The Owls (Greece | 2016, 10 min)
Directed by: Natalia Bougadellis
The eldest son is suddenly required to bring food to the table, as both his parents find themselves unemployed and adopt a rather passive stance to life. The son turns to prostitution to make ends meet, which eventually results in the disbandment of the family. The father is a traditional, homophobic middle-aged man who day-in and day-out tries to drink his sorrows away. The mother is rendered passive and ceases to question her surroundings, whilst the little brother is too young to understand what exactly is happening and how his family earns a living.
Interview:Natalia Bougadellis is a Greek-born director and cinematographer currently based out of New York. She studied Film and Television at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she completed her short film ‘The Owls’ to be screened as a part of the Shorts section in the 2017 NYC Independent Film Festival.
NYCIFF: Hi, Natalia! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us. ‘The Owls’ tells the story of a middle class family in Greece during its financial crisis. Specifically it centers on the relationship between Paris (a young drag queen), who has sex for money to help support his family, and his abusive, homophobic father. Was there something that made you originally want to tell this story?
NB: As a queer woman, I have always been interested in stories inspired by the LGBTQ community. As a Greek filmmaker, it is natural to be attracted to narratives concerning the current economic situation in my home country. Combining those two aspects, I came up with this story.
NYCIFF: Manos Protopapas, who plays Paris, and Yannis Kokiasmenos, who plays his father, both give knockout performances. How did you find them?
NB: I could not have asked for better actors to portray those characters. Manos and I are from the same island in Greece, Lemnos. We met there some summers ago and became friends. I knew he was studying acting at the same time that I was studying filmmaking. When I got the script, I thought it would be a great opportunity for us to collaborate and work together, marking Manos’ film debut. On the other hand, Yannis Kokiasmenos is a veteran actor in the Greek film industry. He acts in my all time favorite movie, A Woman’s Way (Strella). Although I did not know him prior to the shoot, I got him the script through the help of some mutual friends just a few days before the beginning of production. He called me, and he said he would love to do it. You cannot imagine how excited I was when I heard the news: the actor from my favorite film would act in my first short film.
NYCIFF: The film seems to be mostly shot in Greece. Did you already have a preexisting network of crewmembers there? What was the biggest problem you ran into?
NB: Yes, the film is exclusively shot in Athens, Greece. As an eighteen-year-old filmmaker and a sophomore at New York University at the time, I did not have any preexisting network of filmmakers and crew members in Greece. Therefore, my crew was extremely small. I trained some family members to hold different positions in the crew while three of my friends from college flew to Greece for the shoot and held more technical positions, such as Gaffer, Key Grip, and First AC. Considering this, however, shooting went quite smoothly. I would say the biggest “problem” in every film is securing the funding. We rented equipment from Greek rental houses, and the collaboration was impeccable. I had never worked with them before, and they gave us generous discounts as I was only eighteen. They seemed to appreciate that.
NYCIFF: The film opens with a beautiful vertical tracking shot of Paris’s father stumbling drunk down a city street. Can you talk a little about the logistics of what was involved in the setup?
NB: The film opens and closes with an almost identical shot but in reverse. The audience “lands” in the story of this family and at the end we “take off,” going back to our lives and troubles. In the opening shot, the camera starts on the Acropolis - the emblem of Athens. On the final shot, the frame cuts before the camera reaches the Acropolis. In Athens, there is a saying that when you walk in the streets and look up to see the Acropolis, you feel at home and safe. Once you wander on the streets - where you can’t even get a glimpse of this monument - there’s an unsettling feeling. As far as the technical side of this set up goes, we had the Arri Alexa XT on a jib crane. We got a permit to close down one side of the sidewalk as long as we did not block the traffic. We also had a generator to power the lights we used in the setup.
NYCIFF: The family dynamic portrayed by the cast seems incredibly natural. How were you able to get them to feel like a real family?
NB: As with any micro budget short film, we did not have any rehearsal time. I was only able to rehearse the scenes with the actors before each shot. Also the choice of framing and coverage is very limited and tight. This doesn’t allow breathing space between the characters, bringing them closer together. Aside from these creative choices, the cast, thankfully, had great chemistry. I suppose I was lucky.
NYCIFF: Thanks again for speaking with us, Natalia! We can’t wait to screen ‘The Owls’ as a part of this year’s festival!