Yorgos Zois is a Greek director and producer. His body of work has been acknowledged with various awards and distinctions at festivals worldwide (Venice, Berlinale, Locarno, Rotterdam, Palm Springs, among others). His first short film Casus Belli premiered in Venice in 2010 and traveled in more than one hundred film festivals while in Greece it won the 2011 best short film award from the Greek Film Academy. His second short film, Out of Frame premiered at the 69th Venice Film Festival in 2012 and won the European Film Academy award and several distinctions in more than eighty film festivals for its visual form. His first feature film Interruption made its world wide premiere at the 72th Venice Film Festival in section Orizzonti. The film raised highly acclaimed reviews all around the world about its meta aesthetics and daring narration while praised European directors such as Ruben Ostlund and Roman Gavras have expressed their admiration for the film. In Greece it received nine nominations from the Greek Film Academy it won the best newcomer director award. His latest short film called “8th Continent” had its premiere as a special screening in the 74th Venice Film Festival while Zois was also selected as member of the Official Jury “Best Debut Film – Lion of the Future”.
Q. How do you perceive aesthetics and how do you adjust it in you work?
A: I have my personal way of writing, which I suppose is a result of all these things that have been formed in my mind me all these years. From my observation on exterior factors, personal thoughts and things that I like, for example, positive science, different movements etc. From several film scenes or frames from daily life. In general, aesthetics for me is going along with ethics. I do not believe in collective ethics or collective aesthetics. Everyone has his own personal ethics in which he tries to be consistent with it. But sometimes aesthetics may become unethical. I may like or not like for example the aesthetics on a specific film. This is a matter of taste. My problem is on creators that act with cunning trying for example to emotionally ‘blackmail’ the audience or educate the audience to notice a film with a specific way. I personally choose a more distant and more cerebral way to express on my films. For example, on my feature film ‘interruption’ a viewer would reject it if the effort to try and understand is not a way he is used to watch films. So, this ‘mainstream’ way of watching films I believe is damaging our cinematic consciousness. I am not against the mainstream cinema, I just believe that a film should be more than an emotionally driven factor. On the other hand, when I am watching arthouse films, I may find them more cunning. It’s sometimes like an effort to create a show reel as a way to be noticed by Hollywood for example. Films with no soul or substance.
Q: What does cinematic time mean to you and how do you manage it?
Look, cinematic time in every film i make depends on the subject itself. I can’t get a book and analyze what ‘cinematic time’ means. The rhythm, which for me cinema is a rhythm in a similar way that math or music have a rhythm, is totally depending on the essence of the film that I make.
Q: Is there a specific camera move or placement that you prefer and for what reasons?
If i move the camera, i should have a reason to do so. Every director in my opinion does that. I really like still camera because I can choose what is left outside the frame, when the actor comes in, what is heard outside the frame etc. The still frame that has a theatrical logic, gives this privilege in contrast with the moving frame that does not provide that essence. But again, it depends. For example, on Interruption, we had a lot of camera movement because I wanted to break this theatrical sense. I also used a lot of close-ups on Interruption in order to break this theatricality. On the contrary, when I am on an exterior place, I like the theatricality of the still camera. Outside, I find myself doing the opposite. Now in my latest film, I used all those combinations. So, everything depends on what am I trying to achieve.
Q: What is your opinion about the Cinema of today? What do you think about its future?
I think ourselves as surfers and you know, when a surfer is carrying a wave, has the feeling of travelling at zero speed. I do not know where this wave will take us. Nowadays there is no such thing as a taboo of the image. You see advertisements that are similar to a film and some films that are similar to advertisements. There are no limits like once did. These limits have long gone. Everything is mixed. You can see a performance that looks like cinema, theater that looks like cinema or the opposite. This osmosis of the arts is somewhere in the future. And all these films that are a hybrid of all these really amaze us by proposing something new. This is our future. I have seen some theatrical plays from abroad that surprised me but it’s been a long time since I have seen something similar on the cinema. The ‘act of killing’ is a film that surprised me a lot and I totally agree with Herzog that films like that are being produced once in every 50 or 100 years. I believe that cinema should question reality by including it in a way. This is something that is I think going to continue. And of course, there is always a commercial direction on cinema that feeds millions of people.
Q: What is cinema for you?
Cinema for me, firstly is the way I have chosen to live. At least for now. Secondly is a weapon. A weapon that you can point in many directions at the same time. You can shoot and no one would even notice, you can act like a sniper and shoot on a specific target. Deep down I feel that this weapon is something that you do not have many chances to use in your life. So, it is good to choose when, how and where you do so. Every film is a battle. A battle with yourself, with the production of the film, with the audience and a battle to transport a message. And a battle like this a lot of times has many casualties. For every film that advances, there are 5000 others that fade away. If you ask me, there should be a monument devoted to those fallen artists (laughing) that didn’t make it. I think that art is something that I suppose in a future society should have conquered some things. Everyone should be an artist in relation to creation. Even for ourselves as artists-directors making stories for others seems very retrograde to me. We are all acting and directing our lives in a way every day. We all lie in order to survive. We lie to ourselves, to our partners, to our bosses etc. Some do it better than others. We will always need directors and actors as it is a vital request that creation shouldn’t be something different than life.
Q: Based on the crisis of our times, worldwide, how do you think cinema can influence things?
There is a more general question on this. Can art influence the world? Cinema can be used from those in power as a means to entertain or as a blowing agent but it can also can be used as a way to educate people. When I was a small kid filled with all this anger from the world, a film could calm me down for a week. I have been reading a global history book lately and all human history is filled with war, sowing, treaties and at the same time there a lot of flashes of solidarity. But no great work of art made people slaughter each other the next day or in front of it. I was once thinking of a nuclear facility filled with buttons that could explode missiles and on the back, it was filled with great works of art. But if someone pressed these buttons, I don’t think he would care about art at all. It is very creepy actually. Many times, art and especially high art accompanies the most furious and bloodthirsty needs of humanity. At the bottom line, I believe art doesn’t help. If it did, I suppose we would have seen the results.
Q: From imagination to reality. What do you think is the distance and how flexible can it we be while producing a film?
We are all doing compromises every day. The first and biggest compromise is life itself. And especially on the production of a film that can take up to three years, it is a procedure of compromises. Some of them are out of the question, I would even prefer to stop the film. But sometimes, a compromise is not bad at all. There are limitations that can make you squeeze your brains in order to question yourself on the essence of the film itself. Maybe a scene is not required and something else can take its place. So, you start removing. And in art, many times removal is an addition. Many times, in the past, limitations that came up in front of me, in fact liberated me. For me, this is an opportunity for expanding my thoughts as a director. But there are also compromises that can really damage and at that point, I would prefer to stop the film. And there some in between that you accept and adjust in order to keep things happening. And films exist in order to be created, not to stay as thoughts.
Q: How do you work with actors in your films?
I have mostly worked with actors on interruption. On my short film casus belli, even though we had people just waiting in a queue, I have written down 140 characters and together we worked on the actions. I knew that if just ask a person to stand in line, it would be very boring. You have to feel something. On interruption we have worked very improvisationally. On our rehearsals no one knew the script besides the leader of the intruders. Everyone else new the ‘condition’ but not the script. I wanted those actors to feel how it is to step again on the stage for the first time. Like normal people. To revive this feeling after years on working on the theatre. At the same time, I wanted everyone to feel the energy of entering somewhere that no one knows what will happen. Every day the leader of the intruders entered the scene did things that no one else knew. Their thoughts could probably be something like “oh my god, we have a sadist director and who knows that he will do to us today”. So, we had real energy from real people and this is what we wanted to achieve on this film. So, step by step the film was being built and I was watching their reactions. Because when you have 20 actors you can’t describe every action in the script. Life is richer than that. There is a scene that the leading actor commits a suicide. On that scene, no one knew what was about to happen. I simply got the cameras recording. So, in a script when he shoots himself you would have to describe it somehow like “everybody stays frozen”. What happened was very different and real. One screamed, another was frozen, the third one thought that someone else died. A fourth one didn’t even realize what happened until only after a while. All these rich reactions would be missed otherwise. I try to make a condition and place everyone to be in the same frequency so if for example a new intruder would have come in, everyone had to act according to this new factor. This is how a like to build it.
Q: This is something that you like to use or something that served your purpose well for that purpose?
This way served my purpose on that case. On the new film that I am currently making, I have a caging condition of two brothers on a devastated decadence villa that is being occupied by strange noises that we never see. We will get on a similar place with the actors and we will start living on different smaller places of the villa noticing all the reactions. I am very interested in actually experiencing the reality of all this.
Q: How critical the viewer can/should be about on a creator’s imagination?
The viewer always conceives each film in a different way. There are films that leave space for the viewer to get his own conclusions and others that are story-telling wise and drive you through all the way. It is up to the director and the way he chooses to place the viewer on his work. There is a very conservative opinion in our days that says that we should go back to films that are more straightforward and understandable. I personally prefer a film that is on the position to divide or unite, similar to a love or hate situation and permit everyone to create his own personal story rather than a film that attracts the audience for only as long as the film lasts. For example, there are some films that hunt me and I recall them in my daily life after months or even years. These films adjust to my personality and this is enough for me. This is also something that I like to give in my films. Cinema must have a humanistic point of view so it can give the opportunity on everyone for exploration. I find this also a political state on things since we are on the age of the image and we are practically bombarded with images. We are arrogant on different images and information every day and I am wondering on how can we fight this. What we need is a deceleration. It is difficult, but there is no other way to react.
The production of films has also changed dramatically. There is a whole army of people that have a word on a film that it is actually passing through a ‘clinic’. But I do not see a point on that. Who said that a script is sick and it needs a clinic? I have made a short film this summer, a psy-fi, on a deserted airport which was temporarily used as a refugee camp and when everyone left, all their things where left untouched. It was like the whole civilization vanished from one day to the other, Shoes, tents, photographs, everything. 3 archeologists from the future landed there and they are trying to understand what happened. All the set is an historical proof and me and my crew made without the need to deposit our script somewhere to get the ‘ok’. But we made it because there is an emergency situation that must be recorded and there is where I see the way that productions should be made. Outside these models. My last released short film ‘The 8th continent’ is also on the same principal.
Q: Based on your recent participation on Venice Film Festival, how do you judge other creator’s work?
I can’t divide myself. I am also a viewer and a creator at the same time. Of course, i was invited as a creator and this has done me great good. I have seen a lot of films in the row and I had to place my opinion on them. I then realized on how I am going to make my next film. I found out that characters mean more to me than before. I felt that when I failed to follow the characters, I was losing the film’s essence even though I liked the concept. I was also amazed that, even though we were different people from different countries etc. on some films we all felt the same. For example, when a creator was trying to lead us on cheap excitement or when someone else was truly risking or even when the creator was really interested on his subject. It was great that this was obvious on the screen and we all agreed. Even though in the end there was a disagreement on the final choice based on everyone’s different criteria. You know, on the commissions, films that divide, are not the ones that are being chosen. It all comes down to an honest compromise. And in my experience, prizes are being given to more moderate films that everyone can compromise. But there are other films that can achieve exactly the opposite and leave everyone with an open mouth. One good example is the Dogtooth by Lanthimos. Everyone agreed that this was something that they have never seen before and this is it. An exception to the rule was discovered.
Q: As a director, what influences you mostly? (Reality, imagination, past etc)?
Look, I am very intrigued by the reality that I live and especially on a general question on “what is real?”. All things that I do, I consider them as hybrids. For example, in festivals where you have to choose the kind of the film, fiction etc, I always select other. It is a reality, not a documentary, that you describe real life. At the same time when I start to write fiction it seems so fake to me. Basically, it is something in between. Α cinema that you cannot distinct the boundaries between fiction and reality. That works for me. But there is a risk on this. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I prefer to take this risk than make a good film or a good documentary. I am mostly interested in exploring a “no man’s land”.
Q: Can you share with us your plans for the immediate future?
At the moment I am editing the short film a have already mentioned but there is also a more abstract short film that is on my mind. And also, my new feature film that has already gathered some funds and I write it along with Elina Psikou is on pre-production.