Every stage of the film’s development is slow and demands hard work on a daily basis. On the other hand, it is a remarkable process of personal growth. Every day you learn something new, everyday you get closer to a goal you have set

Dimitris Gkotsis

Every minute you spend on a film’s set is precious

Text: Yorgos Papadimitriou
Dimitris Gkotsis

Dimitris Gkotsis was born in Athens in 1987 and studied Film & Broadcast Media in Derby, UK. Since as early as 2009 he has been working as a director, namely shooting TV commercials, while in 2012 the short film Hidden Life marked his debut in cinema. In 2015, his sophomore film Spectrum was screened in Drama and went on to travel in many international festivals, winning a Special Mention in Interfilm-Berlin International Short Film Festival. Four years later, Gotsis shifted to the documentary genre and the outcome was nothing less than impressive. His short film Fourth Wall (2019) was the recipient of the Iris Award for Best Short Documentary bestowed by the Hellenic Film Academy, also snatching the audience award both in Tokyo’s ShortShorts Film Festival and Berlin’s Interfilm. Dimitris is currently moving on a double axis: the short film Pendulus, screened at the 45th Drama International Short Film Festival, and the full-length documentary Sunken, already awarded (as an ongoing project) at the 24th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival’s Thessaloniki Pitching Forum section. Before going any further, let’s find out what triggered Dimitris’ passion for cinema in his childhood years.

“Right under the house of my childhood years there was a cinema, where I used to spend all my afternoons, watching the films from the little window in the projector’s room. I can still remember the courier guy arriving in his minibike during the intermission to deliver the reel with the second part of the film, while Mr. Lambros was giving me a hint as to how the projector works. A few years later, as a highschool student, I was fortunate enough to have an inspiring applied arts teacher, Ms. Nina Pappa, with whom we had endless talks on the fundamental importance of the archive and the creative use of video. The turning point came just before finishing highschool, when I watched a VHS tape of the French film La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz. Ι ended up watching the film three times in the course of one single night. The film’s universe consolidated everything that seemed important to me at the time. The next morning, I started my quest as to how movies are made.”

Dimitris Gkotsis, like many other Greek directors who have just made their first directorial steps, is forced to cope with the difficult (and quite often distressing) transition from short films to full-length productions. How does he deal with this important and demanding change of scale? “It was my turn to experience this ‘rite of passage’ over the last years, while working on Sunken, my first full-project. The greatest challenge in this time-consuming process lies in the patience and the resilience the entire crew needs to display, as every stage of the film’s development is slow and demands hard work on a daily basis. On the other hand, it is a remarkable process of personal growth. Every day you learn something new, everyday you get closer to a goal you have set. Apart from a handful of exceptions, I don’t think it’s possible for a young Greek filmmaker to make a living just by shooting films. To speak for myself, I feel lucky to earn a living as a director of TV commercials and documentaries, combining a paid work with an edifying experience. As Roger Deakins had once said, every minute you spend on set is precious.”

Social turmoil and urban alienation issues take center stage in Gkotsis’ films, while the political hue is omnipresent. In his latest short film, the notion of identity and the psychological restraints imposed by origin and roots can be found at the core of the story. Here’s what he has to say about Pendulus: “I draw inspiration for the film’s main character from a childhood pal, the ‘real’ Arby, who came to Greece from Albania at the age of six. Being a close friend of his for many years, I witnessed first-hand all the burning issues tackled by the movie, long before even thinking of shooting Pendulus. Second-generation immigrants feel like a “pendulum” swinging between two homelands. On one hand, their country of origin, which they barely know, mostly through their relatives’ stories. On the other hand, the country where they live, grow up, forge bonds, but never cease to be labeled as ‘foreigners’. I was always impressed by the techniques employed by Arby in order for him to dribble many of the multileveled everyday problems generated by the barriers of identity; problems that often vexed and annoyed me. Many times, the whole acceptance question borders on the irrational. On the night of the 14th October 2014, right after the interruption of the football match Serbia vs. Albania, the events that took place in the stadium triggered grave nationalist-driven riots. On that very day, I remember Arby being forced to choose where he belongs.”

Having a stint in both documentary and fiction, he’s more than suitable to lay out the creative, structural and aesthetic differences between the two genres, which tend to converge more and more in the contemporary cinema landscape. “It is safe to say that a documentary revolves around a different creative process. Nevertheless, the distance between the two genres is growing smaller. Many festivals dare to include both documentaries and fiction films in their competition sections, while many films blend narrative elements from both genres. In Pendulus, for example, there’s use of archival footage. While shooting my previous short film (Fourth Wall), I found myself intrigued by the genre of documentary. At the end of the day, every choice has to do with the way you feel best fitting to the story you wish to unfold.

One of the hardest challenges every young Greek filmmaker is faced up against, even the ones who excel in international festivals, is the long and winding road that leads to movie theaters. Dimitris Gkotsis breaks down the causes of a multifaceted problem, as well as the breakthroughs offered nowadays by digital platforms. “The audience used to be prejudiced against Greek films, which is no longer the case. The numerous festival prizes and distinctions (especially when it comes to short films) emphatically corroborate the high level of contemporary Greek cinema. The root of the problem can be traced in the distribution of Greek films, as even in the ones that do find their way to cinemas, are not likely to last for more than a week, usually screened at very specific arthouse venues. Platforms, as an alternative means of distribution, allow Greek movies to continue their journey. It is crucial for the audience to have access to films that they did not have the time or the chance to watch in movie theaters. All things considered, though, the response and the positive vibe towards Greek films over the last years is highly encouraging.”