There is something captivating in the story of two grieving, estranged brothers that go hunting together with their sons in “All The Fires the Fire”, the latest film by Efthimis Kosemund Sanidis. Born with dual Greek/German nationality in Mitilini/Greece, in 1983, Efthimis Kosemund Sanidis studied Informatics Engineering in Athens and then Contemporary Arts at Le Fresnoy – Studio National in France. His films, blending dreams, memories and reality, have been screened and have won acclaim at more than a hundred film festivals (Venice, Locarno, Clermont-Ferrand a.o.) and art venues (Forum des Images, Centre Pompidou, Haus der Kulturen der Welt a.o.) around the world. He is an alumnus of the Berlinale and Sarajevo Talents.
His debut short film, “II” (2014, 16’), won the Pack & Pitch award at Sarajevo while in development, followed by a world premiere in the Pardi di Domani section of the Locarno Film Festival. It went on to win Best Short Film, Best Direction and Best Cinematography awards in Drama and Athens IFF. He shot his next two films, ‘Odette’ (2015, 16’) and “Unbuilt Light” (2017, 29’), while in residency at Le Fresnoy. “Unbuilt Light”, a farewell over the three last months of a man before his final transformation, consisting of memories, dreams and encounters, won 2nd Best Short Film and Best Cinematography awards in the Athens IFF and the Hellenic Academy Awards. “Astrometal” (2017, 15’), the hallucinatory night out of three young people, was nominated for a Golden Lion in the Orizzonti section of the 74th Venice International Film Festival before continuing its career in film festivals and art venues. His latest short “All the Fires the Fire” (2019, 25’) premiered in Locarno, took home the Special Jury Prize at Clermont-Ferrand ISFF, the Best Actor Award at the Athens IFF and is currently screening in festivals around the world.
As Efthimis Sanidis is developing his first feature film project, “That Burning Light”, which has been selected by the Torino FilmLab FeatureLab program 2020, he was interviewed by Greek News Agenda* on the way he works with the uncanny, evident in his work. He sees his films as rituals where the viewer is gently being taken to a flexible reality. He underlines that he believes in the importance of narration and this is what leads him in a narrative that fluctuates between dream and reality, fiction and documentary.
“All the Fires the Fire” (2019)
“All the Fires the Fire” is a captivating combination of uncanny events in a seemingly realistic background. What drove you to that story?
I wasn’t anywhere close to being ready for another short film and just wanted to focus on my feature project and keep writing. But then, as it often happens, I stumbled upon a hunter when I met the father of my sister’s boyfriend. We were at a village in Lesvos Island for lunch, it was Easter. He proposed to walk me through his collection of guns. He insisted that we shot a few rounds in the sky, “Right now, let’s go!” he said. To my surprise and not long after, the whole village joined in and you could hear shooting everywhere. I got to hear a few trigger-happy stories that day. Next one, I wrote an outline, I couldn’t help it. We shot the film six months later. This is how it began. As for the feeling you describe, I have always been interested in creating an everyday mood, banal even, and then gradually impregnating that world with small cracks on its realistic texture. I think that this introductory familiarity is what prepares the viewer and allows the acceptance of these transcendental incidents or clues subconsciously, a lot easier and at a deeper level, than if I was to pronounce this uncanniness from the start. In that way, I see my films as rituals where the viewer is slowly and gently being taken to a place where reality is a lot more flexible than what the diminishing Cartesian logic of our culture has assumed. The exact reverse process of baptism in a way, trying to go back, not in time but to a purer place; kind of a romantic idea, I know. It’s not just what we can see and name and explain and calculate. The human experience is a lot richer than that. These are my intentions but I’ m not sure about any of it at the moment. It’s a process and I’ m trying to figure it out myself. Or maybe I shouldn’t even figure it out and try and go with my flow, whatever that is.
“All The Fires The Fire” (2019)
Homo homini lupus (Man is a wolf to another man): there is something unbearable in the human relations in “All the Fires the Fire”. Alienation and toxic masculinity are core elements in this film. Would you like to elaborate?
Others are all we’ve got and human relations are what moves us, but, at the same time, they are also unbearable. I don’t think it is just my film. Hell is other people, that’s Sartre, no? Look at the history of the world, the time sample is quite large. We’ve been destroying what we’ve been building all along. It’s a Sisyphean act. This seems to be the output of our patriarchal societies. An everlasting expansion and aggression against nature, which is us – I object to the word “environment”, a movement of self-destruction. This was exactly what initially drove me into doing the film, hunters nurturing birds during the year and then gradually releasing them before the hunting period. This cycle along with the setting of men on a mountain detached from any societal bond or reference was -and still is- fascinating to me. I have no idea what would happen in a women-led society or civilization and whether or not this toxic masculinity that you describe is inherent to us or a man-made product. There have been counterexamples, in some Native American communities for instance. But I only know this through books. This is another symptom of our era. We could now maybe appreciate alternative society paradigms, but there is practically none left to experience anymore. It’s a very sad thought.
Nikos Georgakis and Dimitris Xanthopoulos in “All The Fires The Fire” (2019)
The hatred between brothers is common both in the Bible and folk tradition. How do you incorporate this element in your cinematic text?
What you say somewhat validates my previous train of thought. It seems that this violence has an atavistic character, that it keeps reappearing. I find that the study of literature, the bible, folk songs etc., can be more revelling than history. In the Christian world, we are all brothers and the story of Abel and Cain was at the back of my mind as I was writing my script. This is the intention I had with incorporating and suggesting different generations, the dead father, the two brothers and their boys as well as the reappearance of the incident narrated by the opening text, in the middle of the film. A never-ending circle of aggression, a never-ending circle of fire.
Mihalis Sarandis in “Astrometal” (2017)
The fluidity between dream and reality is a recurring issue in your films, especially “Unbuilt Light” and “Astrometal”. What attracts you in this fluid narration?
As I said earlier, reality for me is an expanded world that includes dreams, memories and fantasies, both mine and collective ones. We speak of reality and objectivity but what does it mean really? How can we define it? Where is it? It is not written on stone or presented to us by the Gods. It is a social contract. But, for myself, every aspect of human experience is filtered through me. The only thing that has been proven by philosophy, psychoanalysis or science, if anything, is that everything is a narrative. Which is good, but then I would not talk of reality but rather of what seems real. There is a nice word to describe this in Greek, ‘αληθοφάνεια’. Plausibility, verisimilitude, these maybe come close. And for me, that’s enough.
Aggelos Skasilas in “Unbuilt Light” (2017)
Part of your films “All the Fires the Fire” and “Unbuilt Light” is shot in a documentary style. Why is that?
I don’t differentiate between documentary and fiction. And I definitely don’t bother with maintaining a certain style. I get bored easily and try to play around with each different project. Again, all is narration. In practice, of course, every film is different but, I think this is a matter of control, of the balance of control one has and maintains while creating a film. There is for sure some driving force needed to set up a film but how much, is a matter of preference. With each film I make, I find a different balance and a different sensitivity at each part of the production. I have a long way to go to get to my intentions. But each film I make is a stepping stone and I have learnt a lot from my last one. I would definitely do it differently now. I think I have to let go even more, in some aspects. The camera is a very powerful storytelling tool and it captures such complexity every single time. There is so much going on, the faces, the eyes and gestures of the people and the animals inside the frames, the light, the movement of the camera. I want to be more elaborate and thorough in my writing and at times looser while shooting, only to take over again as much as I can in post-production. But every time someone describes my films as something close to a documentary, it makes me smile as I feel like the film has managed to get under their skin. They ask me how much of it was real, how much of it was made-up, they ask to read my scripts. What do you think? If I had to describe my films, neo-realism would describe part of it, and I share a lot of its methods and beliefs but there is more than that.
“All the Fires the Fire” (2019)
Your next stop is your first feature, “That Burning Light”. Would you like to say a few things about that?
The story goes something like this: Ilias, a young man with a debt on his shoulders, crosses the sea hoping to claim the will of his long-estranged father, a doctor. But, instead of resolving his debt, he meets a woman, and while a series of inexplicable illnesses spread, love grows. Essentially, it’ s a love story at the end of the world. It’ s a project I am very excited about. First about the story and the script itself and then also because I feel it will be, in terms of adventure, the wildest I have experienced so far. I am surrounded by people that, through our previous work together, are above all friends and then partners, Elizampetta Ilia Georgiadou, Christos Voudouris and Yorgos Tsourgiannis, to name a few of the family, and can’ t wait to venture into this together with them. At the same time, it is difficult and tedious with the way things usually go in Greece, the time a project needs to take off. But happily, I haven’t lost my focus and inner burn. “That Burning Light” is in a good place now and has been chosen to participate at the TorinoFilmLab FeatureLab 2020 which starts in less than a month. But there is still a lot of work to be done and I’ m looking forward to it.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi