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

By Anna Spyrou

Los Angeles, July 2017 

Greek-American Evan Spiliotopoulos, screenwriter of the 2017 live action remake of Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon and starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, spoke to SEEfest about the Disney hit movie and his writing career in Los Angeles.

SEEfest: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in screenwriting.

Evan: I always wanted to be a writer and I always loved movies, so screenwriting was the natural combination. Growing up in Greece, I would write short stories and watch every movie I could get my hands on. When I finished high school, I attended the university of Delaware and then American University in DC where I got a degree in screenwriting. 

SEEfest: What brought you to Los Angeles?

Evan: Greece has no competitive film industry and certainly no structure in place to cultivate screenwriting. Since I wanted to specifically be a screenwriter, my best option was to come to Los Angeles. For theater and some television, it’s New York. But for film and the rest of TV production, it is L.A. The move was intimidating since I didn’t know a soul, but I had won a few writing awards in festivals and had built a portfolio. So, in 1995 I made the trek to California. I was fortunate enough to very quickly get a job writing for the Sci-Fi Chanel, which launched me. 

SEEfest: When do you know an idea is worth writing, and what is your process of getting it there? 

Evan: If there is a great conflict, an interesting plot and a unique angle into a story – and if it is cinematic – it’s worth pursuing. My process consists of writing a paragraph of bios for the main characters to get to know them, then laying out the screenplay in a beat sheet. Usually I can see plot holes and structural flaws in an outline before I start writing. With this prep, a first draft takes me around three weeks. 

SEEfest: How was your experience working on Beauty and the Beast with such a star-studded cast?     

Evan: Fantastic. As thrilled as I was with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, it was being associated with the incredible supporting actors like Kevin Kline and Ian McKellen and literally everyone else that blew me away. It also made me feel very confident that with people of that caliber, the script and dialogue would sound golden. 

SEEfest: Had you worked with Stephen Chbosky before? How did that writing partnership work?

Evan: I had not, but I loved his work in Perks of Being A Wallflower, which he also directed. We actually did not write Beauty together. But our work, and director Bill Condon’s contributions, overlaps throughout the film. 

SEEfest: We get noticed because of our successes, but we create them on the back of our failures. What failures (of your own) have you been able to learn from? How did they change you and your process?

Evan: In film, failure is married to success. Getting a script produced and made into a movie is a success unless the film fails at the box office, in which case the entire experience is perceived as a failure. The catch with applying what I have learned in a bad experience is that there’s very little I can do to avoid it next time. Once the script is done, there are a thousand things that can go wrong that the writer has no control over. That’s why films like Beauty are a bit of a miracle. 

SEEfest: Are you on social media and do you use it in your work? Why or why not?    

Evan: Not really. I have yet to engage with Instagram and Twitter. Other writers have had bad experiences with social media where strangers will pop up out of the blue and try to push scripts on them. It’s happened a couple of times to me. So my social media presence is sparse. 

SEEfest: We are all here because we LOVE cinema. How did your love for movies get sparked and what can we, as a Southeast European community, do to help others discover a similar pleasure?

Evan: As the story goes, my parents took me to see an Asterix and Obelix cartoon when I was three. I stayed absolutely silent during the film and started crying when it was over because I wanted more. That was my addict’s moment.  As far as what Greece can do, well I think people have plenty of
opportunity to discover a love for cinema without help. There are theaters and DVD stores all over the place, plus Greece unfortunately has a big piracy problem. So the real question is how to cultivate film production and how to encourage foreign films to shoot in our country. Local film production explodes when both the state and independent producers have a lot of money to invest in films. The way they get a lot of money is by doing everything possible to attract foreign films and get them to spend cash in Greece. Since every consecutive Greek government regardless of political leaning has ignored or discouraged foreign film production, we will not be making a ton of movies in Greece and the success of our filmmakers overseas will be confined to rare examples. 

SEEfest: Do you have a project in the works right now? Would you share some details about it?    

Evan: I do have a science fiction thriller that seems to be in a good place. But the plot, as they say, is under wraps. 

SEEfest: What words of wisdom would you share with an aspiring writer?    

Evan: To quote Ray Bradbury: “Writers write”. Every day. Without fail. If it’s one page or ten, write. 

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Anna Spyrou is an award winning writer-director passionate about storytelling and living in Los Angeles. She has been involved with SEEfest social media team since 2016.

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57th Annual Thessaloniki Film Festival Begins This Week

SEEfest Staff Writer | November 1, 2016, 4:06 PM

 

This week kicks off the 57th Annual Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece. The festival is held at the Olympion Theater- a magnificent piece of architecture which was built in the 1920’s and sits in the center of the city. Every year hundreds of films are shown at the festival, and this year introduces new program sections and welcomes three films of the Official Competition of the European Parliament’s Lux Prize.

It’s a special festival that’s consistently celebrated much talent over the years. Among this talent is Dimitri Kerkinos who has been showcasing Balkan cinema for years, and consistently brings selections of the SEE region’s finest films to the TIFF audience.

Below, you will find info from TIFF on the Balkan Survey program:

 

BALKAN SURVEY

For 23 years the Thessaloniki International Film Festival’s Balkan Survey section, curated by Dimitri Kerkinos, has been showcasing the best samples of the Balkan area’s film production. A variety of film genres and styles coupled with a genuinely engaging approach of contemporary issues describe this year’s Balkan offerings. The 57th TIFF Balkan Survey also celebrates the work of Turkish auteur Zeki Demirkubuz by presenting -for the first time internationally- a full retrospective of his films. The filmmaker will be in Thessaloniki to introduce his work to the Festival’s audience.

 

Directors in attendance also include Cristi Puiu (Romania), Paul Negoescu (Romania), Reha Erdem (Turkey), Bariş Kaya (Turkey), Faton Bajraktari(UNMI Kosovo), Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu (Moldavia) and Petar Valchanov (Bulgaria), whose new films will also be screened in the 57th TIFF.

 

Zeki Demirkubuz Tribute


Sometimes I think that if it wasn’t for jail, I would not be a filmmaker.” -Zeki Demirkubuz

 

Pioneer of the new Turkish independent cinema Zeki Demirkubuz was born in Isparta, Turkey, in 1964. Following the 1980 military coup, his left-wing beliefs led him to prison for three years, at age 17. It was there that he found inspiration in the work of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and went on to create film characters born and bred in the Turkish society. Demirkubuz’s cinema is deeply existential and contemplative; it elegantly reflects class and sex discriminations with exceptional realism and sensitivity. His films are a multi-faceted examination of both the Turkish society and the human psyche.

 

Demirkubuz began his film career as assistant director to Zeki Ökten in 1986, and worked as such for various filmmakers until making his feature film debut Block C (1994), about a middle-class housewife struggling to escape from her boring life and society’s conflicting expectations of the role of women. The film established Demirkubuz’s style and themes. After this, he continued to work as an independent filmmaker writing his own original screenplays.

 

His second feature Innocence (1997) –a complex study of love, loss and human obsessions-, drew the attention of film critics and international audiences and redefined the melodrama genre, becoming also one of the most influential films in new Turkish cinema. The Third Page (1999) is a film about fate and moral dilemmas that evokes Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, featuring another handful of the director’s trademark marginalized characters. Demirkubuz’s “Tales of Darkness” trilogy masterfully explores guilt, morality and freedom in three riveting films: Fate (2001) –loosely based on Camus’ “The Stranger”-, Confession (2001) and The Waiting Room (2003), which features the director as protagonist. Destiny (2006) traces the characters of Innocence in their youth, introducing us to the chronicle of an unrequited love, where desire haunts everyone’s fate. The intense period drama Envy (2009) captures the darkest side of human emotions, unfolding a tale of beauty and ugliness, jealousy and lust. Inside (2012), a free adaptation of Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground”, also delves into the abyss of the soul, focusing on a self-destructive man driven by hatred and revenge. Nausea (2015) is a character study of another disturbing male personality; an emotionless man (played by Demirkubuz himself) who loses his family and surrenders to apathy and meaningless affairs.

 

The director’s latest film Ember (2016) is another thorough, slow burning examination about a society trapped in the past, confirming once more why Demirkubuz is established as one of the most important filmmakers of the independent European cinema.

 

With the support of the Culture & Tourism Office of the Turkish Embassy in Athens:  

The Balkan Survey Films:

The Balkan Survey main program presents the latest and most notable works by renowned filmmakers of the region, as well as promising newcomers.

Cristi Puiu returns with Sieranevada (Romania’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film) and zooms in a family that reunites to honour their late patriarch in a meal which keeps getting postponed; people and conversations come and go, while secrets and truths emerge unexpectedly in this comedy/drama with surreal hues. Also from Romania, Bogdan Mirica’s gripping debut Dogs (FIPRESCI prize, Un Certain Regard – Cannes Film Festival) is a violent western about the story of a man who inherits his grandfather’s land in the countryside; soon he will brutally confront the local mafia, whose lord was his deceased relative. Set in 1937, in a sanatorium on the Black Sea coast, Radu Jude’s latest film Scarred Hearts -based on the autobiographical novel from Max Blecher-, is an intriguing drama about a young man suffering from bone tuberculosis; he quickly becomes part of the hospital’s microcosm, where friendship, love and politics thrive despite the circumstances. On a lighter tone, Paul Negoescu’s comedy Two Lottery Tickets is an entertaining road movie in which three friends set off on a journey to retrieve their lost lottery ticket.

 

Serbian actress Mirjana Karanović makes her directorial debut with the film A Good Wife, where she also stars as the main character; a woman who is devastated to discover that her husband is involved in horrific war crimes.

Reha Erdem’s modern fairytale Big Big World, filled with both beauty and violence, shares the story of a brother and a sister who flee into a dazzling forest after a crime is committed (Special Jury Prize, Venice Horizons-Venice Film Festival). Mehmet Can Mertoğlu’s first feature Album is an irrational comedy that reflects upon the contemporary Turkish society through the story of a couple who try to conceal that they adopted a child (France 4 Visionary Award, Semaine de la Critique-Cannes Film Festival). In Bariş Kaya and Soner Caner’s bittersweet debut Rauf, a young boy embarks on a journey in search of pink fabric for the girl he loves, facing the hardships of the adult world, amidst a turbulent socio-political situation.

 

An honest man becomes the pawn of a PR plan organized and executed by the government, in Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s Glory; a poignant, tragicomic  satire about politics and corruption.

 

Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu’s Anishoara observes the life of a teenage girl who falls in love for the first time; an almost silent and truly captivating coming-of-age story, set in the ravishing Moldavian countryside, a place forgotten in time.

 

Two films of the Balkan Survey section delve into the aftermath of the war. In Zrinko Ogresta’s On the Other Side, a traitor who fought for “the other side” reappears and disrupts his family’s balances in this powerful psychological drama with exemplary script and plot twist (Label Europa Cinemas – Special Mention-Berlin Film Festival / Croatia’s official Oscar submission). Faton Bajraktari’s debut film Home Sweet Home points to the absurdity of the post-war society by unfolding the story of a man considered dead in battle; when he suddenly returns to his family, he realizes that their prosperity relies exclusively on his death (UNMI Kosovo’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language film).

 

In addition, the Balkan Survey section of the 57th TIFF will present 5 short films that skilfully tackle with various significant themes, such as the refugees issue (A New Home by Žiga  Virc), gender (Transition by Milica Tomovic) and father-son relations (The Beast by Miroslav Sikavica, The Son by Hristo Simeonov), but also shed a humorous light on modern Balkan living (A Night in Tokoriki by Roxana Stroe).

 

 

 

 


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