There are some moments in your life that awaken your imagination. I believe that films should serve as archives of those moments

Yorgos Goussis

The magnetic field of the human condition

Text: Yiorgos Papadimitriou
Yorgos Gousis

Yorgos Goussis is the typical case of a pure and multifaceted talent that excels in everything that he lays his hands on. His impressive course as a graphic novel artist kicked off while showcasing his work in the much revered comic magazines 9 and Galera (Galley), before taking a more concrete form in the publication Tales from Innocent Times (2011). In 2016, Goussis teamed up with writers Dimosthenis Papamarkos and Yiannis Rangos for the graphic novel Erotokritos, which immerses the titular work of Vincenzo Cornaro into the comic world. In 2019, he joined forces with Panagiotis Pantazis and Georgia Zahari for the comic book Festival, commissioned by Thessaloniki International Film Festival, on the occasion of its 60th anniversary. In 2020, he released the graphic novel Bandits, the Life and Death of Yannis and Thymios Dovas (co-written by Yannis Rangos), unfolding a story inspired by the criminal activity of the Retzos brothers, in the early 20th-century Epirus.

In the meanwhile, Goussis had already taken an ambitious and daring step in his career, entering the world of cinema. His short film The Am Wrestler (2019) was awarded at the Opening Nights Festival and snapped the Best Documentary Short Award of the Hellenic Film Academy. Yorgos Goussis has embarked on a two-fold journey by interweaving and absorbing elements and techniques from both art fields. This blend has been consolidated over the years, as the directorial glance of Goussis, regarding many of the structural pieces of a film construction (frame, shot angles, découpage, sharp dialogue), seems to have embodied the positive aspects of his 9th art stint. How does he experience this dual identity as an artist? Will these two aspects continue to coexist or one of the two will eventually take the upper hand?

“I feel that these two art fields share a common goal: how to unfold a story and immerse the viewers/readers into a world, allow them to roam freely and hold on to anything they wish to at the end of the road. Sometimes, you sketch or write your way through it, other times you resort to sound and other people. It goes without saying, though, that my contact with the notion of narrative through my work as a comic artist helped me not to get cold feet in my first movie, as many of the problems you are faced up against spring from the same root. Needless to say that if I had shot films ever since I was 18 years old, I would have gained a similar experience. The way I see it, if someone can grasp the rules and the function of narrative, adapting to another medium is primarily a matter of will and perseverance. For the time being, I cannot say that I’m through with comics and graphic novels, as I can find time for both activities.”

In 2022, at the 62nd Thessaloniki Film Festival, his full-length feature debut, Magnetic Fields, caused a stir and instantly became the Festival’s talk of town, leaving a wake of praises and enthusiastic reviews. The final wrap up was nothing short of deafening: 6 awards, among which the >>Film Forward Golden Alexander, as well as the Best Greek Film Award bestowed by both the International Federation of Critics (FIPRESCI) and the Greek Association of Film Critics (PEKK). How prepared was he for such a triumphant debut? “We were totally clueless, as we had no prior contact with any festival audience. It came as a shock to us and I’m still uncertain as to how it will affect my future endeavors. I imagine it will be similar to the way meeting new people works. If you grow fond of a person, if you are intrigued by someone, it becomes easier for you to offer your support and help, to develop a positive disposition, or to have an open ear. If you dislike a person, it’s the opposite.”

Magnetic Fields will be officially unveiled to the audience, as the movie is scheduled to hit the open-air theaters on May 19th, distributed by Cinobo. What are his thoughts on the movie’s upcoming premiere? Is he anxious to see the festival sensation turn into a box-office hit? “We are definitely anxious to see the film hit the movie theaters, as we wish to see its interaction with the audience, in a broader context. In my view, only a truly good film can make the transition from a festival favorite to a box-office hit. On the other hand, one can trace many films deemed classic nowadays that went by unnoticed by both the audience and the critics (The Big Lebowski is such an example). Time and the audience are the ultimate judges for any film and filmmakers are completely powerless against these two factors. Success and failure are part of the evolution process. They may be traps disguised as gifts or the other way round.”

The only sure thing is that Goussis’s movie deserves every inch of the spotlight it receives. A low-budget film equipped with a giant heart, oozing an independent breeze that breaks free from all standardized conveniences and predictability of modern-day indie cinema. The movie, evoking a hallucinatory dream or a sweet fairy tale we have all experienced at some time and place in our life, invites us to a journey as jumpy and spontaneous as life itself. Our guides to this delightful ride are two lovable heroes striving for human contact, endowed with a tender awkwardness, as if exiled from the surrounding world. The movie, privileged with the mastery to transform every (supposed) technical flaw into an expressive surplus, was shot with a mini dv camera, a creative choice driven by financial limitations. Going back in time, would Yorgos Goussis opt for a different format if he had a bigger budget at his disposal?

Magnetic Fields is not a project we conceived, wrote, prepared and carried out. On the contrary, it is a film that came along the way, making use of all available means. Besides the camera and the small crew, the true core of the film lies in the fact that we began shooting, having no dialogues, découpage or any other form of preparatory groundwork. This attitude was not triggered by the budget restrictions, but came out naturally, as a conscious and deliberate approach towards this endeavor. Το make it even clearer, we hadn’t even made up our minds as to whether it would be a short, medium-length or full-length film. With a bigger budget on our hands, the preparation and construction stages of the film would be completely different. I don’t know if it would be a better or a worse film, but it sure as hell would be a different film. In reality, regardless of the available money, it’s all about where and how you choose to channel this money. What matters the most is the personalities of the people involved in the film at a given time. Take for example some of the films nominated at the 1974 Oscars: The Godfather Part II, Chinatown, Lenny and A Woman Under the Influence, four of the most acclaimed and influential masterpieces of all time. The respective budgets of these four films were 13 million, 6 million, 3 million and 500,000 dollars. They all differ in terms of budget, but share the same filmmaking craftsmanship; it makes no difference if a master uses gold or wood as material”.

Magnetic Fields’ plot unravels in a retro-futuristic (with a sci-fi literature hue) setting, like the nostalgia of a memory that is yet to be experienced. How did he manage to craft such a unique and immersive ambiance? “I think that the two protagonists’ journey, the two days they spend together, reflect the memory of a relationship they will never have the pleasure of experiencing. However, this is nothing more than an interpretation of a film that took its final shape after countless choices and random events. Every person taking part in a film comes along with a range of references, influences, emotions and facts that eventually rise to the surface. I am not sure as to where the inspiration for the location scouting came from, but every time we arrived at a location that made it to the film, it made perfect sense to us to shoot a scene at this particular place, because if felt right for the cosmos of the film, emitting an unworldly feeling, pretty much like the movie’s characters. There are some moments in your life that awaken your imagination. I believe that films should serve as archives of those moments.”

One of the most overwhelming traits of the film can be detected in the unbiased reactions, dialogues and interaction between the main characters. What was the approach that secured such an exquisite result? “I had no prior experience in working with actors, therefore I treated my actors no differently than any other crew member. What I strive for is to arouse my collaborators’ imagination and build a safety net around them. If the narrative’s foundation is solid, every personality involved in the film, provided that there’s room for expression, will sooner or later offer you what you have been looking for. Sometimes, you might be given something you didn’t even know you were searching for. When it comes to actors, who are constantly exposed before the camera, if you the person behind the camera does not inspire confidence and trust, a crucial link in the chain of creativity is broken. This relationship can work only if there’s a kind of romance to it. No-one will take a hit for you, just because you asked for it, unless they are sure that you will come to their rescue, even at the last minute. Antonis Tsiotsiopoulos and Elena Topalidou, the two protagonists of the film, enjoyed the ride, the same way we did. We talked a lot, we hugged each other a lot, we refrained from nugging and that’s all.”

Following the shattering success of Magnetic Fields and before the film’s premiere in Greek movie theaters, Yorgos Goussis striked again, with a documentary that comes as a follow-up to the short film he shot a few years ago. The documentary Arm Wrestler, where the life of the director’s brother takes center stage, was screened at the 24th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, earning – no surprise there, one would say – three awards. The common thread binding together the two films, even though theoretically tagged in different genres (fiction and documentary), is easily discernible: a breathtaking exploration of the human condition, featuring everything that remains unsaid and hidden in the farthest corners of the mind and of the heart.

“As a documentary director, you are at the mercy of reality, which is unfolding right before your eyes, as you have no control whatsoever over it. If you choose to interrupt it, it will slip through your fingers once and for all. This one-off feeling attached to reality serves as a guidepost for fiction as well, allowing me to sense when something goes right or wrong. Our intention was to outline a documentary-portrait of Panagiotis, based on his personality and not on him being my brother. The romantic bond with the actors that I mentioned earlier took the form of brotherly love in this case. Nevertheless, these invisible links of trust and creativity go way beyond the narrative’s first level. In both fiction and documentary, the intention and the journey are the same. Since you have the power to somehow interfere with the material collected, whether it is a documentary or a fiction film, the essence remains unaltered. If you feel carried away by a documentary, if you feel it reaches out to your very soul, that it arouses you, and instead of letting go you insist on pondering on what is or is not “real”, then you are immune to art’s function. Or maybe just a little mopey.”