Greek Director Syllas Tzoumerkas on the Need for Defiance

Syllas Tzoumerkas, one of the filmmakers who formed part of the Greek New Wave, believes young filmmakers should remain defiant against norms and conformity when developing a film language unique to themselves.

Speaking during a masterclass at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival entitled “A Very Certain Defiance,” Tzoumerkas told his young audience, participants of European Film Promotion’s Future Frames program, “The word ‘defiance’ can create a path for you in surviving the film industry.”

The director, whose films include 2010 Venice Critics’ Week pic “Homeland,” 2014 Locarno competition film “A Blast,” and this year’s Berlin Panorama player “The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea,” advised them: “You are going to have to create a core – an inner strength – that is non-negotiable because this is what is going to feed you; this what is going to create content.”

He added: “Be defiant against all the sea of opinion, norms, conformity… be defiant against yourself. Question yourself as much as you can. Be defiant against your own insecurities and non-exposure to things. Dare to speak to people, to be extrovert. Be defiant against your own timidity.”

Tzoumerkas said his own distinctive film language was already present in his 2001 short films “The Devouring Eyes,” which got him kicked out of film school, but was also selected for Cannes’ Cinéfondation. This language included long takes, a focus on questions of sexuality, a quest for freedom, and “a certain cheapness, a white trashness,” he explained. Finding this language was “my liberation moment,” he said. “It was when I found a language that didn’t look like anything else. It had something that was vibrant in me; it depicted a true image of what I was searching for. I had to find my own way. It’s not about fitting a certain conformity or proving yourself to anyone.”

Tzoumerkas cautioned against making films with a message and espousing any moral or emotional certainties, or “a politically correct view of the world.” He advised the young filmmakers to “weaponize existential questions, weaponize ambiguities.” “I despise certainties of all sorts,” he said.

He told them to “use everything that is vivid to you,” and seek self-awareness. In his case this had included recognizing “a pool of hate inside of me that I could use creatively, and made me feel surprisingly normal.”

He cautioned against working with those who tried to rein you in. “If someone is always telling you to ‘go less’ something is wrong. Trust people who want you to ‘go more,’” he said.

He added, “Be careful when you work with people from different film generations,” but instead “trust the people who emerge with you.” “You need people who are on the same page as you,” he said.

He recalled his sense of frustration with Greek cinema in the 1980s and 90s, which was “nowhere internationally,” apart from Theo Angelopoulos. The attempt by a new generation to break free led to the creation of the Greek New Wave, also called the Greek Weird Wave, which included Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2009 film “Dogtooth” and Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Attenberg” in 2012.

Tzoumerkas compared the filmmaker to a troubadour in the Middle Ages, who ran the risk that eventually their master would tire of them, and cut off their head. “This troubadour’s body is going to be me, you, everybody. That’s fine because before [we die] we will sing as much as we can, and for as long as we can.”

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