Greek Director Grigorakis Saddles Up ‘Western’ ‘Digger’ at Berlin

For a feature debut that he describes as a contemporary Western, Greek director Georgis Grigorakis settled on a familiar archetype — “a lonely guy with his horse, with his shotgun” — who, in keeping with the genre’s conventions, is drawn into a confrontation and is prepared to fight to the bitter end in the defense of his beliefs.

But while the battle lines may seem clear at the outset of “Digger,” which world premieres Feb. 24 in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival, a more unsettling conflict takes shape for Nikitas (Vangelis Mourikis) when his son Johnny (Argyris Pandazaras) appears after a 20-year absence, demanding his share of the family’s land. An offer to buy the property for a princely sum pits the two men against each other, while exposing deeper rifts in a mountain community struggling for its survival.

“I was very interested how to balance this personal, father-son story, which is archetypal in a way, and put it into a social context,” said Grigorakis. “Digger” is set in a poor provincial town whose economic prospects have slowly diminished. For most townspeople, the only source of employment is the rapacious construction company — referred to only as the Monster — that is destroying the area’s forests and threatening the livelihood of men like Nikitas.

It’s a difficult balancing act for the first-time writer-director, as the audience’s sympathies are directed in equal measures toward the townspeople fighting to protect their land, and their neighbors struggling to eke out a decent living. “That’s the tragedy. Everybody is right in the film,” said Grigorakis. “All the points of view are correct from their point of view. They cannot find a balance.”

At a time when mankind is battling to confront the existential threat of climate change, and Greece’s dwindling natural resources fall prey to private enterprise and shortsighted environmental policies, Grigorakis felt a sense of urgency behind his film. “I find it somehow important and necessary to connect human stories with the stories of this planet,” he said.

Production was an uphill climb. Grigorakis labored over his first script, and financing remains a challenge for the scrappy Greek film industry. “It was a difficult production,” said the director. He credited lead producer Athina Rachel Tsangari (“Attenberg”) of Haos Film, as well as Christos V. Konstantakopoulos of Faliro House, Fenia Cossovitsa of Blonde, Gabrielle Dumon of Le Bureau, and Nikos Katsaounis for shepherding him through the five-year journey. The Match Factory is handling world sales. “Everyone gave much more than they were asked,” he added.

“Digger” is a deeply personal film dedicated to the filmmaker’s father. Grigorakis described it partly as an effort to repay his debt toward the man who raised him after his parents’ divorce.

“Reconnecting with your father is reconnecting with your roots, it’s reconnecting with your ancestors,” he said. “I think it’s a necessity to want to investigate, to dig. It’s like archaeology. You have to find your past. Whatever that means for you.”

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